Albany County Legislature Rejects Banning Polystyrene Foam

by Tom Ellis

Albany, NY: On April 12, the Albany County Legislature voted 21-16-1 to reject expanding the polystyrene foam take-out food container law enacted three years ago to include all restaurants and eateries.

Legislators offered many reasons for their “no” votes, some principled and others ridiculous. A few said this law would be better enacted at the state level, some said it would hurt — even fatally –some small (mom and pop) businesses; other insisted polystyrene is safe and recyclable.

Opponents of the bill who spoke at the one-hour public hearing were all from out-of -the-county; they included a state assemblyman and a state senator from central New York, and industry representatives.

County legislator Doug Bullock told me that Majority Leader Frank Commisso, Sr., was leading the “no” vote campaign and applying considerable pressure to fellow Democrats he has leverage over. An hour before the meeting, Doug said he thought there might be enough votes to pass the bill.

David Carpenter, MD, was unable to attend but I doubt if his expert toxicology comments would have made the difference. We were unable to convince enough legislators that polystyrene food and beverage containers are hazardous to human health.

Legislator Paul Burgdorf made the most absurd comments. He brought polystyrene cups he had obtained in the cafeterias of Albany Memorial and St. Peter’s Hospitals and asserted that if hospitals use or allow polystyrene food and beverage containers, they must be safe. He does not understand that physicians do not run hospitals; administrators do, many of whom could care less about polystyrene, and contractors sometimes operate hospital cafeterias.

Supporters of the bill put on a full court press, obtaining more than 1000 letters and signed petitions as well as letters from dozens of restaurant and eatery owners who have made the switch away from polystyrene, never used it at all, or who favored the proposed legislation.

My sense is the struggle was lost before we walked in to the court house yesterday and there is nothing we could have said last evening to win the vote.

Thus some restaurants and eateries in Albany County will continue to put take-out food and beverages in polystyrene containers that can leech styrene and benzene into foods and liquids.



Published in May/June 2017 Newsletter
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