Tests reveal potential new ‘razor-sharp’ health risks at Norlite

Albany County

COHOES, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Health experts and concerned citizens identified on Thursday what they call a new health threat from the Norlite industrial plant in Cohoes. Those who have studied the apparent environmental issues surrounding the hazardous waste incinerator say new information shows potential respiratory problems or lung damage can be caused by inhaling sharp particulate matter released by Norlite.

During a zoom news conference Thursday morning, those groups publicly released the results of tests performed by Ph.D. geologist Dr. Dave Walker. He allegedly examined dust samples from material incinerated at the Norlite facility, allegedly revealing razor-sharp particles being inhaled by residents living nearby.

The material tested came from Cohoes residents Joe Ritchie and Ed Sokol, who reside feet away from the facility. The samples allegedly came from their cars and attics, which environmentalists claim are regularly coated in particulate dust from Norlite.

Pediatrician Dr. Leo Trasande, Chief of the Division of Environmental Pediatrics at the NYU School of Medicine, was also on hand to discuss the findings. He says that the glassy material could cause serious health problems, including fatal lung disease.

Walker’s tests suggest that Norlite dust contains crystalline silica or quartz in concentrations high enough to pose health risks. “What we’re talking about here is particularly concerning because it’s an uncontrolled community-level exposure,” Trasande said. He also said these particles may pose a significant threat to area children who may experience more intense exposure.

A Norlite spokesperson sent a statement to NEWS10 in response to the claims:

Norlite operates under strict emissions permits issued by New York State and the U.S. EPA. The regulations are based on sound science and designed to protect public health and the environment. The agencies confirm and enforce our compliance through regular inspections of our emissions-control equipment and data, which are accessible to regulatory personnel at all times. Norlite has invested heavily in state-of-the-science environmental control technology, and our people are committed to achieving excellence in our environmental performance every day. We will continue to rely on the guidance and oversight of New York State and the U.S. EPA, as well as our own commitment to environmental excellence for the benefit of our community, our workforce, and our future in Cohoes.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation also responded to the claims. They released a statement saying that their agency must conduct their own analysis of the air around the facility before they can draw any conclusions about Dr. Walker’s findings. They say it is unclear whether the new data is a change from typical U.S. air samples:

The New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) are reviewing the information shared by Dr. Walker today and continue to work with the community to investigate any health and environmental concerns. DEC continues to ratchet down on all aspects of the Norlite facility’s operations to address previous violations and emerging issues and shares the community’s concerns. Building upon our ongoing investigations and response into off-site particulate matter in the vicinity of Norlite, DEC will be deploying additional air monitoring equipment to Saratoga Sites to enhance our comprehensive data collection and analysis and hold this facility accountable. 

All community complaints are critical to the State’s ongoing oversight and residents should contact DEC at (518) 357-2045 during regular business hours, and (800) 457-7362 on nights, weekends and holidays to report concerns. 

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