A new report from advocacy group Environment America says Finch Paper LLC is among the nation's top 10 industrial emitters of cancer-causing chemicals into U.S. waterways.
According to the report, industrial facilities dumped 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals into American rivers, lakes, streams and oceans in 2007.
Environment America used the most recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory, which requires facilities in certain industries to report their releases of toxic chemicals annually. The inventory is provided to inform citizens of the hazards in their communities.
The report looked at discharges of chemicals known to cause cancer, and found that the pulp and paper industry was the largest polluter of such substances, followed by the chemical industry and utilities.
Finch Paper ranked No. 6 for discharges of cancer-causing chemicals by weight in the U.S. for the year. In 2007, the Glens Falls paper mill released into the Hudson River 26,541 pounds of carcinogens, the vast majority of which was formaldehyde.
Within New York, Finch Paper was the top discharger of cancer-causing chemicals. Coming in a distant second, International Paper in Ticonderoga released 4,740 pounds of acetaldehyde and 2,341 pounds of formaldehyde into Lake Champlain for the year.
According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde exposure has been linked to sinus problems and cancers of the nasal sinuses, brain, and possibly leukemia.
While formaldehyde is used as an adhesive in a wide variety of consumer products, it is a naturally occurring substance found in trees and is a by-product of papermaking, according to Finch Paper spokesman John Brodt.
Finch Paper CEO Joseph Raccuia was not available for comment on Wednesday, Brodt said.
Brodt said the data cited in the report don't tell the whole story.
He said human and environmental exposure to a chemical, as well as its toxicity, have to be considered along with information about how much of a substance has been released to determine the impact.
Asked whether Finch Paper has conducted a study on the effects of formaldehyde or other chemicals from the mill, Brodt said no. He stressed, though, that the EPA is aware of the discharge and hasn't required Finch to obtain a permit for formaldehyde discharges.
Environment America argues that the EPA's approach to regulating chemicals is flawed. The group suggests that the EPA set standards not by determining what is a "safe" exposure level to a chemical, but by determining the chemical's intrinsic capacity to harm the environment or health.
"We deserve better than having toxins in our waterways," said Piper Crowell, a clean water advocate for Environment New York. "The goal of the Clean Water Act was to have no dumping. We clearly haven't hit that goal."
Environment America and its state chapters believe that tougher regulations and enforcement of the Clean Water Act could help solve the problem.
Reducing the number of permits, ensuring the permits out there are renewed on time, and issuing mandatory fines for all polluters are solutions proposed on the government side.
For businesses, Crowell said companies should use safer alternatives to the toxic chemicals.
Brodt said Finch Paper has reduced discharges at its on-site wastewater treatment plant by 80 percent over the last decade.
Brodt said he was not aware of filtration technology that can remove all chemicals from wastewater.
"We're always looking at ways to minimize our discharges," Brodt said. "We're not familiar at this point with a way to reduce or eliminate the release of formaldehyde."
The treatment plant's focus is on converting toxic ammonia, also a by-product of papermaking, into nitrates, a less harmful toxin, Brodt said.
In 2007, Finch Paper released into the Hudson 787,000 pounds of compound nitrates, the fourth-highest discharge of the substance in the state.
Environment New York says the presence of toxic nitrates in drinking water has been linked to health problems in infants and to organ damage in adults. The chemical is also a leading source of nutrient pollution in waterways, and can trigger "dead zones" in which aquatic life cannot be sustained.
Asked whether the Hudson River discharges conflict with Finch Paper's efforts to craft a more environmentally conscious image - the papermaker launched a forestry consulting service, reduced its carbon emissions and energy consumption through an efficiency initiative, and has a line of "green" recycled paper products - Brodt said not at all.
"Finch is focused on continuous improvement in everything it does," he said. "Environmental protection is certainly one of those areas."