GLENS FALLS -- A coalition of more than 25 environmental and health groups has asked the state for more time to comment on Lehigh Northeast Cement Co.'s plans to burn a recycled fuel product instead of coal.

The Glens Falls plant has received tentative approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to burn Enviro-Fuelcubes, a fuel source made from wood, paper products and non-recyclable plastics. The cubes are intended as a cost-effective alternative to coal.

While the public comment period ended Friday, a request for additional time is currently under review, said DEC Region 5 Spokesman David Winchell.

Supervised tests were conducted last fall, and another trial burn is planned for the near future. While the initial test showed no significant increases in contaminant emissions, there were minor increases in harmful toxins like dioxins and furans, chromium, lead and nickel. According to the DEC, all were well within allowable emission limits.

But Greenwich Citizens Committee member Tracy Frisch said the increase in dioxin levels raises a red flag, and feels the new fuel amounts to incinerating trash.

"The policy of allowing this kind of stuff to be burned as a beneficial use flies in the face of New York state's goals to reduce waste," said Frish, who organized the letter submitted to DEC.

Among of the two dozen signatories include Environmental Advocates of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, American Lung Association in New York, Sierra Club Atlantic chapter, Healthy Schools Network, Sustainable Saratoga and Battenkill Conservancy.

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Together, the organizations are asking for more information and time to study the effects, and hopes the state will take into account the cumulative impact of emissions permits in Glens Falls, Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.

They have also raised concerns about the composition and consistency of the fuel cubes. If the makeup varies due to the mix of materials used, Frisch said, one test burn may not be enough to assess the real impact.

"I think there needs to be a great deal of skepticism about results from a test burn ... when the fuel cubes might not have the same mix next week," she said.

The cubes are manufactured by the International Paper Products Corp. in Westfield, Mass. They are made of materials such as switch grass, vegetation, leaves, yard debris, farming byproducts, agricultural crops, wood, tree bark, pallets, wood products, paper, fiber, textiles, fabrics, cardboard, chip-board, short fiber, plastics, films, polymers and flexible packaging such as milk containers.

Stuart Guinther. Lehigh's plant manager, has said the alternative fuel is cost-effective, while putting materials to use that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

The DEC tentatively approved a renewal of the plant's air permit; it will evaluate comments to decide whether to hold a public hearing. The draft Title V air permit can be viewed at www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/32249.html.

The Lehigh Northeast Cement Co. runs a manufacturing operation and quarry, making cements using a combination of limestone, sand gypsum and other materials, which are heated in a rotary kiln, cooled and then ground.

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