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Glens Falls emissions

Lehigh Northeast Cement Co., left, and Finch Paper, right, are seen on Sept. 23. Despite its pollution history, there's no independent air-quality monitoring station in the Glens Falls region. The cloud is a combination of Hudson River fog and flue gas.

A new grassroots group focused on air quality in the Glens Falls region is forming and will hold its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, in the Holden Room of Crandall Public Library.

The group is called Greater Glens Falls Wants Clean Air, and is organized by environmentalist Tracy Frisch. Frisch is an Argyle resident, but has been involved in several environmental groups over the years. She hopes this one will meet monthly.

Frisch is concerned about the air quality in the region, especially how it is impacted by the several industrial plants along the Hudson River.

She is bringing in the expertise of the Energy Justice Network, an environmental justice organization based in Pennsylvania. It recently assisted the city of Baltimore in signing a Clean Air Act that includes strict air emissions requirements that could close its Wheelabrator incinerator, owned by the same company that operates the Wheelabrator trash plant in Hudson Falls.

“People don’t have the technical know-how,” Frisch said about the reason for forming the group. “The companies that have run the plants have environmental professionals working for them that understand the system. Citizens don’t have the equivalent assistance. By bringing people some expertise and some guidance, I think it’s possible to move forward more quickly. The price of jobs should not be dirty air and environmentally caused health problems.”

Mike Ewall, founder and executive director of Energy Justice Network, said the Glens Falls region has three of some of the largest air polluting industries — trash, cement and paper. He’d like to see trash incinerators close and transition those workers to jobs in the recycling and zero waste industry.

Ewall is also working with the town of Coeymans on a pollution law that could ban the LafargeHolcim cement plant from burning any waste or biomass. The company had been looking to burn tires as an alternative fuel. Similarly, Lehigh Cement Co. is looking to burn a paper and plastic mixture called raggertail, which Ewall thinks is unsafe for human health and the environment, despite Lehigh’s claims otherwise.

Frisch said her inspiration for Greater Glens Falls Wants Clean Air partially came from her role on Lehigh Cement Co.’s community advisory panel. That informal group was organized in 2012, when the cement plant was looking to burn Enviro-Fuelcubes, an alternative fuel made from wood, paper and non-recyclable plastics.

“This was a different fuel product than is currently being considered,” said John Brodt, vice president of Behan Communications and spokesman for Lehigh. “At that time, we thought it would be helpful to have a group of community members who we could use as a sounding board for the alternative fuel project and on other projects that may arise going forward.”

That fuel ultimately was not permitted to be burned at the plant.

Brodt said the panel was also a sounding board for the raggertail tests, and he expects it to continue as part of Lehigh’s overall community engagement.

Frisch said the cement plant has provided more information to the panel over the years, but as far as understanding some of the chemistry and other complicated data, she said, “we really were just on our own.” She’s hoping a group with some outside help can shed more light on all the industries in the area.

“There’s a role for everyone, and everyone will have a chance to share their concerns and together, we’ll decide what’s next,” she said.

Meeting attendees are encouraged to RSVP to Frisch at 518-692-8242 or email tracy.frisch@gmail.com. Those who may not be able to attend may also submit questions, information or ideas.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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