Lehigh Northeast Cement Co. of Glens Falls plans on holding a public forum in the coming weeks to address its plans to burn a paper-plastic mix called “raggertail.” It also said it was in favor of extending the deadline for public comments regarding its plans.
That’s what a good neighbor does when community members have a concern.
What we fear is that after much reporting (see our story on A1 today), there may not be enough information to give anyone peace of mind.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Late last year, Lehigh announced it was going to start burning “raggertail” in place of coal so it could reduce its carbon footprint. It was also cheaper.
That seemed like a great idea, especially with so many concerns about climate change and our carbon footprint.
The red flag locally was that “raggertail” has plastic in it. The South Glens Falls Village Board became concerned about the health effects that burning the new material would have on local residents.
Since the process is new, there is little available information on the subject.
As a starting point for the debate, we sought to find out how good the air quality was in Glens Falls and the surrounding area. The information was difficult to obtain.
It turns out the closest state air quality monitoring stations are at Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks and 30 miles away in Stillwater. There are no locally based stations.
An air pollution expert at the University at Albany’s Atmospheric Science Research Center told our reporter any pollution testing in Stillwater was not going to be a representative example of our air quality here. It would be “diluted.”
He also said there could be “local hot spots.”
The reality is that we have six local companies that are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory program as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York.
It’s also good to know that New York has tough air quality standards that hold those companies to high standards. We believe the local companies would be the first to acknowledge that. Several pointed out they have significantly reduced fossil fuel usage and their toxic emissions in recent years.
While that is encouraging to hear, there was the news this past year that Warren County has the highest incidence of cancer in the state.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any way to know the quality of the air in Glens Falls on a day-to-day basis.
For instance, the DEC does a smokestack test for compliance once every five years. We doubt that gives anyone much of a snapshot of what goes into the atmosphere on a daily basis.
A DEC representative told our reporter that the facilities in Glens Falls did not stand out to him as having significant problems, pointing out these are “large, complex facilities and things happen.”
So while New York has strict air quality regulations and the companies strive to reduce emissions, there is no way of knowing how much of an effect they might be having on the health of local residents.
If you are downwind of one of these facilities — as South Glens Falls is from the cement plant — it could be causing problems. We just don’t know for sure.
We urge South Glens Falls, Glens Falls and Queensbury residents to attend the public forum when it is scheduled. We’re just not sure there are many answers to be had.
What gives us greater concern right now is the current quality of air in our community.
With a new Legislature convening in Albany this past week, it might be a good time to explore expanding air monitoring stations to communities with several industrial facilities — places such as Glens Falls.
We hope Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner would lead the way on this issue. We believe this is an important issue that won’t be going away.
We learned there was another possibility this week in Glens Falls where the city is looking to install new LED street lights which have several different data collection capabilities, including one for air quality.
Important information may be on the way sooner rather than later.