The recent advocacy for better monitoring of and stricter control on local pollution — especially air emissions — is a good sign for quality of life in the Glens Falls region.
The creation of environmental regulations is an exercise in balancing corporate well-being with the health of residents, and personal convenience with the health of the Earth.
Plastic bags are convenient, but plastic is choking our oceans and waterways, killing fish and other creatures.
It would be easier and cheaper for companies to operate without environmental regulations, to dump waste into rivers and let emissions pour unfiltered into the air, and that is largely what was happening until the environmental movement of the 1960s and ‘70s changed public opinion and led to government regulation.(tncms-inline)dcb4a1df-15f3-480b-add6-5d5f41b4624c(/tncms-inline)
Our air and water have become much cleaner over the past 50 years. In this area, acid rain has been curbed to the point that Adirondack lakes once declared “dead” have recovered and are full of life. The bald eagle has come back from the brink of extinction, at least in the lower 48 states, and is often spotted along the Hudson River. Moose have returned to the Adirondack Park.
All over the country, you can find environmental triumphs and real progress, but we aren’t done. Perhaps the air is cleaner now in Glens Falls than it was in the 1960s, but that doesn’t mean we should be content to be inhaling — and have our children inhaling — toxins from emissions that are damaging to human health.
The first step in figuring out whether laws regulating local emissions should be made stricter is finding out exactly what is coming out of local stacks and in what quantities. Companies like Finch Paper, Lehigh Cement and Wheelabrator (owner of the Hudson Falls trash plant) now make periodic reports to state and federal entities, some of which are available to the public.
These reports can be difficult to interpret. Even for an expert, it’s hard to judge what levels of specific toxic emissions are “safe” for people living close to a plant, especially if you’re considering the cumulative effects of breathing in polluted air over many years and of the emissions from one plant mixing with emissions from others in the area.
Something as seemingly small as the wind’s prevailing direction can have a large effect over time. If you live in a spot usually downwind from a company’s stacks, the effects on your family’s health may be much worse over time than someone who is upwind.
The local group, calling itself (for now) Glens Falls Wants Clean Air, has consulted with a lawyer and clean air advocate, Mike Ewall, director of a Pennsylvania group called Environmental Justice Network. His group has been effective in pushing for pollution control, and as a consequence, has shut down various plants. Its current work in Baltimore could lead to the shutdown of a Wheelabrator-owned trash-burning plant there.
We’re not advocating for the shutdown of any business, but we do believe local people have a right to know what is in the air they and their children are breathing. We have a right to know this, and in a form that we can understand, which means more than seeing raw data.
Being given a figure — 10 pounds, say — for the amount of mercury, for example, being emitted over a period of a few months from a particular local plant is meaningless. Is that amount, over that period of time, dangerous? What are its possible health effects? We need to know the figures, and they need to be put in context.
State air monitoring stations in Stillwater and on Whiteface Mountain are useless from a local point of view. Putting an air monitoring station in the immediate Glens Falls region would be justified, because we’re an industrial hub for the region, but we’re not holding our breath the state will do that anytime soon.
Requiring that local companies monitor their own emissions more regularly than they do now and make the results public, as the Clean Air group has discussed, would be an effective way to inform citizens on this critical topic. Companies that produce significant pollution as part of their operations should be accountable to the communities where they are located, and their first responsibility is to provide enough information that residents can make informed decisions.
The current discussion was sparked by Lehigh Cement’s proposal to burn an alternative fuel called raggertail, which includes plastic. Some plastics emit dioxin, a poison, when they are burned. Once the subject was raised, attention turned also to the trash-burning plant, which burns truckloads of plastic every day.
At this point, we’re in the question-raising phase. What is being emitted and what does that mean for those of us who live and breathe here? Getting clear answers could take awhile, but it’s important. Once we understand what’s in our air, we can consider whether that should be changed.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Publisher/Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Connie Bosse, Barb Sealy and Jean Aurilio.