Capital Region News
6:15 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

DEC: Albany Air Gets Passing Grade

The air in Albany's South End is safe to breathe. That's the word from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. That may be far from the last word, if residents have their say.

Back in the spring, government officials and residents of Albany's South End neighborhoods expressed concern about potential impacts related to crude oil transport and facilities in the area. In response, the Department of Environmental formulated an air sampling plan to screen for specific pollutants in the community.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who on March 12th issued a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the Port of Albany and even floated the idea of moving residents out, championed the testing.    "We need to test for certain things that these crude oils these DOT 111's when they're venting them after they offload them onto the ships or onto the holding area down at the port, what emissions are going into the air?"

Samplers strategically placed in the South End found "no unusual results." Officials say air was sampled an hour at a time on five different occasions, whenever someone reported the presence a petroleum odor.

The results were revealed Thursday night at a community meeting at the Ezra Prentice Apartments, located next to the tracks traversed by the so-called "oil trains" hauling crude from the west. Many who attended the gathering were less than convinced. 

Former Councilman and South End resident Dom Calsolaro is pitching for more extensive testing over an extended time period, similar to testing conducted in North Tonawanda in 2009.  Calsolaro concedes it'll probably cost close to a million dollars to test for a full year. He's making his plea on behalf of his neighbors.   "They're telling you that their health isn't good. Their kids are sick. And we need more to be done, not just a little five or six hours of sampling."

Jared Snyder is DEC's Assistant Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change and Energy. He stands by the testing.  "We targeted conditions such as low wind speed, warm temperatures and winds from the south and southeast where the facilities are located. In addition to those five days that we took samples, a community volunteer took samples on six days . The six samples collected by the community volunteer targeted odor episodes at times when the local residents thought that the concentrations of air contaminants were the highest. Those samples collected on those eleven episodes had very similar results. Both the samples collected by the DEC and the samples collected by the community representative. And taken together, the results indicate that air toxics and benzene specifically, were detected at levels lower than the statewide average and comparable to what we see in other urban and suburban communities."

Executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York Peter Iwanowicz told Newschannel 13 he hoped the findings won't give Massachusetts-based Global Partners the signal it can do whatever it wants. "I think what this study really shows is there's a problem on these small periods of time. We need to understand the extent of the problem and how long term the problem is going to be."

Meanwhile, Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the DEC illegally approved what amounted to nearly a tripling in oil shipments through Port of Albany by allowing the additional traffic via piecemeal reviews. The DEC says it welcomes Sheehan's participation as it reviews Global's planned oil terminal expansion at the Port of Albany.

In a letter, she accuses the agency of segmentation, which is illegal under the state Environmental Quality Review Act. Again, Dom Calsolaro:   "Everything combined needs to be looked at as one total package, and they didn't do that. And that was the gist of the mayor's letter, that they segmented it, and that's against DEC's environmental conservation law and their own regulations."

Dave Lucas: "Dom, is there any validity to the suggestion by a former County Official that the County may be trying to scare the Ezra Prentice residents out so they can take that land and put it in the land bank?"

Calsolaro:  "If that is going to happen and people agree to move out and they do decide that's the best thing for the people at Ezra Prentice, I would think that the Port Authority or one of the major industries down at the port would wanna buy that land just as a buffer zone."

There's no word as to where residents might go if Ezra Prentice was to shut down.  Mayor Sheehan has rebuked the county executive over that suggestion.