DEC criticized over conclusion South End fumes not toxic

timesunion.com  |  September 30, 2014  |  by Eric Anderson

A report submitted Tuesday to state regulators labels as “irresponsible” their conclusion that airborne chemical concentrations in Albany’s South End weren’t a health concern.

The report by David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany, said that air samples in 20 of 21 cases showed elevated levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The air samples were collected by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in May. It came after neighborhood residents complained of strong odors from the Port of Albany, where two major oil terminals, operated by Global Partners and Buckeye Partners, are located. Some complained of headaches, nosebleeds and other health problems.

At the time, the planned study drew criticism from an environmental organization that said it was too limited and that some chemical compounds wouldn’t even be collected.

Chris Amato, a lawyer for EarthJustice and former DEC commissioner for natural resources from 2007 to 2011, wrote a letter to Judith Enck, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking the EPA to support a more comprehensive study.

After results were released to neighborhood residents in August, a DEC research scientist cautioned that the tests conducted in May were short-term tests and they shouldn’t draw conclusions about long-term exposure based on the results of those tests.

Carpenter, meanwhile, called the use of short-term benzene standards “totally inappropriate” because the short-term nature of exposure that they assume “are always much higher than standards for longer-term exposure…Indeed, use of the short-term standard is likely to vastly underestimate the health risk to individuals that live or work in the area and therefore spend considerable amounts of time in the South End.”

And while some of the benzene present in the air may come from sources other than the Global Partners terminal at the Port of Albany, “the residents of the South End should be protected from exposure to excess benzene, regardless of the source,” Carpenter wrote.

Amato, calling the DEC analysis of its air sampling results “a whitewash,” said Carpenter’s report “underscores the need for a full environmental review of crude oil operations at the Port of Albany.”

In a statement issued early Tuesday evening, a DEC spokesman said that “although our screening assessment is complete, we are aware of the community concerns regarding odors and will continue to address this issue.

“In addition, DEC is continuing to follow-up with screening of other air pollutants, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, in the area and will report the results to the community when our assessment is complete.”

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commented 2014-10-03 08:29:02 -0400 · Flag
From my experience (which is minimal) I know risk calculations and numbers are approximate tools, nothing at the edge of ranges is certain. It’s always a policy decision on how much damage to humans and the environment we are told we should accept in the name of progress, financial gain, prosperity, etc. The federal government doesn’t do enough at 1 in 100,000 cancer risk and maybe DEC wouldn’t let people breathe any air if we took the 1 in 1,000,000 risk as acceptable. We might not be able to drive cars or have fireplaces… I think 0 risk is ideal, but DEC is a politically driven engine and the standards and actions are dictated by politicians.
commented 2014-10-03 00:24:15 -0400 · Flag
The DEC continues to let us down. It’s hard to believe their mission statement is thus: “To conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being.”
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.