Letter to the Editor: CLEAN AIR FOR ORANGETOWN

Dear editor at rocklandpost.com,

“Clean Air for Orangetown responds to the statement from Aluf Plastics published in the Pearl River Patch on November 15th, 2016.

On Wednesday, November 16th, 2016, the Town of Orangetown’s Zoning Board deemed Orangeburg’s Aluf Plastics in noncompliance and denied their application for Performance Standards.

Aluf Plastics is being prosecuted by the Town of Orangetown for nearly a dozen fire code violations, as well as additional violations of the Town Code. Aluf Plastics appeared in Orangetown Justice Court on November 17th, 2016.  Town Justice Richard C. Finning set a trial date for January 26th, 2017 in response to Aluf’s town code violations.

Prior to the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on November 16th, Aluf issued a statement that was published in The Pearl River Patch. The grassroots group Clean Air for Orangetown (CA4O) would like to publish a response to Aluf’s statement.

Since May of 2016, Aluf Plastics has been cited four times by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) as being in violation of New York State Air Pollution Control Law, Article 19 of the Environmental Conservation Law, noting that:
• “This Violation Notice is due to heated-plastic-odors as well as due to lapse of maintaining equipment. A previous Warning Notice was given for poor record keeping. Observations: Heated plastic odors were very noticeable on ALUF’s property near the carbon bed enclosure. A direct visual inspection of the duct work that brings the odorous indoor process air to the carbon bed filter revealed that there were holes in the ducts in at least two different locations which allowed untreated air to escape into the ambient air prior to passing through the odor removal treatment devise. The integrity of the duct work entering the carbon bed looked very poor. There were numerous areas sealed with aluminum tape and areas with holes where emissions (and what appeared to be melted plastic which had solidified) were exiting.”
• “Untreated air is escaping to the atmosphere from the duct work at least two locations. Odors of melted plastic were evident at the site’s property as far East as Route 303 during the visit.”
• “Strong odors were interchanging between burning plastic and sweat VOCs solvent on the East of the Railroad tracks. Odors consistent with burning plastic were sensed at the West side of ALUF by Murphy Court area. An incident of process upset appeared to have occurred inside the production area of the facility. No explanation was provided by ALUF to NYSDEC of the odor events of June 2, 2016.”
• “Odors were evident and ranged from mild to strong around Hayes Street and Arthur Street in Blauvelt. These odors were ALUF type odors consistent with melted and/or burned plastic mixed with fragrance.”

The NYSDEC and Orangetown officials continue to receive a large number of complaints related to noxious chemical and burning plastic odors; there are over 300 complaints on record this year. Shortly after the Zoning Board meeting on November 16th came to a close, residents living in the vicinity of Aluf reported strong odors of burning plastic. There were also multiple reports of burning plastic odors from Aluf in the morning hours on November 17th, the day after the Zoning Board declared Aluf to be in noncompliance. On the morning after Aluf Plastics was deemed to be in noncompliance, odors were reported by parents at Cottage Lane Elementary School and Dominican College. ALUF continues to violate Town Code Ch. 43 §4.182 on Odors on a regular basis as reflected in the high volume of complaints related to burning plastic and chemical odors. The facility operates six days per week, 24 hours a day. Orangetown Town Supervisor Andy Stewart and Building Director John Giardiello have both stated on the record that there is a problem with the facility.

Aluf Plastics has multiple open permits as well as expired permits in the Town of Orangetown Building Department. The permit for the installation of the carbon filtration system and stack modifications from 2012-13 still remains open and the paperwork in the Town file indicates that this work was not completed. When ALUF first moved to Orangeburg in 1985 they opened with seven plastic bag extruders in a 100,000 square foot facility. Today, according to the Building Department, Aluf is operating 69 of 72 extruders. There have been multiple fires and work related accidents at Aluf, as recently as October 2016, and they were issued several new fire violations in September, 2016.

Documented comments on stack testing from over a decade ago indicated several flaws and discrepancies surrounding these tests.  Several stacks were added in 2012-13 (for a total of five), and there has been NO recent stack testing with their current operation.  The tests from 2006 were conducted by a private company hired by Aluf. The late Rockland County Department of Health Public Health Engineer Gregory Price and Patrick Dunn of the NYSDEC documented multiple flaws with these tests from 2006, and shared their findings with the company. The Town has made several requests to allow ambient air testing inside Aluf’s property line but Aluf has not granted permission. At the November 16th Zoning Board meeting, Aluf was represented by law firms Sive Paget & Riesel (SPR) P.C. and Donald Brenner. SPR’s attorney Edward Roggenkamp stated that if the air sampling canisters were to be placed right beside the factory “it would not prove that the odors are from Aluf because we all know that odors migrate.” According to Plastics News (September, 2016) Aluf is the third fastest growing plastics manufacturer in 2015 with sales over $135 million dollars. Rather than accepting responsibility for the noxious odors that are emitted from their huge facility, Aluf is instead pointing their fingers at “other local manufacturers, two sewer plants as well as small businesses.”

Aluf claims, “we take our responsibility as a good corporate citizen very seriously as we are very responsive to odor issues.” In recent weeks Aluf set up an email account neighbors@alufplastics.com for residents to report odors. Several complaints made to this address were met with a response of pointing fingers at the Rockland County Sewer facility located 1.2 miles from Aluf Plastics. Aluf also dispatched their Engineer Manager Anthony Lawson to contact some neighbors who emailed complaints. On several occasions the residents were told by Mr. Lawson that he doesn’t smell anything or that he only smells the sewer. Aluf employees recently denied smelling any odors of burning plastic as NYSDEC officials were simultaneously documenting them as occurring in real time.

In September, 2016 the NYSDEC collected four air samples outside of Aluf’s property lines. The sampling event consisted of four ambient air canisters collecting samples for a one-hour long duration on four different days.  Aluf has stated that “the DEC tests have not revealed any releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air that are attributable to Aluf.” CA4O finds numerous issues and flaws with these tests. The locations given on the test results are inaccurate.  The air sampling did not include analysis for several carcinogenic chemicals which are specific to Aluf’s manufacturing process, as documented in 2006 files from the Rockland County Department of Health. The September 2016 NYSDEC samples were only analyzed for standard 45 likely chemicals recommended by EPA given the nature of the industry (plastic bag manufacturer).
CA4O has not received any information from the DEC on what manufacturing activity was occurring at Aluf Plastics during these extremely brief sampling periods. Reputable and licensed air quality companies recommend ambient air testing over an extended period of several months with very detailed weather and atmospheric conditions taken into account. The scientific analyses of chemical compounds (VOCs and hazardous air pollutants or HAPs) of ambient air and source (stack) must be performed by a licensed independent firm –  NOT a firm hired by Aluf. CA4O does not accept the results of the NYSDEC testing. Until full scale, third party independent stack testing is performed when the facility is in full operation, the community will never know what is being emitted into our air from Aluf Plastics.

On October 21st, 2016, Aluf submitted a scoping document to the NYSDEC to outline potential steps they would take to mitigate the odors.  This document was prepared by Korlipara Engineering, the same firm which prepared the proposed exhaust stack plans for ALUF in 2012. CA4O advocates for an independent licensed third party engineering firm – with no previous connections to Aluf- to participate in every step of this process. Aluf Plastics and their local attorney Donald Brenner have a long and well documented history dating back to 1985 when Aluf first moved to Orangetown. Aluf’s troubled history is filled with many problems including hazardous spills, odor complaints, opacity violations, fires and accidents.  Aluf has a documented history of feet dragging and using the system’s complex bureaucratic structure to their advantage. Aluf’s new strategy is to not accept responsibility for their actions, but instead to claim that, “smells near Aluf Plastics may have another source.”

Aluf’s Vice President of Operations David Anderson stated at the most recent Zoning Board meeting that the plastic pellets Aluf uses in the extruding process are manufactured by Exxon Mobile. He declined to comment further on their suppliers, other than to state that the material Aluf uses to manufacture plastic bags from melted plastics comes from a “network of providers”.  CA4O also does not have information as to what other sources of recycled plastic materials are being used at the facility despite our many requests for this information. In a newspaper article from 2006 which covered a fire at the factory, firefighters described seeing huge pallets of diapers which were supposedly rejected plastic materials used in their recycling process. We do not know the origin of these recycled materials nor do we know how Aluf disposes of the industrial waste generated during their production process.

Aluf refers to working with the NYSDEC to “investigate odor reports in the neighborhood and to specifically assess Aluf’s air handling and filtering systems to ensure they are efficient and effective.” You may find out more details as to the NYSDEC’s framework and timeline to address these issues by visiting the Town of Orangetown’s web page: http://www.orangetown.com/government/Aluf.php

. According to the NYSDEC timeline, any mitigation at Aluf will likely not occur earlier than April or May, 2017. CA4O finds this unacceptable.

Aluf Plastics has not behaved as a good corporate citizen, nor does Aluf Plastics behave or respond like a good neighbor.  CA4O and many affected members of our great community are exploring all legal options to mitigate these odors and asks the community, school boards, the Town, County and State officials to assist us in our effort to keep historic Orangetown and the Lower Hudson Valley beautiful and habitable. Aluf is a privately owned family company which takes pride in its family history. Aluf’s President and CEO Susan Rosenberg stated in the June, 2015 edition of Plastics Technology: “Yes, we are large. At 500,000 square feet in Orangeburg, we operate the second-largest blown film plant under one roof in the U.S. But it’s all about the customer.” We invite Mrs. Rosenberg to comment on the ongoing issue with the Orangetown community, and see if she will revise her remarks to include “It’s all about the customer AND neighboring communities and residents.”

Orangetown is a great, hardworking community full of law abiding citizens and taxpayers who are trying to raise our children in a healthy and safe environment.

Members of Clean Air for Orangetown
-Heather Hurley, Pearl River
-Allyson Sullivan, Blauvelt
-Tanya & Krystof Witek, Tappan
-Liz Dudley, Orangeburg
-Amy Wertheim, Pearl River”