Environmental Health Hazards Here
Critics blast New York state cancer-control plan for
letting polluters off the hook
York state has just released a final version of its Comprehensive
Cancer Control Plan, but several interest groups say its new
recommendations do not go nearly far enough.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spearheaded
the effort to get states to initiate broad, integrated approaches
to cancer prevention. A model plan from the CDC was tailored
for New York by a group of American Cancer Society members,
the state Department of Health and research institutes like
New York’s plan encourages the public to prevent cancer through
exercise, good diet, and not smoking, and emphasizes early
detection. But many advocacy groups think these are only pieces
of the prevention puzzle. Cancer Action New York, New York
Public Interest Research Group, the New York State Breast
Cancer Network and Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer
have all come out criticizing the plan because it inadequately
accounts for larger problems, particularly environmental pollution,
that effectively prevent a truly healthy lifestyle.
The draft plan, released in March, barely included environmental
factors. Rather, the plan concentrates on management and control,
putting the onus on the public to regulate its own exposure
to confirmed or probable environmental carcinogens.
cancer survivors we serve, including myself, are physically
active, eat well, and do not smoke, nor do we fit the other
high-risk categories. Consequently, our cancer cannot be blamed
on bad habits or lifestyle choices,” said Joan Sheehan, copresident
of CRAAB, at an August press conference.
talk about skin cancer and the need to use sunscreen, but
nothing about protecting the ozone layer,” said NYPIRG’s Laura
Haight. “They’re urging people to eat more fruits and vegetables,
but nowhere do they say eat organic fruits and vegetables.”
To Donald Hassig of Cancer Action New York, the Department
of Health’s “war on cancer is only about treatment.”
instance, they suggest that in order to reduce dioxin exposure,
girls and women should drink low-fat milk. But they don’t
say, ‘We should do something that would reduce dioxin emissions.’
We know that backyard burning of trash in burn barrels is
the major source of dioxin emissions. We don’t have a law
that bans that,” explained Haight.
On Tuesday (Sept. 9), the state released a revised version
of its cancer-control plan, which acknowledges more environmental
factors, including dioxin, arsenic and toxic emissions, but
keeps the burden of cancer prevention on the individual.
At a press conference Tuesday, Don Distasio, CEO of the American
Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey, called environmental
causes of cancer a “complicated issue,” saying that they “need
to be on the table” for inclusion in the state’s still- developing
approaches to cancer.
In the meantime, the plan relies on the state’s existing environmental
regulations to protect the public against cancer risks.
the cancer-control plan recognizes that the environment is
linked to cancer, and it mentions specific carcinogens, it
fails to say how exposures to these toxins will be reduced,”
said Margaret Roberts on behalf of NYSBCN. The groups critical
of the plan want the state to include new, tighter environmental
restrictions on industry and agriculture as part of the plan’s
The inclusion of environmental factors is important, said
Haight, because “this document is a tool for directing research
funds, and even a tool for directing public policy.”
the way we do things that causes cancer, and people don’t
want to face up to it,” Hassig said. “The governor has proven
himself to be especially industry-friendly. . . . He doesn’t
want his commissioner of health to point fingers at any industry.”
The New York State Department of Health did not return any
of Metroland’s calls.
need to put the precautionary principle to work,” said Haight.
“You don’t have to have complete scientific evidence of harm;
if you have enough of a body of evidence that suggests harm,
you should do something about it now, as opposed to the stacked-body
approach to public health.”
The Breast Cancer Network could not agree more. “Existing
regulatory mechanisms in New York state do not protect our
citizens,” said Roberts.
When asked if the precautionary principle should be included
in public policy, Dr. Distasio, as supporter of the current
plan, said that is “absolutely the case.”
The state does view its cancer plan as an evolving process,
subject to change. Still, many groups like NYSBCN are left
to wonder if anything will actually come of it.
York state missed the opportunity to implement meaningful
public policy by failing to incorporate the precautionary
principle in its official cancer-control plan,” said Roberts.
New evidence shows the Albany County redistricting process
was flawed from the start
to documents acquired by Metroland, the Albany County
Legislature’s protracted redistricting fiasco showed signs
of impropriety from its earliest stages.
The controversy centers on when companies bidding for the
contract to redraw the county’s voting districts were given
knowledge regarding their legal responsibility to defend the
maps they would create for the county.
Every 10 years, in accordance with new census data, legislative
bodies across the country enter the often-contentious process
of redrawing the lines that determine voting districts.
As has been reported in this paper and elsewhere, Albany County
has been embroiled in a series of federal legal challenges
over the past few months stating that black and Hispanic voters
received inadequate representation in the county’s new voting
maps. Now, documents recently discovered by Metroland
shed light on what appears to be another tainted area of the
county’s redistricting debacle: its bidding process.
These documents show that the county’s attorney accepted costly
legal responsibilities for the new voting-district maps well
after companies had placed their bids based on a request-for-proposals
which stated that the companies themselves would be required
to pay for any legal costs. In other words, companies that
factored legal costs into their proposals would have bid much
more competitively had they known that the county would foot
the bill for any legal challenge to the maps.
No new proposal was produced, and at least one consultant
whose high bid cost him the contract said the change in terms
amounts to little more than a “bait and switch.”
indemnification clause was the poison pill,” said John J.
McEneny of Hudson Valley Demographics, also a New York state
assemblyman and a former Albany County legislator. “The reason
we bid so high was because we were afraid of the court costs.
There was very intimidating language in the [proposal] regarding
legal responsibility, and we probably would’ve bid a third
of what we did had we known we’d be covered in court.”
According to the initial terms sent out by the Albany County
Purchasing Department on March 15, 2002, interested bidders
were informed that they would be responsible for any legal
costs incurred because of a challenge to the maps they created.
The consultant who draws the maps “shall defend, indemnify
and save harmless the county, its employees and agents, from
and against all claims, damages, losses and expenses . . .
arising out of, or in consequence of, any negligent or intentional
act or omission . . . ,” reads the request for proposals.
But according to the minutes from a meeting of the redistricting
commission held on April 24, 2002—nine days after the deadline
for bids to be submitted to the county—a letter was circulated
to commission members stating that County Attorney Michael
Lynch would be responsible for the costly legal process should
the adopted redistricting plan face a court challenge.
An amended proposal stating that the county attorney would
handle court costs was never created, and the county’s redistricting
contract was awarded to GeoPolitical Strategies, the lowest
bidder at $37,800. GeoPolitical finished its maps for the
county in late October 2002, the maps were adopted by the
legislature on Nov. 12, 2002, and an official legal challenge
was filed in federal court this past April. Lynch took on
all legal responsibilities in response to the challenge.
McEneny said that his firm’s bid of $97,425, more than double
the lowest bid, was padded because he feared that any plan
he created may have faced a legal challenge.
show you the cost of redistricting, I just did the City of
Cohoes, six districts, for $4,000,” McEneny said. “Redistricting
itself isn’t expensive, but you’ve got to prepare yourself
for legal costs in contentious districts.”
But Betsy Weiss, legal counsel for the Albany County Legislature’s
Democratic majority, told Metroland that the indemnification
clause holds the consultant responsible for legal challenges
only in the event of a “negligent or intentional act or omission.”
Weiss refused further comment and directed all further inquiries
to County Attorney Lynch.
Lynch was in federal court defending the county’s redistricting
proposal on Tuesday when approached by Metroland. He
refused comment and did not return phone calls for this story.
County Legislator Susan Tatro (R-Colonie), a member of the
county’s redistricting committee, rebuffed Weiss’ statement
regarding the consultant’s legal responsibilities for the
thought that it should be the practice that the consultant
would have to indemnify their plan and [the county] would
not have to be paying [the consultant] to defend the plan,”
Tatro said. “[The consultant] should have to stand behind
These findings come on the heels of testimony given this week
by Phillip Chonigman, the consultant with GeoPolitical Strategies
who drew the contested maps for the county, who said he was
unaware of an indemnification clause in the initial request
for proposals. Chonigman further testified that he was receiving
$90 per hour from the county to testify on the county’s behalf.
don’t wait till you get the price you want and then change
the rules,” McEneny said. “The indemnification clause was
probably why you only had three firms bid for the job. Due
process didn’t take place.”
out and stay out: the National Lead site in Colonie. Photo:
in the Air
A federal report linking pollution to cancer at National
Lead site has residents worried and legislators looking
scars of industry can last long after the plumes from a factory’s
smokestack are gone.
A federal report issued in late August by the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, has linked pollution from the
former National Lead plant in Colonie to potential health
The agency found that the “past [depleted uranium] emissions
from the plant were a public health hazard, and may possibly
have increased the risk of kidney disease and lung cancer,
particularly for smokers who had lived near the plant. The
extent to which risk was increased, however, is unknown.”
Now, many area residents are wondering if their diseases are
linked to the pollutants from National Lead’s waste—a suspicion
some have held for some time. State Assemblyman Robert Prentiss
(R-Colonie) and his wife, County Legislator Marlene Prentiss
(R-Colonie), are leading the charge to get more answers about
the local health problems and the culpability of the company
and the government.
. . . calling upon the attorney general to investigate any
potential claims New York state has against NL,” said Assemblyman
Prentiss, who is looking into a class action lawsuit. Prentiss
also wants a complete health study of those who live or have
lived near the National Lead site.
Dr. Michael Brooks, the report’s author, cautioned in the
Times Union that “one out of three people in the general
population will contract cancer.”
But in a letter responding to the Sept. 1 article, the presidents
of Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer countered,
“[Dr. Brooks’] statistic reflects cancers acquired over a
long lifetime and includes cases of the more common sun-exposure
skin cancers and lung cancers that are directly linked to
smoking. People who live near the Colonie site are reporting
less common forms of cancer contracted at relatively young
ages.” CRAAB has criticized a recent state report on cancer
prevention for ignoring environmental factors like National
Lead’s pollution. [See related story, page 12.]
ATSDR did not return Metroland’s phone calls for this
Assemblyman Prentiss, who lives within a half-mile of the
former plant, has collected the names and stories of more
than 50 afflicted residents so far. “We’re not talking about
just kidney disorders and lung cancer,” he said, “but bone
and breast cancer, MS, birth defects, learning disabilities.”
Asthma, reproductive problems, and autoimmune diseases were
also commonly reported by nearby residents.
The National Lead Industries plant operated at 1130 Central
Ave. until it was shut down in 1984 for noncompliance with
The plant started as a brass and lead foundry, but turned
to manufacturing munitions and aircraft parts containing depleted
uranium in the late 1950s. As environmental regulations were
implemented in the 1970s, lead- and uranium-based production
was replaced with newer methods. Still, from 1979 to 1984,
the National Lead plant released depleted uranium into the
air—at a rate 54,000 times above today’s legal emissions limit.
National Lead has admitted its emissions contained toxic particles
and radioactive materials, which spread downwind through Colonie,
West Albany and Arbor Hill.
Last Friday, the Prentisses coordinated a public hearing with
representatives from the ATSDR and the Army Corps of Engineers,
which has been responsible for the 11-acre site’s cleanup
since 1997. More than 200 people attended. “We came to get
answers to our questions, and we left with more questions
than before and even less answers,” Prentiss said. “Why was
this nuclear munitions factory allowed to operate smack in
the middle of an urban neighborhood anyway?”
The full report is available for review and comment at the
William K. Stanford Town Library, 632 Albany Shaker Road,
Loudonville, until Oct. 3. Prentiss is seeking an extension
of the period for public comment on the report, and is planning
a second public hearing.
for sale: 182 Delaware Ave. and its neighbors. Photo:
Goes the Neighborhood?
Speculation is flying about the future of a
row of buildings for sale on Delaware Avenue
large for-sale signs went up at 182, 184, 186, and 188 Delaware
Avenue almost a year ago, residents were surprised. “It was
a shock to us who woke up one morning and [saw] all those
for-sale signs,” said Louise McNeilly, president of the Delaware
Avenue Neighborhood Association. “[The] neighborhood . . .
looks like it’s entirely up for sale. It makes you uneasy,
sort of uncomfortable.” The properties are two blocks south
of Lincoln Park, on the northern edge of the Delaware Area
But part of that discomfort may have been about more than
just large signs. The commercial real-estate listing for numbers
182 through 200 describes the lots as “a great location for
a fast food chain, pharmacy, mini market, large professional
building.” The promotion worried several neighborhood activists,
including McNeilly and Shawn Morris, the city councilwoman
representing the area who is also vice chair of the zoning
large-scale commercial development would not be appropriate
right in the midst of our pedestrian-friendly residential
neighborhood,” said McNeilly. “While we welcome small businesses,
the impact of a national food chain, for example, would be
negative—more litter, less community control, more traffic,
less character, more fat.”
Despite the language of the advertisement, Matthew J. Ryan,
owner of the properties, insists—with some exasperation—that
he has no intention of selling them to a franchise, and in
fact has turned down a few who were interested. “I can’t see
knocking down a building that’s already there,” said Ryan,
who said he frequently purchases buildings scheduled for demolition
and renovates them instead.
Ryan claims the franchise listing was “probably my realtor’s
idea,” but appears not to have told him to change it. The
properties are marketed as a package deal, Ryan said, for
convenience and because they have a shared parking lot in
Ryan, who grew up around the corner on Morton Avenue, started
buying buildings on this section of Delaware Avenue three
years ago, because, he said, “there’s a lot of potential.
It’s a nice large community there that can be saved.” He refurbished
the houses, which he says were in bad shape and filled with
drug dealers, and says he is now exceedingly selective about
his tenants, doing extensive credit checks and requiring a
credit card. He has businesses lined up for the vacant storefronts
at number 200, and is donating one of the spaces to the police
for a community policing outpost. Tenants seem happy with
the quality of the homes.
So why are the buildings for sale? “My work is done,” said
Ryan. “I went through, fixed them up, got rid of the crap.
Now it’s time to move on.” Ryan, who owns buildings throughout
the Capital Region through his company Prime Rate and Return,
is still acquiring other buildings in the neighborhood, however,
and doesn’t seem in a big hurry to sell the ones he has—the
package deal is set at more than $1 million.
face it, there’s not a lot of people willing to spend $1 million
on Delaware Avenue,” said realtor Douglas Schenk, who is representing
the properties. “[It] was my recommendation to list them separately
But Terry Taylor, a local resident who has been working for
Ryan renovating the buildings, wouldn’t be so quick to write
off the possibility. He said the area has gotten a lot busier
in the past few years, and some sort of fast-food franchise
“would get a lot of business.”
know I’m asking a ridiculous price,” admitted Ryan, unperturbed.
“Actually a Burger King would go perfect there. But I’m a
realist, and I know it’s not going to happen. I’m trying to
make it more of a neighborhood.”
Still, McNeilly is worried about having so many properties
for sale at once. The neighborhood has been having some problems
with unresponsive absentee landlords, so she’s very aware
that these houses could be bought by “the wrong person,” which
she said could have a big negative impact. Nonetheless, she’s
cautiously pleased by the prospect of local businesses. It
would be great, she said, “if he’s sincere about wanting to
sell to a positive [owner].”
Councilwoman Morris agrees, saying her main concern is that
whatever goes there is positive for the neighborhood. “It
has to be pedestrian-friendly—this is a walking neighborhood,”
she said. “We are always willing to work with people . . .
to find something that works.”
Veterans in My Backyard
Albany is trying to revoke a veterans’ home’s zoning
permit—even though the violation has been fixed
Stacey can’t win for losing. On Aug. 11, the director of the
Albany Housing Coalition was arrested for zoning violations
at the Tyler Arms veterans’ home at 688 Madison Ave. The problem?
He had allowed St. John’s Project Lift, a drug and alcohol
rehabilitation program, to temporarily move 12 clients into
the building when they lost their own space.
Although it took a while to find new places for Project Lift’s
clients—some have gone to other agencies, some were put on
a fast track to graduation and independence—as of last week,
they were all moved out of Tyler Arms. Nonetheless, last night
the zoning board of appeals heard a request from Commissioner
of Public Safety John Nielsen to revoke the special-use permit
for Tyler Arms, which was created five years ago as a 60-unit
single-room-occupancy home for low-income, elderly veterans.
really am at a loss,” said Stacey. “If it was just the Project
Lift people, then it should’ve gone away when they were gone.”
But it’s become quite clear that it’s not just about Project
Lift. “The neighbors have been complaining that there are
people other than veterans in there for a substantial period
prior to the closing of Project Lift,” said Commissioner Nielsen.
“The neighbors have a right to know that the permit as issued
is being adhered to.”
Stacey admitted that aside from Project Lift, he has rented
a few rooms to nonveterans who were otherwise “very similar”
to his other clients because the residence has had trouble
filling all its rooms with vets and has been losing money.
The coalition had already applied—before the Project Lift
controversy—to the zoning board of appeals to remove the veterans-only
restriction. Members of the coalition board say they think
the restriction may be in violation of the Federal Fair Housing
But is there any problem here besides a technical zoning violation?
“I don’t know how frail or elderly people make an unsafe neighborhood—maybe
they’re afraid of people getting run over by an ambulance,”
said Stacey. He pointed out that there are landlords across
the city with serious code violations who are left alone,
while the coalition maintains the building at the federal
life safety standards (higher than required by the city) and
even put $1,000 worth of flowers into the grounds this year.
Stacey said Nielsen has cited hundreds of police calls to
the building as part of the problem. But, he said, the numbers
are misleading. There were 216 emergency calls regarding 688
Madison in 18 months (January 2002 to June 2003), but 124
represent EMS-related calls. Most medical emergencies, and
many other incidents, generate at least two separate calls.
Fifteen 911 hang-up calls were traced to a crossed telephone
wire. Dozens more were from resident veterans suffering from
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who often called 911 with
imagined troubles. All told, fewer than a dozen incidents
seem to have been of a serious, non-medical nature, and only
one involved alcohol.
Maurice Benno, who has owned the neighboring property at 692
Madison for 20 years, isn’t willing to write the problems
off. He lost tenants, he said, when they learned that a “halfway
house” (referring to Project Lift) was operating next door,
and he said he has had numerous other problems with noise
and people parking in his tenants’ spaces. Benno insisted
he has nothing against housing Vietnam vets. But, he added,
“the fact that they are losing money [and bringing non-vets
in] is not my problem. This was not supposed to be like this.”
Sharon Facteau, director of Project Lift, said Benno’s complaints
were not actually about her clients, but other people who
had gathered on the premises. “Our guys are tightly controlled,”
she said. “They are always supervised.”
In any case, Project Lift is gone, and the threat of a zoning
change remains. A number of people have expressed concern
that the city’s heavy-handed approach in this case is representative
of a larger pattern. “Any time anyone in a neighborhood complains
. . . for some reason the mayor . . . makes their opinion
the determining factor,” said Donna DeMaria, executive director
of the Homeless Action Committee, which has had to sue the
city in the past in order to get permits to build its facilities.
“There are lots of problems everywhere with people calling
the police about neighbors, students who are partying,” she
added. “The thing you have going for you with a place like
Tyler Arms, you have it managed.”
Tyler Arms has been losing enough money that the coalition
has put it on the market, though there’s still some reluctance
within the organization to give up on it.
The veterans’ residence is 100-percent privately financed
with a $7,000 per month mortgage. If rezoning forces it to
close it could spell disaster for the coalition, which is
a fixture in Albany’s affordable housing community. “If .
. . the coalition can’t do its work any more, [that’s] a tremendous
loss to the city,” said DeMaria. “We can’t let that happen.”