July 19, 2007

Health Dept. considers study of asthma around Suit-Kote

Suit Kote

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
The county will investigate odor and health issues at the Suit-Kote plant at Lorings Crossing.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — With approval of the Suit-Kote asphalt plant expansion pending, the Cortland County Board of Health may investigate whether the existing operation is contributing to a high rate of asthma in the county.
Although it is unknown whether the asthma rates are being affected by air pollution, the county Board of Health is concerned and is planning a study to look into those concerns.
In 2002, Cortland County had an asthma morality rate of 20.6 per 10,000 residents, according to the state Department of Health’s October 2005 Asthma Surveillance report. The state average was 17.7.
Audrey Lewis, director of the county health department’s division of environmental health, said this year the health department has received 13 complaints concerning the plants in Polkville and Lorings Crossing.
However, Jacqueline Gailor, director of public health for the county, said in 1995 and 1996, when Suit-Kote first expanded, the health department was receiving many more complaints. Lewis agreed.
“The last couple of years it has quieted down because certain people tend not to call in all the time,” Lewis said. “Sometimes all the complaints don’t come to us either.”
Sandy Panzanella, owner of the Yellow Lantern Kampgrounds, brought the concern to the Board of Health on Tuesday.
“(Suit-Kote) needs to fix what is already happening before they are allowed to expand,” Panzanella said to the board members. “The smell is all over and it is making everyone sick.”
Panzanella has owned the campground since 1987 and said she did not have any issues until Suit-Kote was given permission to expand in the 1990s. Her property is now about half a mile from the Lorings Crossing Suit-Kote site.
“Now they want to add more tanks in a residential area. I need your help,” Panzanella said to the board. “My family has all come down with asthma and my campers have been complaining. I have lost business.”
Panzanella also told the board that many county residents have just given up on complaining.
Terry Mingle, a 42-year-old resident of Cortlandville said there used to be a group that formed to fight the odors.
“We got ignored so much that the group dispersed,” Mingle said. “I think Suit-Kote is a good company for the community. It provides a good job base and pay, but when it affects my living space it makes a place, formally a pleasure to live in, unbearable.”
Mingle said she has allergies and a mild case of asthma, which may be the reason she gets nauseous and headaches from the “overwhelming” smells.
“The area has a high rate of asthma and I’m not surprised,” Mingle said. “Who knows what’s in those chemicals.”
Suit-Kote has been growing significantly and needs the expansion to keep up with customer demand, according to Brian Renna, director of corporate relations for Suit-Kote,
“We have taken many corrective measures, including placing carbon filtration systems in the tanks to reduce the odors,” Renna said. “We can sympathize with people and are doing everything we can.”
The carbon filtration systems only exist at the plant in Polkville. However, Renna said Suit-Kote is in the process of designing a new filtration system with a company in Syracuse to mitigate the odors at the Lorings Crossing site.
Suit-Kote employs approximately 350 Cortland County residents and proposes to add an additional 27 tanks, 20 of which would be located at the Lorings Crossing site.
The discussion Tuesday among the county Board of Health members led to many different ideas, such as tracking and mapping out the complainants with respiratory-related emergency room visits.
According to Gailor, the board is strongly considering conducting this study.
“We can’t say that symptoms are directly related without scientific evidence, but we can look at the data in the study to see if there is a link,” Gailor said.
Gailor added that the particulars still have to be worked out and the Board of Health will not have an immediate response to the problems.
The length of the investigation will not be affected by the decision on whether Suit-Kote will expand because Gailor said the study is looking to see what is going on at the time, not looking to compare before and after the expansion.
“It depends on what we find to determine what we can do,” Gailor said. “A link could be used to support action for those who regulate air quality.”
For now, Lewis said the board needs to determine what investigation processes are feasible and it will be contacting other agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Health Department, to come to board meetings and provide members with a direction to follow.
Lewis said at the meeting that the board would have to get a greater number of people to complain to make a case. She added that there is empirical data that complaints are coming from downwind of the plant.
“I would like to see the town bring in someone to test the air to see if we are breathing in risk chemicals or just bad odor,” Panzanella said. “It’s getting worse and worse as the summer goes on.”



Brown will not seek Nov. re-election

Staff Reporter

After 10 years on the Cortland County Legislature, Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) said Wednesday that she will not be seeking re-election in November.
“It’s been 10 interesting years, but I think it’s time for someone else from my district to come forth,” Brown said of her decision, noting she looked forward to devoting more time to her personal life.
Brown said that her 10 years in the Legislature, including the past two as chairman, have been educational, with both accomplishments and disappointments.
“I would have liked to have been able to do more to reduce taxes for the taxpayers,” she said. “But I am proud that we hired a county administrator, and since then the county’s overall financial condition has improved greatly.”
Brown touted Democrat Chad Loomis, a resident of 73 Church St., as a worthy successor to her seat.
“I feel that Chad Loomis is a very bright young man who would bring a lot of good ideas and expertise to the Legislature if he should be elected,” she said.
Loomis, who is a professional engineer at Cornell University and a member of the county Planning Board, said Wednesday he has been circulating petitions to run for the 8th Ward seat, and he planned to file the petitions by today’s 5 p.m. deadline.
“I’m taking the plunge,” Loomis, who in 2005 ran unsuccessfully for alderman in the 8th Ward, said jokingly. “I really enjoyed running two years ago, I learned a lot from talking to people in the neighborhood, and I think there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”
During the 2005 campaign — he was defeated by Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward)— Loomis said the two issues he heard the most about from constituents were taxes and the lack of business growth and job opportunities in the county.


Local Empire Zone benefits questioned

State is reviewing 44 of the 180 county businesses that participate in the tax credit program

Staff Reporter

Forty-four of Cortland County’s approximately 180 Empire Zone companies will be reviewed by the state after a state audit indicated they have not met their promised job creation or investment goals, the county’s Empire Zone coordinator said Wednesday.
Karen Niday said she received the list on Friday along with a description of the audit, which the state conducted based on 2005 annual business reports. The audit indicates 3,000 Empire Zone businesses statewide have failed to meet 60 percent of their promised goals.
Niday would not reveal the names of the local companies in question, saying the documents are not public because the investigation is preliminary.
Stefanie Zakowicz, vice president of communications for Upstate Empire State Development, said the list will not be made public until a decision about the companies is made.
“They have to remain private while they’re in the negotiating process,” she said. She declined to elaborate, or answer additional questions about the ongoing review.
The review is part of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s push to better regulate the Empire Zone program, which has come under increased scrutiny over the years, with claims it has helped politically connected businesses that change names and transfer payrolls to create the illusion of jobs.
Companies may have to give up money they received through the program and lose the tax breaks.
The 180 Cortland County companies in the Empire Zone claimed a total of about $3 million in income tax breaks through the Empire Zone program in 2005. Those companies invested about $23 million in new equipment and added 222 net jobs that year.



Fire Dept. conducting training

People on south Main Street may notice smoke in the air during the evenings over the next few weeks.
The Cortland City Fire Department and members of some surrounding fire departments will be conducting training in two of the houses slated to be demolished for the Housing Visions housing rehabilitation project.
Erik Verfuss, captain in charge of training with the city fire department, said training in 148 Main St. began Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. It will continue today from 7 to 10 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays each week for the next three weeks. Verfuss said starting the week after next, the firefighters will also conduct training at 152 Main St.
Training will include searching for victims, rescuing victims and improving ventilation. He said the departments won’t start any fires, but will use a smoke machine to produce smoke.
People might hear sawing and generator noises, he said.