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Lawmakers review Styrofoam ban

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck presents to Greene County Legislature Wednesday night about a proposed styrofoam ban
August 8, 2019 07:28 pm Updated: August 9, 2019 10:34 am


CATSKILL — In light of recent laws at the state level, Greene County lawmakers reviewed proposed legislation to ban polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, has been exploring this type of legislation for the past few years and now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed a law banning single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, Lawrence feels the timing is right, he said Wednesday night. “Originally the bill [for Styrofoam] focused on chain stores but I think its time we do away with it,” he said.

Lawrence worked with former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck on developing the latest version of the law.

Enck grew up in Cairo and attended St. Patrick’s High School in Catskill, so environmental issues in the region are especially personal for her.

“In high school my friend’s brother had a motorboat and we would go water skiing on the Hudson,” Enck recalled. “I was so worried about falling in the water because it had a rainbow sheen on it.”

Enck said she believes that the best way to fight plastic pollution is here at home.

“It’s easier to tackle at the local level,” she said.

Although the statewide plastic ban is coming in March, Ulster County has already initiated one, Enck said. Additionally the county charges a 5-cent fee for paper bags to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags.

Ulster County also passed legislation to make plastic straws, single-use utensils and condiments available upon request, Enck said.

“It saves businesses money,” she said.

Ulster, Albany and Suffolk counties, as well as New York City, have banned Styrofoam, Enck said.

“[Albany County] is debating the paper bag fees and straws upon request,” she said. “Greene County’s turn is next. I think we should remind everyone that we want to keep Greene County green.”

Restaurants can switch to alternative materials for takeout containers such as aluminum or cardboard, Enck said, adding that many businesses have already made the transition.

The world at large needs to rethink its plastic usage, Enck said.

“Unless we change the way we package, by 2025, for every three pounds of fish, we will have one pound of plastic,” she said.

Once discarded into the environment, plastic can get broken down into smaller pieces that are ingested by animals and often are later ingested by humans, Enck said.

“We produce 8.8 million tons of plastic per year,” Enck said. “Only nine percent of plastics are recycled. This is becoming much worse because China is not accepting recyclables. Styrofoam is not recyclable. It has to be burned or buried.”

A study conducted by the environmental watchdog organization Riverkeeper found that Styrofoam was the Hudson River’s most common pollutant, Enck said.

Polystyrene is considered a probable human carcinogen, she said.

“It migrates into our food, especially hot, fatty, acidic foods,” Enck said.

There are 408,000 chemicals used in food packaging, Enck said.

A study conducted by researchers at the State University College at Fredonia found that 93% of bottled water contains microplastics, Enck said.

Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, questioned why the county needed more legislation when the community is already making strides to keep the river clean without legislation.

“Legislation banned PCBs,” Enck said. “The Clean Water Act prohibited the discharge of raw sewage into the river. We need a combination. There needs to be legislation and also education and public outreach.”

Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said he believes a ban on Styrofoam would not stop people from littering.

“Other types of litter degrade,” Enck said. “Plastic lasts for centuries.”

Banning Styrofoam would save taxpayers money, she said.

“We’re paying a lot of money to ship out to Seneca Meadows,” she said. “I see this as a potential tax savings.”

Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, asked if the other counties had data on how much money they were saving.

The bans were relatively new, Enck replied.

Linger was skeptical that banning Styrofoam would reduce tipping fees.

“We pay by the ton and Styrofoam is mostly air,” he said. “It might be less volume but not weight.”

A concern the county officials had when they last visited the topic was the expense of alternative products, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.

Linger agreed.

“How much regulation can we put on local businesses if it’s going to be a hardship?” he said. “If it happens on a state level, it’s an even playing field.”

Vermont is the first state to ban plastic shopping bags, straws, drink stirrers and foam food packaging in a single bill.

No action was taken on the proposed ban Wednesday, but legislators were asked to review the document.


Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo is a public servant who understands that the role of government is to protect the public, err on the side of caution where mortal health dangers are concerned, and provide a level playing field via regulations that balance the interests of big business with public good. He is to be commended for acting on his concern for attempting to mitigate the risks presented by styrene products as food containers, and environmental pollutants.

The most recent findings and opinions in the NCIB literature on this subject *** make no bones about the fact that styrene and its metabolic impacts are mutagenic, and may pose a threat - to some of us more than others based upon our genetic sensitivities and vulnerability to chance mutations that may pass undetected under the radar of our immune systems until they develop into full blown cancers.

There's no doubt that the fast food supply industry is heavily invested in styrene (styrofoam®) products. But, that doesn't justify putting our health at risk. There are already available several "green" and more biodegradable alternatives whose cost where greater than those containing styrene are still acceptable. We're talking a couple of pennies per order. This is a specious argument balanced against the risks.

Then there is the issue of "litter." Litter is a human behavior problem. It has nothing to do with the problems of styrene, which can be handled responsibly and still find its way by action of spillage, wind, and flood into our water and oceans where it will remain for 1,000 years.

The role of government is to act when individual behavior will undercut societal objectives because we all suffer from the 'exceptions.' The individuals least tuned into the risks of using styrene are very likely to be the same individuals least aware or responsible about how they recycle.

Bill Lawrence's bill is worthy and should be passed! We thank Judith Enck for her time and caring about Greene County.
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"We conclude that when styrene is metabolized to SO, it can form DNA adducts, and positive in vitro mutagenicity/clastogenicity results can be obtained. SO is mutagenic in bacteria and the in vitro mouse lymphoma gene mutation assay. No rodent in vivo mutation studies were identified. SO is clastogenic in cultured mammalian cells. "
The geological signature of our age is the unnatural debris accumulating in our environment. Indeed, a stratigraphic layer of plastic-riddled trash is now accumulating in our visible landscape, our rivers, oceans, and lake bottoms, and as floating islands in the open ocean, and as blight to our roadsides and shorelines. This shameful geological signature that we leave behind us has been given a name, the ‘Anthropocene’. We have been scolding litterbugs for decades to no avail. We turn a blind eye to illegal dumping of trash and toxic wastes. Informal, unlined, and unpermitted landfills dot our county. Their toxic effluents leak into our waterways, flavoring the plastic pudding of trash. The solution has not been realized voluntarily and will not come voluntarily, however well-intentioned the majority of the population may be. Voluntarily solutions, without excess regulation, are of course the preferred route. But we have decades of experience that voluntary solutions are not up to this job. Our only progress comes when we collectively [yes, governmentally] take actions like banning PCB dumping into the Hudson and order GE to clean up their mess. It is time to cut the plastic debris problem off at its source. The Lawrence-Enck plan to ban polystyrene is a welcome step in the right direction. I commend Legislator Lawrence for his forthright proposal.
Saturday, the usual exciting trip to the recycling dump on Route 385. A big sign: "Don't put styrofoam in cardboard or plastics, put it in the garbage." Styrofoam is the only major packaging component that we can not recycle. How many things do we do that affect the earth 500, maybe 1000 years from now? Use a cup for two seconds; pollute and poison the earth for hundreds of years? That is a bad deal. The ban is the right thing to do. Businesses can adjust, and will have a grace period in which to do so. Let's live up to our beautiful county name: GREEN(E)!