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Albany County Legislature bans polystyrene

Updated: 12/12/2013 2:28 PM
Created: 11/13/2013 12:04 AM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - It's a product most Americans have used on a daily basis for half a century, but Tuesday night the Albany County Legislature voted to get rid of it.

Polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, which litters streets and landfills, and is considered a health hazard by many, has been banned at Albany County's fifteen fast food chain restaurants.

To environmentalists, plastics manufacturers are seemingly viewed as mortal enemies.

"Everyone has seen all the plastic in the oceans, with no effort by the industry that created it to do anything about it," said Jim Travers, a board member of the Citizens' Environmental Coalition.

Manufacturers accuse environmentalists of using misleading information.

"Polystyrene is a safe product," insists Mike Levy, of the American Chemistry Council. "It's been used for fifty years. It's regulated by the FDA and it's been tested for exposure to consumers."

For nearly two hours on Tuesday night, the Albany County Legislature debated the merits and the demerits of banning polystyrene foam.

"Styrofoam is an anacryonism," said  Alison Rhodes-Devey, of Albany. "It served a purpose but it no longer goes."

"I think we're very foolish when we play with the risk of our health when we look at styrofoam," asserted Kimberley Smith, of Berne.

For George Bradden, the issue is deeply personal. His family has run Commodore Plastics in Ontario County for more than three decades, and he says 175 jobs are on the line.

"I'm passionate about this, it's my family's business," he says, "It could be disastrous for my family and why? Why do we not like this product?"

When the general public was through, that's when the legislators picked up the debate.

"We cannot be saying that the polystyrene generated from Wendy's, McDonald's, or Burger King is any less of a problem as what mom and pop would be producing here in Albany County," opined Deborah Busch (D - Berne).

"I don't like singling out people either," responded Doug Bullock (D - Albany), the bill's sponsor, "but you have to start somewhere and this is where you start. You start with those who can afford it."

When all was said and done, the legislature voted 24-12 to ban polystyrene, the same measure passed by about 100 other municipalities across the country.

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