Derek Scarlino

Utica Nano has Devil in the Details

by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage

Over the summer, there was a palpable atmosphere of excitement in Utica as if a parade could spontaneously come into existence. No our Utica Comets hadn’t won the Calder Cup. Turns out that our governor, Andrew Cuomo, had announced big news about the nano center just north of Utica. Companies had finally signed on. Jobs were coming. Jobs!

Plan that parade if you feel like it. But is it a bona fide cause for celebration? The well-meaning folks at Made In Utica think so. $200 billion invested. A proposed 2,500 jobs — some paying up to $91,000. A school-to-job pipeline for graduates of SUNY Polytechnic, Mohawk Valley Community College and Utica College. It seems that per Made In Utica’s suggestion “the haters and internet trolls can go hide back in their holes, find something else to do”.

With any deal involving moneyed parties and Andrew Cuomo, however, if it seems too good to be true, like the charter school models and teacher evaluations he supports, then it might just be. While jobs coming to Utica is something that will be hard to ignore or rain down on, there are some big concerns that come along with them which were recently covered in-depth by the International Business Times.

The contaminated Bendix site in South Utica (Photo: Mark DiOrio/Observer-Dispatch)

The contaminated Bendix site in South Utica (Photo: Mark DiOrio/Observer-Dispatch)

Primarily, General Electric, identified as one of the big investors (the other being Austrian company AMS), has been a notorious purveyor of corporate pollution and is equally notorious at fighting attempts to get them to clean up their messes, as covered in the article. The levels of PCB contaminants, which can contribute to cancer and other illnesses, in the Hudson River leftover from 40 years of chemical dumping, were recently determined to be far greater in scope than initial EPA and GE estimates — and greater even than estimates from 2002.

In 1984, the Reagan administration declared 200 miles of the 315-mile-long Hudson River a Superfund site for environmental cleanup, but it was later determined that rehabilitation efforts might do more damage. It wasn’t until the second Bush administration that a deal was reached between the EPA and GE over cleaning up the Hudson, but that was limited to just 40 miles of the river north of Albany using “wildly off the mark” estimates on variables of PCB contamination, according to Dan Raichel of the National Resources Defense Council.

With two to three times more PCBs contaminating the river, and their rate of decay overstated by up to six times, the proposed cleanup of just 65 percent of PCBs in the designated 40-mile stretch means that there will be much more contamination left over than initially forecasted when the deal ends next year. Guess who picks up that tab?

What about government oversight, though? Shouldn’t GE be responsible for its own mess? It seems that when you donate nearly half a million dollars to the governor and his supportive political groups since 2009, you also purchase a lot of favors. Favors that have taken the shape of unearned tax breaks and public subsidies continuing a trend of the Governor for Sale that has already worked out so well for public education.

Just as with public education there is considerable opposition from within Cuomo’s own party over his handling of GE. As the IBTimes article states, 141 Assembly members and 25 Senators have sought to guide the governor in a direction which makes sure GE finishes its Hudson River cleanup.

Coming back to Utica, the nano center’s proximity to the Utica Marsh, Barge Canal and Mohawk River adds to the likelihood of nanoparticles being added to these water sources during production, and of particular concern, the capacity of said particles to carry heavy metals. Ironically, nanotechnology may hold true benefits for environmental use, but studies on this remain low in number and mostly ongoing.

Lana Nitti's presentation of lead poisoning findings at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School. (Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

Lana Nitti’s presentation of lead poisoning findings at the Mohawk Valley Freedom School. (Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

In a March 2014 study by researchers Jabrinder Singh and S.B. Bhardwaj titled Environmental Nanotechnology: Application, Implication and Regulation, which included experiments conducted at the University of Rochester, the two made the following conclusions on nanoparticle implications:

1. It has been found that the process of nanotube manufacturing produced
emissions of at least 15 aromatic hydrocarbons, including four different kinds of
toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) similar to those found in cigarette
smoke and automobile tailpipe emissions.
2. Results of a recent experiment indicate that nano-Al2O3 may impact the
life cycle and behavior of Eisenia fetida (an earthworm species), although at levels
unlikely to be found in the environment. Due to increasing use of nano-Al2O3
materials in both commercial and military applications, additional studies are ne-
eded to determine the fate and transport of this material in terrestrial and aquatic
3. Innovative research and diagnostic techniques for biological testing have
advanced during recent years due to the development of semiconductor nanocry-
stals. Although these commercially available fluorescent nanocrystals have a pro-
tective organic coating, the inner core contains cadmium and selenium. Because
these metals have the potential for detrimental environmental effects, concerns
have been raised from the lack of understanding of the environmental fate of
these products.
4. Researchers have discovered that silver nanoparticles used in socks only
to reduce foot odor are being released in the wash with possible negative conse-
quences. Silver nanoparticles, which are bacteriostatic, may then destroy bene-
ficial bacteria which are important for breaking down organic matter in waste
treatment plants or farms.
5. A study at the University of Rochester found that when rats breathed in
nanoparticles, the particles settled in the brain and lungs, which led to significant
increases in biomarkers for inflammation and stress response.
6. A major study published more recently in Nature Nanotechnology sug-
gests some forms of carbon nanotubes – a poster child for the “nanotechnology
revolution” – could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities.
7. A newspaper article reports that workers in a paint factory developed
serious lung disease and nanoparticles were found in their lungs.

There are clear environmental concerns to behold: A known coporate polluter, that has consistently fought against cleaning up past chemical damages in the Hudson River, is getting the red carpet treatment in Utica to be hosted at a facility essentially on top of three significant water sources, to produce items of which the environmental impacts are admittedly not fully understood, yet have not yielded promising results in studies.

This is the environment, born of the capitalist impulse to relocate industry in order to continue growth, which produces the desperation and scarcity inherent in the subsidies-for-jobs relationship between government and corporations. The collusion here is based on the lack of any conditions which urge GE to continue and finish its cleaning of the Hudson River, public subsidies of up to $135 million and generous tax cuts. General Electric wants to operate under a no-strings-attached guarantee which it has not legitimized. These are all missing pieces of the equation. We’re supposed to believe the potential negative impacts of insisting that GE contribute beyond simply bringing jobs will be our own fault; thus, we should surrender all leverage to a multi-billion dollar corporation or else.

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

Utica is already tainted by the environmental scars of industry. From Bendix in South Utica to a lead contamination level of epidemic proportions — the latter being a focal point of research for local activist Lana Nitti. While jobs are certainly welcome, also welcome would be a gesture of cooperation with the local community, as well as New York State, by General Electric to continue and finish its Hudson River cleanup and take measures which reduce the likelihood of more contamination in Utica given the company’s track record. As for tax breaks, these should be conditional and based on living up to better environmental standards. Again, GE hasn’t earned anything, they’re simply using the desperate economic climate to their advantage. Uticans are supposed to be proud that they’re getting worked over?

That General Electric gets more than it gives is entirely too emblematic of the relationship between capitalism and economically repressed regions. This exposes a lot of conflict. Also contained in the IBTimes article is a 1998 statement by former CEO of GE Jack Welch in which he admits that “ideally” GE would “have every plant you own on a barge”, highlighting the ultimate advantage of corporations that skip town and the border far easier than workers. As those authors suggest, negotiations so obviously weighted in favor of GE’s demands are merely the “latest iteration of that strategy” regardless of who’s in charge.

Still, the enthusiasm in and around Utica over the projected upside of recent developments has done well to conceal lingering issues like the stark segregation of the city’s population and under-development of poor neighborhoods. In an interview with the Observer-Dispatch, Economics Professor Don Dutkowsky of Syracuse University said that the area “may very well have ‘have or have-not’ pockets” as a result of any significant economic growth in the future.

Those pockets already exist. And while news of upturns in economic activity provide the distractions necessary for the community to keep it from viewing those pockets, it may never get better for those areas. If the environmental impact shows up 30 years from now in rising cancer rates among those who are children today, what has the area truly gained from such lopsided negotiations? Who wins in the long run if we don’t ask questions now?

The future is entirely unwritten. On one hand, nano investment could attract more to the area and the gains are seen for generations. On the other hand, GE could load up its “barge” after 10 years and ship out of town leaving Utica with expensive environmental consequences. Given the length of time it will take to accurately weigh the benefits and costs, we won’t see for many more years whether or not Cuomo helped salvage Utica or sell it out.

4 replies »

  1. This article is about 85% nonsense. The Barge Canal is a water source? GE polluted before, so they automatically will do so again? FYI – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in hamburgers and french fries in addition to cigarette smoke and tailpipe emissions. Aluminum oxide, which is likely dripping off half the siding in the city, affects worms at levels unlikely to actually happen, but further research is needed? I concede that GE deserves no special breaks, but the author almost seems proud to be scientifically illiterate. It makes a lovely Cuomo hatchet-piece, however.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the read and comment.

      I’ll reply bit by bit…

      1) The Barge Canal merges with the Mohawk River both up and downstream (Frankfort and just before Rome) from Utica. Also, it is readily accessible for popular fishing spots.

      2) It’s not conclusive that GE will pollute again solely based on past behavior, but this is a company which has polluted, still pollutes, and has fought for decades to shirk responsibility for cleaning up the damage it has done. Back to the reputation, they are one of the largest corporate polluters in history — particularly when it comes to Supierfund sites. You have, however, caught me here. I should go back an add that last bit as it is well-documented.

      3) The pollutant argument is that there is concern over what might be added to the environment in ways that have not been well-studied yet, in specific, the noted reference to the ability of nanoparticles to carry heavy metals into local water sources during production — stated not by me, but the researchers of the sourced study. Studies on nano-sourced pollutants reducing air quality were also looked at by myself, but I never added them. There’s a lot in the IBTims article and I didn’t want to simply re-write their story bit by bit. Utica is dealing with a lot of contamination of sites already, some of the research on this is budding right now. This could be costly in both lives and tax dollars.

      Essentially, the point is we invited one of NY’s biggest polluters, and one of the biggest in the nation, back here, with generous incentives, and no guarantees to uphold past environmental agreements past their expiration later this year. The worry is that we could be stuck with a massive cleanup bill ourselves by avoiding tough questions.

      Cheers and thanks again.


  2. I find it odd that the positive pollys are working overtime to stir crap up with those of us who see this as the fake charade it is. My biz parter works for GE and this is very typical of GE. NY has rented them temporary lab space yay yay!

    Look at the REAL “haters” who want Utica to be “famous” and INSIST this is a positive.

    The other unreported story here is Cuomo’s $50M giveaway to GE, and the total lie that AMS is paying for that new small-format 200mm facility with their own money: They’re not: It’s on their own Q2 report: NYS is paying the FULL BILL for the new building as well as maintenance. AMS’s entire yearly income averages $200M so where do these idiots in the Utica media think they’re suddenly pulling “$4B” out of their butts?

    I’m astonished how gullible and stupid the local media is there. I’m also annoyed by the gullible fools INSISTING anyone who has doubts about this latest spurt of NY corporate welfare is a “hater” yada yada yada. We see who the haters are: The people still stuck living there licking up every drop of the fake nano lies that ALWAYS happen withing 2-3 months of elections for the long term political scumbags and parasites. This just keep repeating and the gullibe positive pollys keep pointing at taxpayer funded jobs as “success for Utica” and spew their hate at the few people who have seen this all before and asking for results.

    Uticans are mostly hateful angry jealous people who can’t even wait until a promise is delivered before they go around trying to rub it in the noses of those of us who already have what Utica wants. It will never change. They can’t see how much this just cost them long term so they can orgasm in the news and blather about the little 400 jobs tops this will produce. Meanwhile Utica’s lost 10,000 or more in the last twenty years waiting for parasites like Griffo Brindisi and Picente to do anything but feed themselves.


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