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Cohoes Mayor: Norlite Incineration On Hold

Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler met with officials from Norlite Tuesday after a federal lawsuit filed last week claimed the company’s facility incinerated PFAS-based substances. 

Keeler, who took office in January, gathered reporters at city hall Tuesday. He says until there is more data available, there will be no burning of known PFAS chemicals in Cohoes.

“I think I speak for everybody when I say we have a lot more questions than answers at this point,” Keeler said. “But, what we did learn today that – for some period in 2018 and a period in 2019 - Norlite confirmed that they were burning the firefighting foam. That has since stopped. I called for a moratorium on the burning until the science and the health says that it’s acceptable – it can be done at acceptable levels.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for enforcing violations at such facilities. 

DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar, speaking to WAMC after the lawsuit was filed, says the department is conducting studies to determine if Norlite is violating any regulatory requirements.

“We are working with EPA’s office of research and development and the facility to design and implement a stack test prior to this material being further processed at the facility,” Mahar said. “This stack testing, which is analyzing what comes out of the smokestacks that are there, will provide important information regarding this potential disposal method for these compounds and whether or not incineration can be effectively used to destroy these compounds.”

Norlite is not required by law to report the burning of unregulated chemicals to the city. PFAS chemicals cause ill-health effects and have poisoned water systems in several Northeast communities. 

Democratic State Assemblyman John McDonald is a former Cohoes mayor. His district includes Norlite.

“Part of the challenge with the PFAS chemicals in general, and this is a challenge we have at Hoosick Falls, it wasn’t required to be reported,” McDonald said. “It wasn’t required to be tested. It hasn’t been required to be reported. We’re just finding out today that the EPA is now going to require those who generate the waste to actually notify those who are going to receive it.”

But Mahar says Norlite did inform the DEC when it burned the chemical foam in December.

“This facility has very stringent requirements that we have to oversee as part of their permits which includes providing us with data on what they’re processing, the amount that they’re processing, and what they are emitting,” Mahar said.

McDonald says the DEC should have informed him of the burning.

“I would have liked a heads up, I can tell you that,” McDonald said.

But McDonald also said there are a lot of unregulated compounds, so it would be difficult to make reporting them a requirement moving forward.

Keeler also expressed strong opposition to the idea of using the Norlite facility as a future test site to determine if PFAS incineration is safe. McDonald agrees, saying there’s not enough information available.

“We don’t know. The EPA has not made any determinations,” McDonald said. “DEC is looking to use this as an experiment - which is fine – except for one thing – we don’t want that experiment happening in the City of Cohoes or in the Capital Region.”

Mahar said the DEC will continue its oversight of the issue, while keeping locals informed.

“We’re very committed to working with Cohoes and the broader Capital Region community on this,” Mahar said. “We’re going to continue, obviously, our aggressive oversight of this facility but also work with the community to make sure they have full understanding of what’s going on.”

McDonald says the next meeting on the issue will focus on the residents who live near Norlite, and may have been affected.

Keeler says there are roughly 70 families living at Saratoga Sites, “in the shadows of the incinerators.”

Norlite officials declined to comment at city hall Tuesday and did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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