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Results Of PFAS Soil, Water Testing Near Norlite In Cohoes Are Released

The mayor of Cohoes is siding with environmental activists who are recommending immediately stopping the burning of PFAS at a local plant.
The local Norlite story began months ago when an activist in California submitted a Freedom of Information request to the U.S. Department of Defense asking if it shipped unused toxic fire fighter foam anywhere for disposal.

A 26-page legal complaint was filed February 20th in federal court, saying the Norlite incinerator on Saratoga Street in Cohoes was burning stockpiled old firefighting foam laden with toxic PFOS for the Department of Defense and other parties.

Activists held a news conference via Zoom Monday to announce results of soil and water testing conducted in the vicinity of Norlite’s incinerator in Cohoes. They say results show burning old firefighter foam is not effective at breaking down PFAS compounds. And they say the facility appears to be emitting them into the surrounding communities.

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck:

"Norlite started burning this highly toxic firefighter foam without telling anyone except apparently the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. And then they did not tell the public or local elected officials. The Norlite incinerator is currently shut down because they are in the process of installing a new scrubber system to reduce some of the pollutants that they have historically discharged into the Mohawk River."

Dr. David Bond, with Bennington College, led the group that took soil and water samples from neighborhoods surrounding the Norlite plant.

"We detected elevated levels of PFAS compounds in the soil and water near the Norlite facility. These levels decline with distance from the incinerator. The PFAS compounds that make up AFFF including PFOS are higher around the plant than what is considered a background level for these individual compounds. In our region indeed PFOS is twice as high downwind of the plant as it is upwind of the plant, and far more PFAS compounds were detected downwind of Norlite than were detected upwind. Both of these suggest airborne deposition of PFAS compounds."

The activists concede that theirs is a preliminary study and more research is needed.

Norlite responded by email to a request for comment: "The Norlite facility in Cohoes has voluntarily stopped accepting and processing AFFF pending additional research by the U.S. EPA on means of disposing of the material. Our acceptance and processing of AFFF in the past was done in accordance with the permits issued by the U.S. EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. We understand and are sensitive to public questions and concerns about AFFF. The company works and will continue to work with the agencies in establishing any additional parameters needed to determine risk to public health or the environment."

At a press conferenece later Monday, Democratic Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler called the activists' findings "disturbing but not surprising."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler

"When I heard that Judith and Dr. Bond were doing a press conference regarding the PFAS chemical situation in Norlite, I was prepared to be disappointed by the findings, but frankly as I listened to the press conference, I became angry. We know that EPA has been saying for some time now that there's no sound science regarding incineration of AFFF and PFAS chemicals. I'm no scientist, but what I heard did not sound good to me."

Keeler has come up with a two-part plan:

"Tomorrow night the Common Council meets and will pass a law, a one-year moratorium on the burning of AFFF containing PFAS chemicals within the city of Cohoes.

It's a stopgap measure until the assembly and the Senate can pass legislation at the state level which would be a state law banning or moratorium on the burning of PFAS chemicals.

So the second part of the plan is that we need to work with state and federal officials to get the required testing of the people, the soil and the water surrounding Norlite. "

The New York State Department of Environmental Conversation said in its own statement: “DEC is reviewing the data released today, and it appears to be consistent with low background levels observed in urban areas in emerging scientific studies. Since discovering Norlite was incinerating PFAS waste in late 2019, DEC has not allowed the incineration of firefighting foam at Norlite without additional testing to ensure the destruction of PFAS compounds. The facility is not currently incinerating this waste.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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