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New York State Senate, Assembly Pass Bill Banning Burning Firefighting Foam

Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler, Assemblymember John McDonald
Jackie Orchard/WAMC
Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler, Assemblymember John McDonald

A bill banning the burning of AFFF firefighting foam has passed both the New York State Assembly and Senate. The legislation was crafted specifically for Cohoes, as the prohibition would only impact cities with populations between 16,000 and 17,000 people.
The bill sponsored by two Capital Region lawmakers has local roots: The Norlite plant in Cohoes was under contract with the U.S. Navy to burn the PFAS-laden foam in its two large kilns, and had quitely been doing so for two years.

Former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck says she learned from a Wall Street Journal article in February that the Norlite facility had become the nation’s epicenter for burning the foam.

"This is important because more than two million pounds of this toxic firefighter foam containing PFAS chemicals has been burned at Norlite in 2018 and 2019. The toxic material came from 60 military sites and a number of private companies and state agencies from around the country. It in fact came from 25 states without any environmental review and without the public or local elected officials being informed that this toxic burning was taking place."

In April, the common council passed a one-year moratorium prohibiting incineration of the foam anywhere in Cohoes. Mayor Bill Keeler then began talking with state officials including fellow Democrats state Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor. They crafted a bill that passed both houses Wednesday. Keeler is pleased.

"Clearly the Norlite contracts with the Department of Defense and others to incinerate AFFF containing dangerous PFAS chemicals got ahead of the science determining if it was safe to do so. We applaud the New York state legislature for passing the bill prohibiting incineration of materials containing these so-called forever chemicals in Cohoes, and we are thankful to Assemblymember John McDonald and Senator Neil Breslin for their tireless leadership on this issue on behalf of our community and the surrounding area."

McDonald says the bill is en route to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk.

"The governor is not obligated to look at the bill until the end of the year."

Keeler says Cuomo has "provided a lot of leadership on environmental issues."

"And this is not just an environmental issue, it's environment too when you consider the 70 families that are living in Saratoga Sites Housing Development in the shadows of Norlite. So we're cautiously optimistic that the governor will sign this into law."

Enck says the measure permanently addresses an important health and environmental justice issue.

"The bi-partisan support really is impressive and needs to be acknowledged as one of the fitrst, well, the first legislative action like this in the entire country. Of course, this burning is so unusual. The Department of Defense only sends this material to four other incinerators in the whole country. Two in Arkansas, one in Ohio and then Cohoes, New York. So it would be consistent with Governor Cuomo's enviromental justice commitments to sign this bill into law."

A spookesman for the governor's office tells WAMC: "We'll review the bill. But it's worth noting that in 2019, the DEC directed Norlite to cease its incineration of firefighting foam that contains PFAS compounds."

Norlite officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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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