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NYSDEC: No Clear Connection Between Norlite Plant In Cohoes And Aerial Contamination

Jackie Orchard

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says in a 450-page report that there is no clear connection between the Norlite plant in Cohoes and PFAS contamination of the area.

The study of PFAS and metals, conducted in response to continuing community concerns about the potential impact of Norlite's burning of firefighting foam, found no clear link to Norlite's operations and no indication of any risk to human health. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos:

"DEC worked very closely with the Cohoes community and local leaders to design a comprehensive study on PFAS to answer a very simple question 'was any of the PFAS that had been burned at the Norlite facility, was any of it deposited into the community, uh, the soil or into the water.' And the answer, after several months of very hard work in the field with our teams, was that we did not find any clear link of PFAS to, that is, connected to Norlite's operations. Similarly, we found no indication of any health risk. Now, this this should put the community at ease and give them a peace of mind."

DEC officials briefed Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler, a first-term Democrat.

"What I have learned is that the testing revealed low-level amounts of PFAS in all soil samples both upwind and downwind of Norlite. DEC and the Department of Health advised that the level of contamination is not a threat to human health. So I'm certainly grateful to Commissioner Seggos and his staff at the DEC. They've done everything that I've asked them the past year and I will continue to work closely with them going forward. And I'm also appreciative of all the folks in Cohoes and the surrounding area, who have all their concerns during that period, especially outside experts who have and continue to weigh in on the myriad issues around Norlite and the remaining unresolved issues."

Keeler there referring to the continuing problem of dust from aggregate piles blowing around plus a recent comprehensive smokestack performance test that found the Norlite plant is likely emitting around 50 pounds of mercury into the atmosphere annually, which is at the top of allowable state guidelines.

Seggos says DEC conducted a thorough study. [You can read it HERE.]

"We encourage the public to dig into it to read it, we put all the data in there, all the science, all the assumptions. And we want this ultimately to be something that the community can have faith in. This was rigorous science. This is how we approach these investigations. And, we approach these investigations with an open mind. I think at this point, we can say for with a degree of certainty, that Norlite did not pose a risk to public health as a result of the burning of AFFF firefighting foam."

DEC directed Norlite to cease combustion of AFFF after the facility temporarily suspended operations at the end of 2019.

Keeler intends to follow up with state government officials to further discuss concerns about the plant, which is located near a public housing facility.

"Regardless of the immediate soil and water sampling results, I remain committed to working with the Cohoes Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to close Saratoga Sites and relocate its 70 families to existing apartments in the city, but away from the industrial zone where they now live."

Seggos pledges DEC's full support.

"I want to be very clear about something. Rest assured we are going to remain ubiquitous in the community until these issues are resolved. There are other issues at the facility that we're working on right now. There are dust issues that that are subject to enforcement. And we have a new a new approach to enforcement at the facility. You'll see a lot more work in the coming months on these points. But the short answer is good news in the short term on this issue of PFAS."

On its website, DEC says it will hold a public information session to discuss the study and provide other updates about DEC's oversight and response to community concerns at Norlite. No date was given.

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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