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Scientific Activists Say Norlite Plant In Cohoes Was National AFFF-Burning Leader

Jackie Orchard

New data reveals a third of the U.S. military’s stockpile of AFFF was burned at Norlite in Cohoes, in Albany County.

Now being sued by residents, Norlite is facing scrutiny from environmental advocates and local elected officials after it emerged that the plant burned PFAS, believed to be carcinogenic, in 2018 and 2019.

Bennington College’s David Bond has released new information about Norlite's role in the government program to burn toxic firefighting foam, gleaned from examining U.S. Department of Defense shipping documents.

"The military, between 2016 and 2020 burned over 20 million pounds of a toxic firefighting foam AFFF, despite there being no evidence that incineration effectively destroys these toxic chemicals. For the very first time, my students and I have collected all available information on those shipments of a AFFF to incinerators and published it last week. And when we've compiled that data, the thing that really jumped out to us was how much of that came to Norlite.”

According to Bond, more than a third of known AFFF shipments were incinerated at Norlite.

Bond believes officials didn't comprehend what happened when AFFF was burned at high temperatures. He says while the EPA did issue "a handful of warnings" that existing smokestack technologies would be insufficient to monitor poisonous emissions, and that dangerous chemicals might rain down on surrounding communities, the DOD disposal program endangered poor and working-class neighborhoods across the U.S.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently released a report that finds no clear connection between the plant and PFAS contamination of the area.

Norlite's parent company Tradebe responded to a request for comment by email, which says in part:

"Bennington College is engaging in a campaign to demonize responsible environmental companies that are engaged in the perfectly legal practice of destroying wastes so they do not become health hazards in our communities. Rather than spreading fear and misleading information, the college’s ample resources could be far more constructively applied to participating in the public conversation on the safe and effective ways to manage and reduce hazardous waste in our community."

Again, Bond:

“We need a national ban on the burning of AFFF. New York state has gotten ahead of it and issued a reasonable and sensible ban on burning AFFF in the state. There needs to be a national ban, we have reason to suspect that the burning continues. We also need a robust investigation into the neighborhoods around incinerators that burned AFFF, like the Norlite incinerator. “

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a fierce Norlite critic, says the plant is bad for the community, after learning it informed the city of Cohoes that it will end its practice of making a $100,000 yearly donation for public safety:

"Apparently that was this was prompted by a January bill that the city sent to Norlite regarding a serious fire that happened at the facility earlier this year. The city firefighters sent a very modest bill of $3,500 to cover firefighting expenses to put out a chemical fire at the facility on January 18th."

Enck adds:

“I think it’s time to shut down Norlite.”

Parent company Tradebe says it is not commenting on the $100,000 at this time.

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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