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NYSDEC Hosts Marathon Information Session As Stakes With Embattled Norlite Plant Rise

Top: the road to Norlite  Bottom: the road along Saratoga Sites
Jackie Orchard
Top: the road to Norlite Bottom: the road along Saratoga Sites

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation held a marathon public information session Wednesday night focused on issues related to the incineration of hazardous materials at the Norlite facility in Cohoes.

Being sued by residents, including people living in the public housing complex next door, Saratoga Sites, Norlite has faced mounting scrutiny from environmental advocates and local elected officials after it emerged that the plant burned PFAS, believed to be carcinogenic, in 2018 and 2019.

The livestreamed meeting covered DEC's soil and water sampling initiative undertaken as a result of the incineration of PFAS-laden AFFF firefighting foam. The agency also gave an update on its permitting process of the Norlite plant.

"A 450 page report in a three hour marathon meeting. But DEC's repetition won't make up for what DEC still lacks: effective oversight of Norlite."

Bennington College’s David Bond participated in the discussion. He says it's been two weeks since DEC released a report that found no evidence that the burning of AFFF contaminated the neighborhoods around Norlite.

"While DEC data adds to the picture, it is far from conclusive. DEC's own data shows elevated levels of the toxins and AFFF around Norlite, and identifies a worrisome downwind pattern of dangerous metals like lead, arsenic and mercury. Moreover, DEC admitted several things last night. DEC admitted it still does not know if incineration destroys the toxic firefighting foam AFFF. This, let's recall, is three or four years after DEC oversaw the burning of millions of pounds of AFFF. DEC admitted they did not test for all of the byproducts of burning AFFF. DEC admitted that they had no emissions monitoring at Norlite when that facility was burning millions of pounds of AFFF. That does not sound conclusive to me."

DEC officials pointed out during the session that in the past they did not have a method to isolate non-target compounds, but they do have one now.

Joe Ritchie, executive director of Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions, has had enough.

"I really don't know what the point is any more of these info sessions, because everybody who spoke on these sessions, minus the people who, you know, don't work for Norlite, because there were some people on there, I believe from Norlite, attacking myself and others every time we spoke. But other than that, everyone is pretty fed up with the way that DEC has handled the situation. And they just want answers that they don't seem to be giving."

DEC said earlier Wednesday it is could go to court over violations and the impact of dust on neighborhoods surrounding the plant. The DEC says on March 15th it demanded that Norlite address ongoing violations by ceasing all unauthorized activities that could result in dust escaping from the facility. Basil Seggos is DEC Commissioner:

"Since then the management has failed to agree to our terms, so we have now formally referred this matter to the Attorney General to pursue all available options, including going to court if necessary."

Norlite says it is investing the necessary resources to improve its dust suppression performance. The company says DEC knows this, and its decision to pursue legal action sets up an unnecessary and unproductive fight.

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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