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Capital Region State Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Ban Burning Toxic Firefighting Foam

Officials gathered at the LOB in Albany for the announcement about new legislation to ban the burning of substances containing PFAS chemicals.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Officials gathered at the LOB in Albany for the announcement about new legislation to ban the burning of substances containing PFAS chemicals.

Two Democratic state lawmakers from the Capital Region are introducing new legislation to ban the burning of substances containing PFAS chemicals.

A federal lawsuit filed two weeks ago claims the Department of Defense did not complete an appropriate environmental review before burning PFAS-laden firefighting foam in 2018 and 2019 at sites including Norlite in Cohoes, in Albany County.

(A.9952/S.7880) Click on image to ENLARGE

108th District state Assemblyman John McDonald, a former mayor of Cohoes, says he's dealt with Norlite for some 21 years. He notes that on February 25th New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials met with Democratic Mayor Bill Keeler. A day later, officials from surrounding communities met with the company’s CEO.  “The problem is this. We just don't know how safe incineration would be. Matter of fact, there are many people and many organizations that feel that it is dangerous to the public health," said McDonald.

Right now, Norlite's kilns are shut down for upgrades and the company wants to resume incineration at some point.  McDonald and State Senator Neil Breslin of the 44th district introduced legislation Monday to prohibit the incineration of toxic firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals. Here’s Breslin:  "I can understand the company relying on the federal government, but get used to it. We can't rely on the federal government. We have to make sure that we protect our citizens by ourselves through investigation by DEC and DEC to me does an extraordinarily good job. And we're not blaming at this point Norlite. They're dealing with the federal government. They signed a contract. So it's up to us before there's any evidence to make sure that we are not going to jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of any citizens in Colonie, Cohoes, and in particular, those close to the Norlite facility."

Breslin says about 70 families live in Norlite's shadow. Mayor Keeler:   "Norlite is not a chocolate factory. They burn hazardous materials daily. That's the fuel they use. This stuff is even nastier - the science is out on it. So, you know, we need some settled science on this before they do testing in Cohoes. But you know my bigger question. My earlier question before this latest thing broke was, if and how we can resettle these people."

Again, Assemblyman McDonald:    "What has been amazing to me during this whole process is that the federal government, the Department of Defense, awards a contract when its own sister agency, the EPA, has no idea on the impact and has not regulated or moved to regulate this chemical. Many people have been critical of Norlite, and they do sometimes generate their own criticism. The reality is this is not a regulated compound. It's not something that they're required to notify. They did notify DEC. DEC was aware of it. But the reality is, we just don't know what the impact is going to be short term or long term. And therefore, in the best interest not only of the people living in Cohoes, but the 170,000 people living in the communities around Cohoes, we believe it's in the best interest that we take a timeout, put a ban in place, and down the road, let science be the decider."

DEC is conducting studies to determine if Norlite is violating any regulatory requirements. Norlite said it did not have anyone available to 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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