There's a new air quality threat facing residents of Albany County.
Activists say the Norlite incinerator on Saratoga Street in Cohoes has been burning stockpiled old firefighting foam that contains toxic PFOS for the Department of Defense and other parties. "This is a very serious air pollution issue. An environmental justice issue, and a real failure by both the federal government and Norlite to provide transparency."
Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck is a regular WAMC Roundtable panelist. She says a 26-page legal complaint was filed Thursday morning in federal court. "Old firefighter foam with sent to the Norlite hazardous waste incinerator in Cohoes where some of it was burned. The history here is that in 2018 and 2019 the Federal Department of Defense, and the Department of Defense is all the branches of the military army. Navy Air Force, Army Corps of Engineers etc. So in 2018 and 2019 Federal Department of Defense signed contracts with companies that will accept millions of gallons of what's called aqueous film forming foam, which I'll just call firefighter foam. We know that this foam contains PFOS."
Enck says PFOA and PFOS are hazardous cancer-causing chemicals that are persistent in the environment and have contaminated soil and water supplies nationwide, including in communities across the Northeast. "The case was filed this morning by the Sierra Club and other parties in federal court. The suit alleges that burning the stockpiled firefighter foam violate the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. This is the bedrock federal law that requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of their proposed actions before they undertake them. What this commonly results in is the preparation of an environmental impact statement, so you can take a hard look at what are the environmental implications of this action. But that did not happen here because the Department of Defense chose not to comply with federal law."
Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler says he is looking for answers and "expert guidance." "I'm working to determine whether all necessary steps are being taken to protect the health and safety of our residents in the vicinity, and of our first responders should they be called to the Norlite facility. My utmost concern is for the immediate and long-term health and safety of the people of Cohoes and the surrounding area potentially affected. There are very important questions for which we need very clear answers. No incineration of firefighting foam AFFF or any other materials containing PFOA and/or PFOS should be permitted at the Norlite facility until we are absolutely certain that there is no danger to the public or the environment."
Norlite spokesman Prince Knight: "I can tell you that at this point there is no press release or public comment. Officially, Norlite is not even aware of the lawsuit. Although we are aware of the media coverage of it. So, there's not really a comment we can prepare at this point."
Norlite was fined by the New York State DEC for pollution violations in November 2016. The company mines shale from a 125-acre quarry for building material.