Cohoes proposing moratorium on burning PFAS firefighting foam at Norlite

Emily Burkhard
Updated: April 25, 2020 11:47 PM
Created: April 25, 2020 11:39 PM

COHOES - Next week the Cohoes Common Council will vote on a measure that would stop the burning of PFAS chemicals at the Norlite plant.

Norlite said they're not burning any of the PFAS chemicals right now, but Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler said they do plan to start testing burning it again in May or June.

That's why Keeler asking Common Council to pass a one-year moratorium on burning the chemicals in the city.  He believes that will give state lawmakers enough time to pass more widespread legislation.

NewsChannel 13 spoke with two longtime residents of Saratoga Sites, a public housing complex located a few hundred yards from the plant, about Keeler's plan.

"I hope something gets done before someone gets really seriously sick,” Saratoga Sites resident Debbie Hill said.

Hill has lived at Saratoga Sites for 25 years. She said the dust, debris and odor from Norlite are inescapable.

“You're breathing it, you're eating it, you're washing with it," Hill said. It doesn't dissolve, it's there. You could be walking down the street and feel it hitting your face."

The apartment complex is only a few hundred yards away from two smokestacks on Norlite's property.

"I've got 70 families here in Saratoga sites that are literally in the shadows of the smokestacks and this is an urban area, Cohoes, Watervliet, Green Island, Troy and that's where the winds will take this stuff."

Keeler said the problem is there is no established threshold to determine what level of PFAS chemicals is or isn't safe in the air the way it has been for water, as we've clearly seen in places like Hoosick Falls.

"I met with the folks from Norlite I mean they have a different take on this,” Keeler said. “They feel confident that it's safe to do so. I don't have that confidence that it's safe to burn, particularly in an urban area."

Joe Ritchie has lived at Saratoga Sites for nearly 19 years. He agrees with Keeler, we still don't know enough about the effects it could have on the surrounding environment.

“They say it’s OK because there’s no research yet to say that it’s not OK,” Ritchie said. “So you’re saying, ‘Oh it’s fine,’ but you have no idea what it does,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said residents of Saratoga Sites can't just pick up and relocate because they don’t have the money to do so.

Both Ritchie and Keeler believe intervention by state lawmakers is necessary to ensure PFAS are never burned at Norlite, or any other hazardous waste incinerator in New York, ever again.

"And it’s going to be a very long battle but I think we can lead an example in New York State if we choose to," Ritchie said.

Keeler said he's hoping lawmakers can pass statewide legislation sometime this fall.

NewsChannel 13 reached out to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for comment on Norlite's alleged plans to begin test burning the PFAS containing foam next month.

A spokesperson for DEC issued this statement:

“New York State continues to lead the nation in responding to the threats posed by PFAS compounds like AFFF-containing PFOS, and DEC is committed to ongoing robust oversight of operations at the Norlite facility to protect public health and the environment.”

NewsChannel 13 also asked DEC about Norlite’s alleged plans to test burn sometime over the next two months. They said they have not been notified of that plan.

Cohoes Common Council will vote on the moratorium on Tuesday, but Keeler is asking people to give their public comments ahead of time via email to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

You can email your questions, comments and concerns about burning PFAS foam at Norlite to publiccomment@ci.cohoes.ny.us.

NewsChannel 13 also reached out to Norlite for comment on this story, but did not get a response.

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates on this story.


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