Vermont research team finds toxic chemicals in area surrounding Cohoes plant

Karen Tararache
Updated: April 27, 2020 11:39 PM
Created: April 27, 2020 11:17 PM

COHOES - "There'd be this black soot on our windowsills, there'd be this black soot on our air conditioning units, and he'd say, Joe this isn't normal," Joe Ritchie said, Saratoga Sites resident. 

Nineteen year old, Ritchie has lived at the low income housing community for his entire life.

The area is just one of four to have samples test positive for PFAS chemicals as a result of burning firefighting foam or AFFF, at the Norlite incinerator in Cohoes.

"Far from destroying AFFF, the Norlite facility seems to be raining down a witches brew of polyfluoronated compounds on the poor and working class neighborhoods in Cohoes, New York," Dr. David Bond explained, Bennington College Environmental Studies.

A Freedom of Information request revealed in February the Department of Defense shipped millions of gallons of AFFF, for the facility to burn and use as fuel for their shale digging operation. 

Former EPA Administrator, Judith Enck says the state never conducted a test burn to understand the potential negative implications. 

 "New York DEC didn't tell local officials or local residents, not the people who run Saratoga Sites, EPA didn't tell anyone, Norlite didn't tell anyone," Enck said.

"I was prepared to be disappointed by the findings but frankly as I listened to the findings, I became angry," Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler said.

The common council expects to pass a one year moratorium on burning the foam tomorrow night until lawmakers can pass legislation doing the same, statewide.

"From day one I've said this is not the proper incubator to being doing this experiment. In an urbanized area where at least 75,000 people touch the adjoining boundaries," Assemblyman John McDonald said.

The DEC Statement:

"New York continues to lead the nation in addressing PFAS threats, and any insinuation to the contrary is absurd. DEC is reviewing the data released today, and it appears to be consistent with low background levels observed in urban areas in emerging scientific studies. 
since discovering Norlite was incinerating PFAS waste in late 2019, DEC has not allowed the incineration of firefighting foam at Norlite without additional testing to ensure the destruction of PFAS compounds. The facility is not currently incinerating this waste. Recall why the foam must be safely disposed of in the first place- New York State banned its use after determining it posed a threat to water supplies.  And now DEC is suing the manufacturers of firefighting foam to hold them accountable for the damage their products have caused. We will not relent on our rigorous, science-based effort to protect New Yorkers.
DEC's on-site monitor is providing strict oversight of this facility to ensure all operations are protective of human health and the environment.

Norlite has suspended the incineration of AFFF until further notice. DEC was made aware that the Norlite facility had processed AFFF-containing PFOS at its facility before shutting down operations for upgrades in December 2019. DEC quickly began an assessment of all permitting and regulatory requirements to ensure this facility can properly store and process AFFF-containing perfluorinated compounds like PFOS. While the facility may restart operations this year, it is not allowed to commence any incineration of AFFF. DEC's permitting and regulatory investigation is ongoing at this time and additional actions will be taken if necessary as this review continues."

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