COHOES, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation which will effectively prohibit the incineration of AFFF firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals at the Norlite facility in the City of Cohoes.
The legislation passed Monday was initially crafted by Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John T. McDonald and unanimously passed the legislature on June 9.
The hazardous waste incinerator is located near a public housing complex in the city, along with being in a DEC designated environmental justice zone. Norlite signed a five-year contract with the United States Department of Defense to incinerate AFFF. In 2018 and 2019, Norlite burned two million pounds of AFFF in its Cohoes facility.
Since first learning in Feburary, 2020 of a U.S. Department of Defense contract with parent company Tradebe to burn AFFF at Norlite, Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler urged that incineration be halted until it can be scientifically determined if AFFF containing PFAS chemicals can be safely and effectively destroyed by incineration.
He also is working with state and federal officials to determine if Norlite’s incineration of AFFF had a detrimental impact on the safety, health, and wellbeing of the residents of Cohoes and the surrounding area.
In a Feb. 25, meeting, Norlite officials confirmed the contract with DOD, and disclosed that they incinerated AFFF containing PFAS materials for two years.
It was subsequently determined from information Keeler requested of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that, in 2018 and 2019, more than 2.49-million pounds of AFFF material containing PFAS chemicals was shipped to the Norlite facility from 25 states, and that these shipments came not only from DOD facilities, but also from other state and local government entities, and from a dozen or more private companies.
Officials and environmental leaders subsequently applauded the passage of the new law which is the first of its kind in the nation.
“There are enormous stockpiles of unusable AFFF firefighting foam stored around the country, with no scientifically proven safe plan for disposal,” Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler stated. “For two years, more than 2.4 million pounds of this hazardous material containing so called ‘forever chemicals’ was transported to Cohoes and incinerated. There is no doubt that much, much more was headed our way.
“Thanks to Governor Cuomo, Senator Breslin, Assemblymember McDonald, and everyone who spoke up: people in our community and the surrounding area can now breathe a sigh of relief that Cohoes will no longer be considered the go-to location for AFFF incineration.”
This state prohibition against incineration of AFFF containing PFAS materials bolsters the one-year moratorium on AFFF incineration unanimously adopted by the Cohoes Common Council on April 28, 2020.
“Given Governor Cuomo’s leadership on environmental safety, his commitment to environmental justice, and his Administration’s focus on the pervasive problem of PFAS chemical contamination, I was confident he would support this important layer of protection against AFFF incineration in our community,” Keeler continued.
“I also commend Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and his team for administratively halting the incineration of AFFF at Norlite, and working to provide answers to our questions about the health and environmental consequences of the burning that went on there for two years,” Keeler added.
Breslin and McDonald also thanked community members for voicing their concerns and commended the Governor on signing the legislation into law.
“This law is the result of input from citizens of Cohoes, environmental advocates, the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo. Working together, we have stopped the emission of dangerous chemicals from the burning of firefighting foam in Cohoes,” Breslin stated.
“I am very pleased to see that the Governor has signed into law the legislation sponsored by myself and Senator Neil Breslin that will prohibit the incineration of firefighting foam containing per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The bill, S7880B/A9952B, was introduced to halt the incineration of aqueous film forming foam (AFF) containing perfluorocarbon components that was occurring at the Norlite facility in the City of Cohoes,” McDonald stated.
“This law will provide comfort and peace of mind to the residents of the City of Cohoes and the surrounding communities due to the fact that there has been no clear determination on the health impacts of inhaled AFF and the fact that it was unclear whether it is possible to thoroughly and safely incinerate these chemicals that have demonstrated negative health impacts. I appreciate the Governor’s attention to this legislation and the support of the community and advocates who were integral to ensuring the passage into law,” McDonald explained.
“It is important to keep in mind that both state and federal regulators must find a safe and responsible way to dispose of AFFF materials since the accumulation of this material in our communities is problematic. I look forward to working with my colleagues, industry leaders, regulatory agencies, and environmental partners to find that path forward,” McDonald added.
After the news of the chemical burning was made public in Feb., the Rensselaer County Legislature passed a resolution demanding air and water tests and imploring state leaders to take action.
“The Legislature takes the health of our residents seriously, and applauds the state’s efforts to protect us by banning the burning of these dangerous chemicals,” a statement from the legislature read reacting to the news on Tuesday.
“Gov Andrew Cuomo just signed a bill into law banning the burning of PFAS containing toxic firefighting foam at the Norlite incinerator in Cohoes This is a national precedent and a reminder that it is not safe to burn PFAS,” Former EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, stated in thanking Cuomo, Breslin and McDonald.
“Thanks to the powerful advocacy of residents in Cohoes, those who live in the Saratoga Sites housing complex, and many allies, New York now has a precedent-setting law to prohibit the burning of toxic PFAS in Cohoes. New York, being the first in the country to have such a law, has set a national standard for what it means to protect the public from these toxic chemicals,” Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG, stated.
“There is no evidence that burning these chemicals is a safe, or effective, way of disposal. In fact, emerging data seems to indicate that this process does not eliminate the chemicals and may disperse them in the air, which threatens water and air quality in neighboring communities. NYPIRG thanks Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation into law and Senator Breslin and Assemblyman McDonald for being strong advocates for this legislation. Now that Cohoes is safe from this dangerous practice, the state should consider a statewide ban of this practice and continue adopting policies to protect public health from toxic PFAS chemicals,” Moran explained.
“We applaud Governor Cuomo for standing up to polluters and protecting the residents of Cohoes from cancer-causing PFAS. This first-in-the-nation ban on PFAS incineration will light the way for other states and communities to stop the poisoning of their air and water. We also want to give a special word of thanks to Senator Neil Breslin, Assembly Member John McDonald, and the residents of Cohoes, who advocated tirelessly to eliminate this toxic threat from their community. This is their victory, and we are proud to celebrate it with them,” Rob Hayes, Clean Water Associate at Environmental Advocates NY, stated.
“As I have said since the beginning, our utmost concern must be for the immediate and long-term health and safety of the people of Cohoes and the surrounding area potentially affected by the incineration of AFFF containing these PFAS chemicals,” Keeler added.