BENNINGTON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — According to data from one Bennington College professor, the Norlite Hazardous Waste facility in Cohoes burned 35% of all aqueous film-forming firefighting foam (AFFF) from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) since 2016.

Bennington College professor David Bond held a press conference at 11 a.m. on Tuesday to present new data and information on the matter. He said Norlite held a prominent position in the Pentagon’s program to burn AFFF, saying the DOD endangered poor and working-class communities across the country by recklessly rushing that program. He says:

In defiance of common sense and environmental expertise, the Department of Defense has enlisted poor communities across the US as unwilling test subjects in its toxic experiment with burning AFFF. The data we’ve compiled today and are making public for the first time demonstrates just how harebrained this entire operation is and its impact on environmental justice communities. In effect, the Pentagon redistributed its AFFF problem into poor and working class neighborhoods across the US. Burning AFFF is an unproven method and dangerous mix that threatens the health of millions of Americans.

David Bond
Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) previously said that shipments of AFFF from the DOD began in 2018. Bond says that records from DOD and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation documenting AFFF shipments revealed troubling statistics:

  • Over 20 million pounds of AFFF and wastewater was incinerated from 2016 to 2020
  • The military, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and state regulators voiced concern about AFFF incineration
  • All six incinerators contracted to burn AFFF are habitual violators of environmental law, out of compliance 50% to 100% of the time since 2017
  • Over one-third of known AFFF shipments—7.7 million pounds—was burned at Norlite
  • Burning AFFF wastewater may have violated Norlite’s RCRA permit
  • 40%—or 5.5 million pounds—of the national AFFF stockpile went to “fuel-blending” facilities to be mixed into fuels for industrial use
  • DOD contract stipulates incineration should be the endpoint for AFFF, and it’s unclear where the “blended” AFFF went
  • 970,000 pounds of AFFF were burned overseas

Tradebe Environmental Services, Norlite’s parent company, commented to NEWS10:

Prior to passage of the AFFF ban in New York, the incineration of firefighting foam containing PFAS was perfectly legal, and continues to be legal in other parts of the country. Moreover, the practice is considered far safer than allowing the material to build up in the community or disposing of it in landfills where it can find its way into drinking water supplies.

1. We were not required to notify regulatory agencies when we engaged in this perfectly legal practice.
2. The New York DEC recently determined that Norlite’s incineration of PFAS did not pose additional health risks to the community.
3. Nevertheless, Norlite has voluntarily stopped accepting materials containing PFAS.

Bennington College is engaging in a campaign to demonize responsible environmental companies that are engaged in the perfectly legal practice of destroying wastes so they do not become health hazards in our communities. Rather than spreading fear and misleading information, the college’s ample resources could be far more constructively applied to participating in the public conversation on the safe and effective ways to manage and reduce hazardous waste in our community.

Prince Knight
Tradebe Environmental and Regulatory Compliance Manager

The DEC also responded to Bond’s analysis and allegations with a written statement to NEWS10:

Ensuring accurate information is provided to communities like Cohoes is a priority and one we take very seriously at DEC. In February of 2020, when first learning of the November 2018 Department of Defense contract awarded to the Norlite Facility, DEC staff took a precautionary approach to the directive and instructed the facility to compile information dating back to January 1, 2018 and continuing through December 31, 2019 which we then provided to the community. Importantly, there were no legal obligations for the facility to file manifests for those shipments with DEC at the time as PFAS, or PFAS-containing AFFF, was not and is not currently, a regulated hazardous waste. DEC is evaluating the new information provided by Bennington College, but regardless, this does not change all our actions underway to ensure the Cohoes community is protected. 

Sean Mahar
DEC Chief of Staff

Last week, DEC announced that they would hold a virtual public information session on March 31 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. They’re slated to discuss a recent soil and water sampling showing no link between activity at Norlite and deposits of toxic compounds in the Cohoes community.

To join the virtual session at 6 p.m. next Wednesday:

  • By phone:
    • Call (518) 549-0500
    • Access Code: 185 276 7811 #
    • Press # again in lieu of an attendee I.D. number

You can also submit questions in advance via email, telephone, or snail mail to: Public Participation Office, NYSDEC / 1130 N. Westcott Road, Schenectady, NY 12306.

NEWS10 also received word directly from the DOD:

In response to requirements from the individual military departments, the Department of Defense in 2016 awarded regional contracts that provide for thermal destruction of materials containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The destruction was performed at hazardous waste incineration facilities with Clean Air Act (CAA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permits.  While PFAS compounds are not currently listed as hazardous wastes under RCRA nor as hazardous air pollutants under CAA regulations, the DOD required use of hazardous waste disposal facilities as they have the most extensive set of pollution control devises and environmental regulatory oversight. 

DoD contractors are required to comply with all local, state and federal laws when disposing of waste.  When the local Cohoes City Council imposed a moratorium on the incineration of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) on April 28, 2020, the DoD contractor immediately stopped using the Norlite facility and DOD removed the Norlite facility from its Qualified Facility List.  Given that the State of New York has now permanently banned the incineration of PFAS/AFFF through state legislation, the Norlite facility will not be added back to the DOD’s Qualified Facility list.

A New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) study of PFAS regarding the Norlite facility was released earlier this month and found no clearly discernible pattern of aerial deposition that could be traced to Norlite’s operations. Sampling identified low-level detections of PFAS compounds in all soil samples collected, upwind, downwind, and at background locations, consistent with emerging research on the prevalence of these contaminants in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

At the present, PFAS compounds are not listed as hazardous wastes under RCRA nor as hazardous air pollutants under CAA regulations. 

Peter Hughes
DOD Spokesman

The mayor of Cohoes also weighed in on the latest developments in the saga:

If true that Norlite was incinerating AFFF firefighting foam containing dangerous PFAS chemicals before 2018, that is concerning but not surprising. It is concerning that Norlite did not disclose that information, and disappointing that the DEC did not discover that fact. However, the public can be reassured that AFFF firefighting foam will not be incinerated at Norlite, thanks to the Cohoes Common Council adopting my proposal for a year-long moratorium that was in place until the New York State legislature enacted and the Governor signed a permanent ban on the incineration of AFFF in our community.

In July 2020, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos acknowledged that his department had not done all that it could or should to regulate Norlite. He made a commitment the DEC would do better and in my view he is working to keep that commitment. We have noticed a difference, particularly since January. Yes, I wish things would move faster, but the regulators are more engaged than ever, the community is more engaged than ever, and the advocates are more engaged than ever, and that is adding up to progress we need to acknowledge.

Clearly there are a lot of other potential health and environmental issues at Norlite, and that is where my attention remains focused. 

We need answers from State and Federal regulators about why Norlite is allowed to emit 50 pounds of mercury into the air every year. I am not a scientist but that does not make sense to me.

We need to get answers about the fugitive dust problems that have plagued neighborhoods all around the facility for 50 years. There is growing concern because of the nature of the hazardous waste that Norlite is allowed to incinerate. Last year we discovered that Norlite’s Fugitive Dust Control Plan had not been updated since 2014. The DEC agreed to do a comprehensive review, and that is underway. There is a new air monitoring station, and hand-held monitors. The new DEC on-site monitor has gone into the neighborhoods to meet with residents to directly hear their concerns. The DEC’s February 10th Notices of Violation against Norlite citing fugitive dust violations is clear evidence that community voices are being heard.

As I have said repeatedly, we are in constant communication with the DEC and other regulators on these and other issues related to Norlite, and I do not intend to let up until questions about the health and environmental consequences of incineration of hazardous waste at the facility are resolved.

Bill Keeler
Cohoes Mayor

Judith Enck is a former EPA Regional Administrator who has been involved with the situation at Norlite, which is located in a densely populated area within 400 feet from a public housing complex. Her comments on the matter are below:

Congress needs to throw cold water on the Pentagon’s mad dash to burn toxic firefighting foam. There is no evidence that incineration destroys AFFF. As the data shared today shows, we have a national problem on our hands. We need a national ban on burning these forever chemicals.

David Bond has carefully looked at the data and is sharing very important information that the public has a right to know about. The small city of Cohoes received more toxic firefighting foam than what was previously disclosed. There is an ongoing concern about what this has done to people’s health and the environment, including the nearby Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. This is one of the most significant environmental justice issues in the state and while the new state law prohibits the burning of toxic foam, a large amount of other contaminants continue to be burned at the incinerator.

Judith Enck

Research links PFAS and other byproducts of burning AFFF to cancer, developmental disorders, immune dysfunction, and infertility.

“We simply must stop burning PFAS compounds. Attempting to burn these forever chemicals can generate highly toxic emissions which endanger the health of nearby communities. Burning also releases gases which are powerful climate forcing chemicals. EPA and DOD are both pursuing advanced technologies that can more effectively destroy these compounds without causing these unacceptable impacts.”

Jane Williams
Chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team

As part of the press conference, Bond revealed that Bennington College launched a website that documents this nationwide problem by compiling all known shipments of AFFF to incinerators across the country. Residents, communities, advocacy and activist groups, journalists, and legislators can use this public to access the information.