Cohoes mayor left with more questions than answers after meeting with Norlite

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COHOES, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler met with representatives from Norlite on Tuesday. He was joined by Assemblyman John McDonald as well as supervisors and mayors from Troy, Green Island, Colonie and Watervliet.   

This comes a couple weeks after the Mayor was informed by former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Judith Enck that Norlite, a plant located along Saratoga Street, had been awarded contracts by the U.S. Department of Defense to incinerate and dispose of firefighting foam, potentially releasing harmful chemical emissions

The Mayor said that because the Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) contains PFOS/PFOA, the emissions could potentially pose a threat to the public health. Keeler said he immediately reached out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Paul Tonko for answers surrounding oversight, monitoring and regulation. 

Norlite did inform the Department of Environmental Conservation that they would be burning the foam, but not the city, as they were not obligated to.

“Part of the challenge with PFAS chemicals in general,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “This is the challenge we had with Hoosick Falls. It wasn’t required to be reported. It wasn’t required to be tested.”

Tuesday, they were all hoping to learn more in a closed-door meeting with representatives from Norlite, but the Mayor said they left with more questions than answers.  

“They answered the questions that they were able to answer today. The science is just evolving. It’s an unregulated product, and they don’t know. The EPA doesn’t know what effect it has when it’s burned or incinerated,” Keeler said.

What they did learn, however, is that Norlite had burned the foam in 2018 and 2019, but it’s not clear just how much and how often. They were unable to release that information due to the pending litigation from the lawsuit filed by environmental groups.  

“I’ve called for a moratorium on the burning until the science and health says it’s acceptable or can be done at acceptable levels,” said the mayor.

The DEC said it will start testing the impacts of burning PFOS, but it’s a process that could take months or even years. Assemblyman McDonald said that testing should be done in a rural area where it will have minimal impact, not in Cohoes.

“The fact that the mayor sent them a note and said we’d like to meet with you and they came here fully engaged in the conversation, that speaks to their genuine intent that at some point they believe combustion is the best way to rid society of PFAS chemicals,” he said. “That may turn out to be the fact, but at the same token, we’re not terribly excited about Cohoes and the surrounding Capital Region being the testing ground.”

Norlite, LLC released the following statement:

“Norlite, LLC today met with a group of local elected officials to brief them on the company’s operations in Cohoes, including the fact that Norlite has not processed material containing diluted aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) since December 2019. Norlite is closely following research by the U.S. EPA and others related to AFFF materials and will not resume its processing of AFFF materials until additional testing, in conjunction with the U.S. EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is conducted that supports the evidence that thermal destruction is the safest and most effective method of disposal. Norlite officials also described the company’s progress on a $30 million voluntary investment that will eliminate permitted water discharges to the Mohawk River and improve system operations and efficiency, resulting in reduced consumption of fuel needed to manufacture the company’s ceramic lightweight aggregate products. The system upgrade is being conducted with oversight by the DEC and was preceded by community meetings and notifications of stakeholders, including local elected officials. Norlite operates two lightweight aggregate kilns to manufacture its products. The extremely high heat needed for the kilns comes from the thermal destruction and energy recovery of liquid materials generated by educational institutions, government agencies, local industries and manufacturers. Norlite’s use of these alternative fuels reduces its reliance on traditional fossil fuels. New York State has issued to Norlite permits that strictly limit what can be processed and emitted from its facility. These permits (a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA] permit and Title V Air permit) govern the company’s acceptance, assessment, monitoring and reporting of the materials it manages, as well as the manner and processes by which those materials are handled. A DEC employee is stationed at the Norlite facility to oversee environmental compliance. PFAS compounds are not categorized as hazardous wastes under RCRA nor as hazardous pollutants under Clean Air Act regulations. Nevertheless, Norlite voluntarily reported to DEC its receipt of AFFF solutions and the blending with a fuel material to be incinerated in the kilns. The AFFF material was handled and disposed of in compliance with all U.S. EPA and DEC regulations. Norlite will continue to communicate and work with regulatory agencies, local officials and the community to ensure that its operations remain safe and protective of human health and the environment.

Norlite, LLC

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