Cuomo bans foam incineration at Cohoes Norlite plant

November 23, 2020
By Rick Karlin
Albany Times Union, NY

Gov. Cuomo has signed a bill banning the incineration of PFAS-laden firefighting foam at the Norlite aggregate plant in Cohoes.

COHOES — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday signed a bill banning incineration of PFAS-laden firefighting foam, bringing to a close a lengthy saga of worries in this riverfront community about air pollution from the Norlite aggregate company.

While the bill banning incineration of Aqueous Film Forming Foam applies statewide, Norlite operated the only such facility in New York– in fact one of just a handful nationally – that burned the substance.

Cuomo’s signing culminates a summer-long campaign for the measure which was passed by lawmakers in June, months after it was learned that the facility had incinerated more than two million pounds of AFFF over two years through contracts with the Pentagon. They also shipped and incinerated AFFF from firehouses across the East Coast as the foam is being phased out of use due to concerns over its possible toxicity.

“While this measure will ban incineration of firefighting foam containing these compounds in cities like Cohoes, our work is not over,” Cuomo said in announcing the bill signing. “We remain fully committed to this effort and will continue to advance comprehensive, statewide measures which protect all New Yorkers and our environment from emerging contaminants.” 
 
“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,” added Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes who sponsored the ban along with Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Bethlehem.
 
“Working together, we have stopped the emission of dangerous chemicals from the burning of firefighting foam in Cohoes,” said Breslin.

“Hats off to the many people in the region who mobilized on this issue,” added Judith Enck, a former regional EPA administrator  and visiting professor at Bennington College who helped lead the local push for a ban.

“I was confident (Cuomo) would support this important layer of protection against AFFF incineration in our community,” said Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler, who helped initiate the city’s moratorium in the spring.

AFFF contains PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Known as “forever chemicals” since they resist decomposing, PFAS compounds have raised concerns since they can persist in a person’s bloodstream for years. They are associated with illnesses such as thyroid disorders, cancer and other ailments, mostly in people where the public water supplies have been contaminated.

The bill to ban incineration was limited to cities between 16,000 and 17,000 population, which includes Cohoes. Because it’s the only place in the state where incineration takes place, it effectively creates a statewide ban.

Following revelations that the incineration, which was legal, had been taking place, the city of Cohoes in the spring imposed a year-long moratorium.

But environmentalists pushed for a permanent ban, leading to the bill’s passage, followed by several Zoom meetings and demonstrations in front of the governor’s mansion in support of the measure.

Until recently, there were concerns that the bill might be vetoed, with some members of the Cuomo administration, according to lawmakers, seeking a statewide moratorium rather than an outright ban.

That stemmed from a push from industry and the federal EPA to experiment with incineration, possibly at higher temperatures, as a way to get rid of the foam, which is currently stored in barrels.

Environmentalists, though, fear that the strong chemical bonds in AFFF – the same characteristics that make it an effective fire suppressant – mean it can’t be incinerated safely.

Norlite hadn’t been burning PFAS since at least last winter. But environmentalists say they still worry about other waste products that could be burned in the company’s kilns to power their aggregate production. 

*Original article online at https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Cuomo-bans-AFFF-incineration-at-Cohoes-Norlite-15749542.php

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