While the news came as no shock to him, Joe Ritchie says the results of soil and water tests conducted near the Norlite plant in Cohoes give him and other residents in the neighboring Saratoga Sites apartments plenty to be concerned about.
“I honestly wasn’t surprised,” said Ritchie, a 19-year-old college student. “On a scale of one through 10 I would give [my concern] a one million.”
“It is very concerning now because it’s worse, the smell, the dust, the dirt,” said Debra Hill, who said she’s lived at the public housing complex on and off for the past 25 years.
Dr. David Bond and his colleagues at Bennington College announced the results of their testing on Monday. The samples were taken in early March after residents learned Norlite was incinerating industrial firefighting foam known as AFFF for the U.S. Department of Defense in 2018 and 2019.
While there are currently no bans on burning the material, Governor Cuomo has barred the use of AFFF as a fire suppressant.
“What is alarming was not necessarily the levels but the fact that we were detecting it at all,” Dr. Bond said Monday afternoon.
An environmental studies professor, Bond says test results prove incineration does not destroy many of the roughly 250 PFAS compounds found in AFFF. Bond says PFAS chemicals, which are linked to cancer, infertility and other conditions, were found up and downwind from Norlite.
“Norlite appears to be raining down a witch’s brew of perfluorinated compounds into poor and working-class neighborhoods in Cohoes,” Bond said.
”I was prepared to be disappointed but after listening to the press conference I became angry,” Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler said during an afternoon press conference.
Keeler said he expects the city council to pass a one-year moratorium on burning AFFF at Norlite during its Tuesday meeting. Keeler was joined by Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald at the press conference inside the Saratoga Site Apartments’ community room.
Last month the two state lawmakers introduced a bill to ban burning of AFFF across the state, but with the legislature closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are now calling on the DEC to take emergency action.
“We’ve been told by Norlite they won’t continue to burn but, frankly, the people of this community need more confidence,” said McDonald, who formerly served as mayor of Cohoes.
“As long as there is no scientific consensus and no evidence that incineration of AFFF is effective at breaking down these toxic chemicals, all burning should cease,” Dr. Bond said.
Both Dr. Bond and local lawmakers are calling for more extensive water, soil and human testing so residents like Ritchie can learn more about the potential impact to their health.
“Once it is feasible we need to be tested,” Ritchie said. “I will be the first person in line to be tested.”
In a written statement released Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Norlite said the company has stopped burning and accepting shipments of AFFF.
We understand and are sensitive to public questions and concerns about AFFF,” the statement continued. “The company works and will continue to work with the agencies in establishing any additional parameters needed to determine risk to public health or the environment.”