Read the full article by Larry Rulison (Times Union)

“COHOES — Environmental groups are suing to stop the burning of the highly toxic chemical compounds PFOA and PFOS at the Norlite incineration plant in Cohoes.

The chemicals have been burned at the plant under a 2019 U.S. Department of Defense contract to incinerate firefighting foam containing PFOA and PFOS that have been stored at military installations throughout the northeast, and are now being disposed of due to the health risks.

PFOA and PFOS are so-called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that have been known to cause serious health effects in people exposed to the chemicals through their water supplies. The DOD has been trying to burn the substances lately instead of storing them on military bases.

The regional contract was awarded to a company called Tradebe that owns the Norlite plant, which burns hazardous waste in a kiln for fuel to manufacture the construction materials it makes from a nearby quarry.

‘The Norlite kiln also has a long history of environmental violations, resulting in fines and enforcement actions by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,’ the plaintiffs, including the Sierra Club, wrote in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in California. ‘The kiln is also located next to a public housing complex (the Saratoga Sites apartments on Cohoes Road), whose residents are exposed to emissions from the kiln.

Officials with Tradebe could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Sierra Club and other plaintiffs held a conference call Thursday to discuss the lawsuit. They allege Norlite has burned the firefighting foam and stored it in Cohoes, but is currently not burning it now as it upgrades the kiln’s scrubbers.

There have been 40 DOD shipments of the foam to Norlite in Cohoes from Feb. 7, 2019 until Sept. 6, 2019, according to those who held Thursday’s conference call, although it is unconfirmed how much of that has been burned in Cohoes so far.

Judith Enck, the former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said during the press call that Norlite did not alert the state or local governments about the burning plan.

‘Norlite has to come clean and inform the public of what they are doing and what they plan to do,’ Enck said. ‘How can this happen without a comprehensive environmental review?’

Enck and others said the worry is that the toxic chemicals will be deposited into the Troy water reservoir that serves large parts of the region and is supposed to serve Hoosick Falls, which has been struggling with its own PFOA contamination crisis and is seeking a new water supply.

The EPA says PFOA and PFOS cause ‘adverse health effects’ when it is in water supplies, including cancer, liver damage and thyroid effects, although there is less research on the impact when it is inhaled or touches the skin. Enck, however, said people who live near the plant should be concerned about inhaling the emissions since PFOA and PFOS don’t break down during burning.

‘These chemicals resist incineration and do not break down under temperatures and conditions that are sufficient to destroy other chemicals,’ Enck said. ‘Those properties are precisely why (they) are widely used as a fire suppressant. Incomplete incineration may result in (emissions of) other toxic chemicals like hydrogen fluoride, which is poisonous, corrosive and flammable.’

Enck said that Tradebe has a five-year, $2.2 million contract with the Defense Department to burn the firefighting foam, although she said that contract may include other sites beyond the Cohoes plant.

‘Norlite makes a lot of money accepting this toxic material to be burned,’ Enck said. ‘But money is not the only thing that matters. Norlite must publicly disclose what they have been doing in Cohoes and publicly pledge that they will not burn any more (PFOA and PFOS) at their incinerator. It is most unfortunate that they have already burned this material in Cohoes especially without telling anyone. We cannot accept this toxic material being burned at Norlite for the next five years’…”