Lawsuit: Cancer-Causing Chemicals from Military Secretly Burned Near Albany

Carcinogens similar to the chemicals causing water crises in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh are being secretly burned in an incinerator outside Albany, according to a lawsuit filed last Thursday in federal court.

The chemicals being burned – PFOA and PFOS – come from firefighting foam formerly used by the military. This firefighting foam toxified Newburgh’s water supply in 2016, leading the city of switch water sources.

The military stopped using this foam in 2016, but was left with stockpiles of the chemical, which the Department of Defense (DoD) decided to incinerate without going through any of the required environmental reviews, according to the lawsuit.

The chemical was sent to three incinerators, according to the lawsuit, including Norlite LLC in Cohoes.

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Judith Enck said there was “no evidence” burning the chemicals eliminated their toxicity.

“By definition, firefighting foam doesn’t burn well, because [it] suppresses fire, so we don’t think it’s destroyed when it’s sent to an incinerator,” she said.

“My real concern is that a lot of this very toxic PFOS is becoming airborne and contaminating a broader area,” she added.

The Norlite facility is less than 500 feet from a residential area in Cohoes.

PFOS belongs to a group of chemicals called PFAS, sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their resistance to breaking down in the environment and the human body. PFAS are responsible for the on-going water crisis in Hoosick Falls, east of Albany.

Though the affects of low levels of PFAS in the environment are uncertain, animal studies found some PFAS chemicals “may affect growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Elected officials – including Congressman Antonio Delgado, whose district includes Hoosick Falls – have been fighting for further controls on PFAS chemicals.

The move to send millions of gallons of the firefighting foam to be burned was in direct violation of several federal statues, according to the lawsuit. There was no environmental assessment undertaken, a minimum requirement that can only be bypassed in extraordinary circumstances.

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 20 in California, the location of the Sierra Club’s headquarters, which joined three other environmental organizations to in filing the suit.

The lawsuit names the DoD, the United States Defense Logistics Agency, which allegedly handled the operation for the DoD, as well as Tradebe Treatment and Recycling LLC, which controls Norlite in Cohoes.

Norlite Laboratory, Environmental & Compliance Manager Prince Knight III refused to answer questions about the transport or incineration of the chemicals.

Norlite is not directly named in the suit, only Tradebe, which Knight confirmed was Norlite’s parent company.

More information will be made available if Norlite is directly served with the suit, Knight added.

Congressman Paul Tonko, whose district includes Cohoes, wrote the DoD Feb. 20 demanding more information about the incineration and the contract with Norlite.

He also questioned how the transport and incineration of the chemicals could possibly follow the directives of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which slapped requirements on the disposal of these chemicals.

The 2020 NDAA required PFAS to be incinerated at levels adequate to break down the chemical; be done in accordance with the Clean Air Act; and must be accomplished only at certain authorized incinerators, according to the letter.

Several state legislators also expressed concern, including Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald, who penned a letter to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos Jan. 21.

“We strongly urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to review the activity that has occurred at Norlite related to this contract and determine what if any options are available to provide state oversight and/or intervention if necessary. It is of the utmost importance that the public health and safety is protected and ensured before any potential future incineration of these materials proceeds, according to the letter.

We strongly urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to review the activity that has occurred at Norlite related to this contract and determine what if any options are available to provide state oversight and/or intervention if necessary. It is of the utmost importance that the public health and safety is protected and ensured before any potential future incineration of these materials proceeds.

Since the contract with Norlite was signed prior to the passing of the 2020 NDAA, Tonko also questioned how the disposal plan was modified to adhere to the new regulations.

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