02.26.20

AFTER SHOCKING REVELATION THAT NORLITE, LLC. HAS BURNED CARCINOGENIC & FIRE RESISTANT PFAS, RELEASING TOXIC CHEMICALS INTO THE AIR AND POTENTIALLY WATER OF & SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES, SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND URGE DOD TO IMMEDIATELY “CEASE AND DESIST“ INCINERATING TOXINS IN COHOES AND NATIONWIDE; SENATORS CALL FOR GREATER SAFETY, TRANSPARENCY IN STORAGE, SHIPPING, AND EVENTUAL DISPOSAL OF PFAS-LADEN WASTE

With DoD’S “Rash and Unwise” Approval, Incineration Of Toxic PFAS-Laden Waste Is Underway At Norlite, LLC., Contaminating Atmosphere and Local Communities

Schumer-Gillibrand Call On DoD To Immediately Cease Incineration of Toxic And Fire-Resistant PFAS Materials, Comply With Federal Guidelines, & Provide Immediate and Comprehensive Transparency to The Surrounding Communities ASAP

Senators to DoD: Stop Burning Toxic PFAS Chemicals & Protect Local Communities — Now 

Today, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand strongly urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to cease and desist the incineration of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals at Norlite, LLC’s (Norlite) lightweight aggregate facility in Cohoes, New York and at other facilities throughout the United States where DOD-contracted incineration has occurred and may be planned.

Following recent reports of Norlite’s burning of highly toxic chemicals, Schumer and Gillibrand wrote directly to the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, demanding that the DoD immediately suspend all incineration of PFAS at Norlite and throughout the country. The senators further urged that the DoD immediately increase transparency to the surrounding communities and their local stakeholders and comply with the federally mandated guidelines listed in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when disposing of any PFAS materials.

“The DoD’s rash and unwise authorizing of the burning of a fire-resistant and carcinogenic chemical right here, like  PFAS, right here in Cohoes makes absolutely no sense and needs to stop right now – before more toxic chemicals are needlessly dispersed into our air and potentially even our drinking water,” said Senator Schumer.

“It’s deeply troubling that the DOD has authorized Norlite’s burning of highly toxic chemicals, especially so close to the homes of dozens of New Yorkers, “ said Senator Gillibrand. “ Every community deserves to have a life free from contamination of such dangerous toxins as PFAS that are known to have human health risks including birth defects, various forms of cancer, and immune system dysfunction. This needs to stop immediately before more Americans are poisoned.”

The senators also called for greater transparency, demanding additional information on when, where, and how much of the DoD’s Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has been burned since 2017, and how much remains under the jurisdiction of the DoD, as well as where and how it is stored. 

The senators pointed out that they were, “very troubled to learn that shipments of PFAS substances were made to this facility without any notification to the local communities or consideration of the environmental and public health impacts of this incineration,” and pointed out that the Norlite facility is located in a low-income community next to Saratoga Sites, a public housing facility that is home to 70 families and in close proximity to both the Hudson River and various other vital drinking water sources. These include the Salt Kill Watershed, which flows directly into the Hudson River and the Tomhannock Reservoir in the Town of Pittstown. The Tomhannock Reservoir provides water to nearly 50,000 residents of the City of Troy, and has recently been proposed as a potential new source of clean water for the Village of Hoosick Falls, a community that has been grappling with the devastating effects of PFAS contamination since 2014.

“We must protect vulnerable populations and hold the DoD accountable,” said the senators.

The senators underscored the known dangers with PFAS and noted that in 2019 the EPA released a report titled, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Incineration to Manage PFAS Waste Streams, that pointed out the myriad of unknowns in the EPA’s understanding of the effectiveness of incineration for PFAS disposal. Additionally, a 2017 request by DoD for a novel, safe disposal method for AFFF documented the DoD’s admittance that burning PFAS would likely have adverse effects on the environment. Despite this knowledge, the DoD continued to pursue incineration as a method of PFAS disposal, putting the surrounding communities at an unacceptably high risk of toxic chemical exposure, according to the senators. 

The Defense Logistics Agency was recently discovered to have awarded a contract to Tradebe Treatment and Recycling, LLC. (Tradebe) for the removal, transportation, and incineration of 843,000 gallons of AFFF from military sites in the Eastern Region. The Eastern Region includes Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. AFFF from military installations in these states is transported to Cohoes, New York where it was, or is, intended to be burned in Tradebe’s lightweight aggregate kilns at their Norlite facility.

The senators wrote in their letter: “Again, with so much uncertainty around the incineration of PFAS materials like AFFF and the high risk this could pose to surrounding communities, we urge the DoD to immediately cease all incineration of PFAS materials, including AFFF, until proper, non-combustion techniques have been verified and subsequent guidance has been released.”

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter can be found below:

Dear Secretary Esper:

We write today to strongly urge the Department of Defense (DoD) to immediately suspend any incineration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) materials at Norlite Corporation in Cohoes, NY, and at other facilities around the nation where DOD-contracted incineration may be planned or occurring. And instead urge the DOD to repossess all shipped PFAS material and store it until safe, non-combustion, protocols can be develop in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other relevant agencies.

Furthermore, we request that the DoD provide a briefing outlining when, where, and how much of the DoD owned Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has been incinerated since January 1, 2017, as well as how much AFFF remains, the locations it is currently being stored, and the storage method. Finally, we urge you to ensure that the DoD comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and achieve greater transparency in all storage, shipping, and disposal of PFAS materials with local stakeholders moving forward.

In a September 2019 document produced by the EPA titled, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Incineration to Manage PFAS Waste Streams the EPA’s authors state that, “The effectiveness of incineration to destroy PFAS compounds […] is not well understood.” The paper points out numerous gaps in the EPA’s understanding of PFAS disposal through incineration. But here is what we do know: PFAS is highly toxic, even carcinogenic, and it is, by its very design and purpose, extremely resistant to combustion. So why would we try to dispose of this highly toxic substance via incineration, which will not break it down, and then dispersing it into the air and potentially to drinking water sources, where it can do damage to the public health and the environment? Given this, the decision to move forward with this form of disposal was rash, ill-considered, and potentially dangerous and should be reversed forthwith.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA; P.L. 116-92), in Section 7361, specifies that the EPA must promulgate interim guidance on the destruction and disposal of PFAS materials including AFFF.  This guidance is required to take into consideration the potential for release of PFAS during disposal and the potential impact on vulnerable populations living near those sites. Additionally, Section 330 of the NDAA states that when PFAS materials and AFFF are disposed:

1)    “all incineration is conducted at a temperature range adequate to break down PFAS chemicals while also ensuring the maximum degree of reduction in emission of PFAS, including elimination of such emissions where achievable;

2)    all incineration is conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401 et seq.), including controlling hydrogen fluoride;

3)    any materials containing PFAS that are designated for disposal are stored in accordance with the requirement under part 264 of title 40, Code of Federal Regulations; and

4)    all incineration is conducted at a facility that has been permitted to receive waste regulated under subtitle C of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 USC 6921 et seq.)”

Further, in 2017, the DoD released a request for a novel technology that achieves permanent disposal of AFFF and associated perfluorocarbon components through the Small Business Innovation Research fund in which the DoD states, “The Air Force is ridding itself of a large inventory of type 3 MILSPEC AFFF, for which no satisfactory disposal method has been identified […] the high-temperature chemistry of PFOS and PFOA has not been characterized, so there is no precedent to predict products of pyrolysis or combustion, temperatures at which these will occur, or the extent of destruction that will be realized; - many likely byproducts will also be environmentally unsatisfactory” (emphasis mine; AF17B-T001).

Again, with so much uncertainty around the incineration of PFAS materials like AFFF and the high risk this could pose to surrounding communities, we urge the DoD to immediately cease all incineration of PFAS materials, including AFFF, until proper, non-combustion techniques have been verified and subsequent guidance has been released.

According to a law suit recently filed by the Sierra Club and others, the Defense Logistics Agency has awarded a contract for the removal, transportation, and incineration of AFFF from military installations in the Eastern Region to Tradebe Treatment and Recycling, LLC (Tradebe). The Eastern Region covers Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Through this contract, known as the Eastern Regional Contract, approximately 843,000 gallons of AFFF was to be incinerated. Tradebe owns Norlite, LLC which owns and operates a lightweight aggregate kiln in Cohoes, New York where the DoD has sent AFFF for incineration.

The Norlite facility is located in a low-income community in close proximity to the Hudson River.  Our offices have heard from numerous local officials and constituents in Albany County and across the Hudson River in Rensselaer County with concerns for the quality of the air and water in these communities. In the City of Cohoes, the Norlite incinerator is located next to Saratoga Sites, a public housing facility that is home to 70 families. The Norlite facility is also located next to the Salt Kill Watershed, which flows directly into the Hudson River.
In Rensselaer County, constituents remain concerned that prevailing winds could carry PFAS chemicals as far at the Tomhannock Reservoir in the Town of Pittstown. The Tomhannock Reservoir provides water to nearly 50,000 residents of the City of Troy, and has recently been proposed as a potential new source of clean water for the Village of Hoosick Falls, a community that has been grappling with the devastating effects of PFAS contamination since 2014.

With all this in mind, we request answers to the following questions no later than March 20, 2020:

  • When did DoD begin shipping AFFF and other PFAS materials for disposal?
  • How much of each PFAS material listed under Section 7361 of the NDAA were shipped from military installations to contractors for disposal?
  • For each of the shipments listed above, where was it shipped from, how was it shipped, where is it currently being stored, and how is it currently being stored?
  • In total, how much DoD owned AFFF has been incinerated since January 1, 2017?
  • Specifically, how much AFFF was burning in 2018? How much was burned in 2019?
  • In total, how much DoD owned AFF was incinerated before January 1, 2017?
  • In total, how much DoD owned AFFF remains?
  • The FY 2020 NDAA required the EPA to add a number of PFAS substances to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) established by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).  Will DOD carry out TRI reporting on the PFAS transferred from its facilities for disposal and other facilities, including incineration at the Norlite Facility in Cohoes?

Finally, we request that DoD follow the NEPA process for any proposed PFAS disposal actions moving forward so as to minimize the adverse impacts on the quality of the human environment and allow the public adequate time to review and comment on these proposed actions. It is of the utmost importance that the Department work closely with state and local entities to ensure transparency in all storage, shipping, and disposal of PFAS materials.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact our respective staff members with any questions.

Sincerely, 

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