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Politics and Government

NY bans incineration disposal of toxic firefighting foam

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York has banned the disposal of toxic firefighting foam by incineration in certain cities after environmental groups raised concerns about an Albany-area firm that had incinerated foam for two years under a Department of Defense contract.

The law signed Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, was designed to prevent the Norlite hazardous waste incinerator in Cohoes from resuming the burning of foam containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals known collectively as PFAS.

The Department of Environmental Conservation ordered Norlite to cease disposal of the material in 2019, and the city of Cohoes enacted a one-year moratorium on PFAS incineration last April. The company said it hasn’t processed the material since December 2019 and would not do so unless testing supported by the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed thermal destruction was the safest and most effective means of disposal.

But local residents, elected officials and environmental groups sought a permanent ban after learning the facility has incinerated more than 2 million pounds of foam through contracts with the Pentagon that have since been canceled. The company had also incinerated foam shipped from firehouses across the East Coast as the material is being phased out due to concerns over possible toxicity.

“This establishes a national precedent that other states should follow,” Judith Enck, former Region 2 administrator for the EPA, said in a statement.

PFAS are human-made chemicals that research suggests can cause health problems in humans. The chemicals have been used for decades in a range of products, including firefighting foam and stain-resistant sprays. They are known as “forever chemicals” because of their longevity in the environment and resistance to destruction.

The new state law says it applies to cities designated as environmental justice areas and with 16,000 to 17,000 residents. But it was aimed at Cohoes because Norlite is the only facility in New York, and one of a handful nationwide, known to have processed PFAS foam.

“We’re looking forward to building on this success and broadening it to a statewide ban,” said Rob Hayes, clean water associate for Environmental Advocates New York. He said PFAS foam could be incinerated at several other facilities around the state.

“Because PFAS foam is not regulated as a hazardous waste and has few disposal requirements, it could theoretically also be incinerated at a municipal waste combustion facility, of which there are 10 spread across the state, Hayes said. ”We have not heard of any PFAS foam waste being sent to the listed hazardous waste incinerators or a municipal waste incinerator.”