Law Targets Incineration of Firefighting Foam Containing the Emerging
Contaminants Known as PFAS
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.7880-B/A.9952-B) banning the incineration of Aqueous Film Forming Foam containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the emerging contaminants known as PFAS, in certain cities. Under the new law, incineration of this foam is prohibited in cities designated as Environmental Justice areas by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation where the population is between 16,000 and 17,000 residents. The law goes into effect immediately and bolsters the Department’s ongoing response to concerns raised by residents in the City of Cohoes residents to ensure the environment and community are protected after foam containing PFAS was disposed at the Norlite facility.
“While the federal government has failed to regulate these compounds or protect the health of our communities, New York continues to respond to the threats posed by emerging contaminants like PFAS in our environment with sustained science-based actions,” Governor Cuomo said. “While this measure will ban incineration of firefighting foam containing these compounds in cities like Cohoes, our work is not over. We remain fully committed to this effort and will continue to advance comprehensive, statewide measures which protect all New Yorkers and our environment from emerging contaminants.”
Senator Neil Breslin said, “This law is the result of input from citizens of Cohoes, environmental advocates, the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo. Working together, we have stopped the emission of dangerous chemicals from the burning of firefighting foam in Cohoes.”
Assembly Member John McDonald said, “I am very pleased to see that the Governor has signed into law the legislation sponsored by myself and Senator Neil Breslin that will prohibit the incineration of firefighting foam containing per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). I appreciate the Governor’s attention to this legislation and the support of the community and advocates who were integral to ensuring the passage into law.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) directed Norlite to immediately cease disposal of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) in 2019, and launched a series of actions and investigations to ensure the surrounding community was not at risk. While this legislation applies to this specific community, DEC and the Department of Health (DOH) continue to advance statewide efforts to lead the nation in response to PFAS contamination. This includes further study of safe and proper disposal methods and ongoing, rigorous oversight of the Norlite facility’s operations.
DEC continues to work closely with the City of Cohoes to assess potential environmental impacts due to incineration of AFFF at the Norlite facility. DEC first directed Norlite to cease all incineration of firefighting foam at the facility after the facility temporarily shut down its operations in 2019 for planned facility upgrades, and again in writing in June 2020. Since then, DEC and DOH worked quickly to ensure nearby water supplies were not impacted by the past processing of firefighting foam while driving the necessary scientific methods to analyze for PFAS compounds in air emissions. DEC also strengthened its oversight of the Norlite facility by directing that the future incineration of emerging contaminants such as PFAS will trigger a requirement to seek a permit modification prior to processing in the facility.
In July, DEC announced a comprehensive soil and water sampling initiative to help determine if contaminants are present in the environment surrounding the Norlite facility. During the sampling initiative, in coordination with the DOH, DEC is collecting soil and water samples from upwind, downwind, and background locations to study the potential aerial deposition of contaminants like metals and PFAS. DEC experts will carefully review sampling results to determine if there are environmental impacts in the areas studied, and the results will guide any additional on-the-ground investigations and actions in the future.
More information about the comprehensive sampling, community outreach, and additional Norlite updates can be found at DEC’s website.
New York State is leading the nation with a comprehensive, science-based strategy to address sources of contamination in water like PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane, which have been found to negatively affect human health. When these harmful chemicals are found in the environment and public and private water supply systems, DEC and DOH act swiftly with engineering, health, and legal experts to ensure communities have access to clean water and polluters are held accountable. In the absence of federal leadership and action to regulate these harmful chemicals, New York State is driving policy and solutions to ensure communities are protected.
In July, Governor Cuomo announced maximum contaminant levels for emerging contaminants PFOA and PFOS in New York’s drinking water, which are among the lowest in the U.S. for PFOA and PFOS at 10 parts per trillion. In addition, New York State adopted a first-in-the-nation drinking water standard for emerging contaminant 1,4-Dioxane, setting the maximum contaminant level of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane.
Environmental Justice communities are communities of color or low-income communities that experience a disproportionate share of environmental harms such as vehicle emissions and pollution. For more information visit the DEC website.