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For Release: Tuesday, March 9, 2021

DEC's Comprehensive Study of PFAS and Metals Finds No Clear Link to Norlite's Operations, No Indication of Human Health Risk

Low Levels of PFAS in All Upwind, Downwind, and Background Samples Consistent with Emerging Research on Prevalence of this Contaminant in the Environment

Study in Response to Community Concerns about Potential Impact of Norlite's Past Combustion of Fire-Fighting Foam

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the findings of the agency's comprehensive soil and water sampling initiative of communities surrounding the Norlite facility in the city of Cohoes. DEC conducted the science-driven sampling initiative to help determine if contaminants are present in communities surrounding the Norlite facility as a result of its past combustion of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) that contains Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and 23 metals, including mercury. The study found no clearly discernible pattern of aerial deposition that could be traced to Norlite's operations. Sampling identified low-level detections of PFAS compounds in all soil samples collected, upwind, downwind, and at background locations, consistent with emerging research on the prevalence of these contaminants in urban, suburban, and rural environments. In addition, concentrations of PFAS found in soils were below guidance values developed by DEC and the Department of Health (DOH) and do not indicate a human health risk. Today's announcement builds on DEC's ongoing response to community concerns to ensure the environment and community are protected since AFFF containing PFAS was disposed at Norlite. The full DEC study and corresponding data are available at DEC's website.

"In response to concerns from the community, I applaud our team of experts for designing and implementing this comprehensive sampling effort driven by science and data to ensure Cohoes and other nearby communities are not at risk," Commissioner Seggos said. "The results of our sampling should give local residents peace of mind about the impacts from AFFF containing PFAS combusted at Norlite. I encourage everyone in the community to review our report and all the data and join our upcoming community information session to further discuss the findings. Make no mistake, our job is not done and DEC will continue to hold this facility accountable for the impact of its operations on the surrounding area while we engage local residents in our decision-making every step of the way."

Based on the comprehensive review of the data undertaken by DEC experts, in consultation with the New York State Department of Health (DOH), the report found:

  • Analysis of soil concentrations does not show clear evidence of an increase in downwind PFAS concentrations;
  • Analysis of soil concentrations does not show evidence of a significant increase in downwind metals concentrations. DEC found elevated concentrations of metals in one sample, which may be associated with the operations of an adjacent facility;
  • Concentrations of PFOA and PFOS in soils do not indicate a human health risk. These concentrations are below guidance values applicable to the current land use and potential for human exposure;
  • Analysis of stream water concentrations at high flow and low flow indicates possible influence from soils and precipitation in areas of low surface water PFAS concentrations, but not in locations with higher surface water concentrations, such as those found in the Patroon Creek and in the Salt Kill downstream from Norlite; and
  • Analysis of surface water samples in areas of ponded water on or near Norlite property indicates that there are likely sources of PFAS compounds not associated with Norlite kiln emissions. DEC will assess the source of this potential contamination.

Notably, the soil sample results for Saratoga Sites were all below residential use guidance values for soil, and ranged from 0.29 parts per billion (ppb or µg/kg) to 0.63 ppb for PFOA, and from 1.1 ppb to 4.5 ppb for PFOS. The soil guidance values developed by DEC and DOH are more protective than residential soil targets in other states that have developed such criteria.

DEC and DOH will continue to evaluate health-based values for all PFAS compounds and work to establish guidance values for additional PFAS compounds. DEC will also monitor groundwater and surface water on the Norlite property to better assess the existence of PFAS compounds over time, and require emissions testing to include analysis of organic and inorganic fluorine compounds from the kilns at Norlite.

To advance the state's ongoing response efforts and scientific understanding of air emissions associated with PFAS compounds, in coordination with DOH, DEC collected soil and water samples from upwind, downwind, downstream, upstream, and background locations in order to determine if aerial deposition of potential metal and PFAS contaminants exists. In total, 22 soil samples were collected from 18 locations, and surface water samples were collected from 14 locations. Four of the water sample locations were from the Salt Kill, which runs through the Norlite property, two from an on-site quarry pond, and two from an un-named pond immediately south of the Norlite facility. In addition, DEC collected water samples from the Patroon Creek in Albany County and Schuyler Creek in Saratoga County to assess background concentrations from other surface water sources. The samples from the stream locations were taken at both low and high flow conditions. The sampling effort was announced in July 2020.

In addition to the sampling initiative, in February DEC commenced enforcement against Norlite based upon two recently issued Notices of Violation, which placed the facility on formal notice of six violations arising from its improper management of dust from air pollution control equipment and its repeated failure to control offsite fugitive dust resulting from operations. DEC is also closely scrutinizing all potential sources of fugitive dust, immediately responding to community complaints of dust and other impacts from the facility, and continuing to compile new information in order to hold the facility accountable and to ensure that DEC's decision-making is accurately informed by the latest facts and data.

DEC directed Norlite to cease combustion of AFFF containing PFAS compounds after the facility temporarily suspended operations at the end of 2019. Since that time, DEC has worked with local and state elected officials to assess the potential impacts of Norlite's past combustion of firefighting foam. In addition, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law last year that prohibits the combustion of AFFF that contains PFAS in certain communities, including Cohoes. Prior to that, DEC secured a commitment from Norlite to suspend all processing of AFFF materials until additional testing is conducted that establishes that high temperature combustion destroys these compounds. In addition, DEC informed Norlite that the future combustion of any substances not previously addressed in its permits will trigger a requirement to seek a permit modification prior to processing in the facility.

The past combustion of PFAS led to concerns from local residents and public officials that emissions from the facility could have caused a release of PFAS contaminants in the surrounding community. Because drinking water is a primary pathway for exposure to PFAS contamination, out of an abundance of caution, DEC and DOH conducted sampling of the Cohoes and Green Island municipal water supplies last year to determine if PFAS concentrations in water have changed over time. This sampling confirmed that there have been no impacts to area drinking water since Norlite began receiving AFFF.

DEC will soon hold a public information session to discuss the study and provide other updates about DEC's oversight and response to community concerns at Norlite. Additional details will be provided when available. Residents are encouraged to immediately report suspected violations to DEC at 1-800-457-7362 and to Norlite at 518-235-0401. For more information, go to DEC's website.

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