Edward  P. Abbot

DEC Study of PFAS at Norlite Facility Finds No Link to Company Operations or Human Health Risk

March 11, 2021Article

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) study found only low levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in soil and water samples collected from a Norlite facility. DEC determined the levels were consistent with emerging research on the prevalence of this contaminant in the environment. Significantly, the soil guidance values developed by DEC and the NYS Department of Health (DOH) are more protective than residential soil targets in other states that have created such criteria.

The study was conducted in response to community concerns regarding the potential release of PFAS contaminants in the surrounding community from Norlite's past combustion of firefighting foam in Cohoes (Albany County). Because drinking water is a primary pathway for exposure to PFAS contamination, last year, DEC and DOH conducted sampling of the Cohoes and Green Island municipal water supplies to determine if PFAS concentrations in the water had changed over time. This sampling confirmed that there have been no impacts on area drinking water since Norlite began receiving aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).

Before the November 23, 2020 law banning the incineration of AFFF containing PFAS in specific communities, including Cohoes, Norlite agreed to suspend all processing of AFFF until additional testing could establish that high-temperature combustion destroyed these compounds. The DEC also informed Norlite that the future combustion of any substances not previously addressed in its permits would trigger a requirement to seek a permit modification. Going forward, the DEC will also monitor groundwater and surface water on the Norlite property and require emissions testing to include analysis of organic and inorganic fluorine compounds from their kilns. DEC and DOH have also indicated that they plan to continue to evaluate health-based values for all PFAS compounds and establish guidance values for additional PFAS compounds.

While companies with operations where AFFF containing PFAS compounds have been combusted may find the results of this study reassuring, they should be mindful of the site-specific nature of the study and understand that no two facilities are alike. Every site has unique hydrogeological variables that may affect the transport, deposition, and migration of PFAS compounds and metals in the air, water, and soil, making a site-specific review of all relevant factors critical to ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations of AFFF and PFAS.

Further details of the study may be found in DEC’s full report, available here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/norlitesamplingfull0321.pdf

Authors: Edward P. Abbot (Partner-in-Charge, New York), Alfred J. Sargente (Partner, New York)