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EDITORIAL: Get PFOA chemicals out of water and air

EDITORIAL: Get PFOA chemicals out of water and air

Lawmakers approve ban on burning firefighting foam, but Health Department hasn't acted on tougher water restrictions
EDITORIAL: Get PFOA chemicals out of water and air
Photographer: Shutterstock

Amid the pressure to deal with police brutality and the coronavirus crisis, the state Legislature has managed to carve out a few minutes to protect the environment.

Lawmakers last week passed legislation (A9952/S7880) that had been pending for months that prohibits the burning of AFFF firefighting foam, the kind that contains PFAS chemicals most noted for contaminating water supplies in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, Newburgh, Cairo and other places.

Now it’s up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to not only sign this burn ban into law, but to act quickly to protect water supplies from contamination by pushing for stricter maximum contamination levels.

Under a contract with the U.S. Navy, the Norlite incinerator in Cohoes has had a contract to burn the firefighting foam in its two large kilns for the past two years. The firefighting foam comes from 60 military sites and a number of private companies and state agencies from around the country.

Because of a lack of reporting requirements, the burning went on unknown to the city for all of 2018 and most of 2019.

About 70 families live in Saratoga Sites Housing Development in close proximity to the Norlite plant.

Cohoes is one of only four places in the nation authorized to burn the material. 

PFAS in air and drinking water has been linked to a variety of health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, infertility and high blood pressure.

In addition to being used in chemical firefighting foam, PFAS chemicals are used in creating non-stick coatings for pots and pans and stain-free carpeting. Plants manufacturing those products in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other places dumped the chemical into the ground, where it found its way into local water supplies.

Permanently stopping the Cohoes plant from burning PFOA-contaminated foam and polluting the air is the latest step state lawmakers have taken to keep this material from polluting the environment and making people ill.

Lawmakers last year proposed stricter Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.

The state Department of Health was supposed to vote on the new standards in April, and then again at its June 4 meeting. But on June 2, the Health Department announced it was postponing the vote again to an undisclosed date in the future. 

To protect the citizens, these dangerous chemicals need to be removed from the environment — from the water and the air.

Gov. Cuomo now needs to sign the legislation to keep these dangerous chemicals out of the air, and then push the Health Department to move ahead quickly to limit their impact on the water.

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