Blogs > Keeping Current > Fighting PFAS contamination – from the grass roots to the NY Legislature

Fighting PFAS contamination – from the grass roots to the NY Legislature

community activists with Norlite_6487327

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Two years ago, my community of Cohoes, N.Y., learned that the Norlite hazardous waste incinerator, located 100 feet from my apartment complex, had been illegally burning millions of pounds of aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, containing carcinogenic PFAS chemicals.

The State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which has an onsite monitor, allowed these hazardous chemicals to be incinerated just feet away from low-income housing. We found out about this practice only because of a Freedom of Information Law request by Sierra Club to the Department of Defense. The community sprang into action. I formed the non-profit Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions (SSANE) to help local residents on this issue, and became lead organizer of another local group, Lights Out Norlite (LON).

Lights out Norlite

Through community activism, we have been able to help pass some of the first laws in the nation banning PFAS incineration. Not only have we kept this facility honest about its egregious environmental law violations, but also kept the State of New York honest in the process as well. Our continued actions have prompted a class-action lawsuit, revelations that this facility is the number one emitter of mercury in the state (at over 50 pounds a year), and a formal investigation by the New York State Attorney General into Norlite.

As I am writing this blog, residents in my neighborhood are being attacked by razor-sharp silica dust from Norlite’s mining operation, which blows into the neighborhood from massive piles on the site. Long-term exposure to this dust can be deadly. SSANE and LON are working to end these obvious violations of human rights.

My advocacy in my own community helped prepare me for my new role as Riverkeeper’s 2022 Government Affairs Intern. Issues surrounding the Hudson River mean a lot to me, as a lifelong resident of Cohoes. Conserving our river has never been more important, whether at the headwaters in the Adirondacks or the estuaries of New York City.

Protecting the environment is in my blood. From a young age, my Grandfather Christopher Schaefer has taught me to respect our natural environment, and my family has deep ties into New York State environmental conservation. My Great-Grandfather Carl Schaefer put Adirondack skiing on the map, and my strong-willed Great-Great Uncle Vincent Schaefer invented cloud-seeding and pursued conservation issues across the state. I could not be more excited to join the Riverkeeper crew.

Joe RitchieCurrently, I am a senior at Syracuse University studying Political Science and Environmental Sustainability and Policy. During the 2020 legislative session, I served as an Assembly Intern with Hudson Valley Assemblyman Kevin Cahill – an honor and privilege, as I was able to work on issues surrounding what Hudson Valley residents care about. The internship opened up my mind to how the legislative process works, and how I can help achieve Riverkeeper’s goals for this upcoming session.

One piece of legislation that has caught my eye is the Private Well Testing Act (S.48) sponsored by state Senator Brad Hoylman. If enacted, it would require that private wells be tested for emerging contaminants such as PFAS and other harmful chemicals.

As millions of people across the world demand more climate action from their elected officials, I am glad to be working with an organization that is helping to push this greener future, in our own communities and beyond.

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