EPA Upholds Plan to Dredge Hudson River

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to go ahead with plans to force the General Electric company to spend more than $500 million to clean up contaminated sediments in the Hudson River. GE has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent months lobbying to overturn the Clinton era plan, which would dredge as many as 2.65 million cubic yards from the river.

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General Electric's Hudson Falls Plant and Bakers Falls on the Hudson River (Three photos courtesy EPA)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said today that the EPA is circulating for interagency review a draft proposal that, in most respects, tracks the plan proposed by the agency last December under the Clinton administration.

"The Administration is committed to cleaning up the Hudson River in a manner that is environmentally sound and is responsive to the concerns of the affected communities," said Whitman.

To that end, the EPA intends to incorporate the draft cleanup plan with a series of performance standards by which the cleanup will be regularly evaluated. The performance indicators being considered will include measuring PCB levels in the soil, and the water column as well as measuring the percentage of dredged material that gets suspended in the river.

river

Two PCB deposits are shown here, one indicated by the trees in the river, and the second by the yellow area on the bank.
Based on these indicators, the EPA will determine at each stage of the project whether it is scientifically justified to continue the cleanup. PCB levels in fish will be monitored throughout the project as well.

PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, and some 1.1 million pounds are thought to be deposited in the river. The substance has been linked to cancer in humans and bioaccumulates in fish.

The chemical was banned in 1977, but prior to that time, General Electric (GE) had been dumping the chemical for more than 35 years. The Hudson River was declared a Superfund site in 1983.

For almost two decades, GE has been resisting the EPA's attempts to make the company take financial responsibility for the river cleanup and remediation. GE has taken a number of steps to halt or reduce continuing contamination of the Hudson through runoff of PCB contaminated sediments, but has fought bitterly against proposals that it spend half a billion dollars to clean up the river bottom.

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The calm surface of this Hudson River pool conceals what the EPA designates as Hot Spot 8 because of its high concentration of PCBs.
Since the EPA first released its dredging proposal, the company has reportedly spent millions of dollars to battle the plan, including funding an unsuccessful lawsuit aimed at having portions of the federal Superfund law, under which the dredging is required, declared unconstitutional.

Today, the company released a statement expressing disappointment in Whitman's decision to proceed with what GE terms a "massive dredging project of the Upper Hudson River, which will cause more harm than good."

"This is a loss for the people of the area who overwhelmingly oppose this project and the decades of disruption it will bring to their communities," GE said. "It appears that neither sound science nor the voices of these residents played a part in the EPA's decision."

Since the initial cleanup proposal last year, the EPA has received more than 70,000 comments from a variety of parties regarding the proposed plan. Many of these comments came from individuals who live along the upper Hudson River and who are concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of dredging.

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New York State Warning sign on the Hudson River (Photo courtesy N.Y. Bass Club)
Studies conducted since last December by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.S. Geological Survey raised questions about the impacts of river dredging, particularly the potential risk that dredging could release more PCBs into the water, increasing the risk to wildlife and downstream water users.

But the NAS study also confirmed the EPA's findings that dredging should result in significant improvements in PCB levels in the river, with few short term impacts.

The new plan is expected to ensure the proposal for cleaning up the river will not put individuals at greater risk of PCB exposure. The EPA also plans to establish a community involvement program that will provide the public with opportunity for input throughout the project.

Environmental groups called Whitman's decision a victory for environmental protection over corporate interests.

dredge

Dredging contaminated river sediments (Photo courtesy GE)
"Following a series of Administration decisions that favor the interests of corporate polluters over the environment and public health, the decision is a welcome sign that the EPA can still do what the science says must be done to protect the environment and public health," said American Rivers president Rebecca Wodder.

"This April, American Rivers placed the Hudson River on the list of America's Most Endangered Rivers to call attention to GE's expensive and misleading public relations campaign to persuade the public that the clean up plan is risky and unnecessary," Wodder added. "Following Administrator Whitman's decision, we hope to be able to remove the river from next year's list."

Citizens to Cleanup GE, a project of the nonprofit group Essential Information, called on GE to embrace the EPA's proposed plan to clean up the Hudson River.

Todd Main, a spokesperson for the Cleanup GE Campaign said, "If GE resists the EPA plan it will send a message that GE is indifferent to health and environmental concerns. Such an action may well spark a nationwide consumer boycott of GE products," he warned.

remediation

A network of 239 recovery and monitoring wells has been installed around GE's plants to monitor PCBs in the groundwater, prevent movement of PCBs to the river and recover PCB oils from the bedrock
GE continued today to laud its own efforts to clean up the river.

"GE has invested $200 million in Hudson River research and restoration projects over the past 20 years and has met every commitment made to state and federal regulators," the company stated. "This had led to remarkable improvement in the river during this period."

Toxics Targeting, an environmental database firm, recently released a citizens' guide detailing 40 land sites where GE's PCB contamination threatens homes, drinking water and the Hudson. The guide is available at: http://www.CleanUpGE.org