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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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