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Hudson River PCB Update: Public Forum Wraps-Up As New Report Confirms Extensive Contamination

Riverkeeper, along with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, NRDC, and Scenic Hudson, would like to thank all who attended the Hudson River PCB Forum and dredging project update on Jan. 16, 2013.

Photo Courtesy John Norton

The federal and state agencies involved with General Electric’s cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River presented on the progress, the success, and the lessons learned during the first three years of dredging in the Upper Hudson. Speaker after speaker confirmed that PCB removal is the best solution to ensure the Hudson will recover and become a vigorous natural and economic resource for the people and communities throughout the Hudson River Valley and the State. And many of the speakers spoke to GE’s successful dredging operations, which to date, has exceeded the expectations of the original cleanup plan.

But as a report from the Natural Resource Damages Trustees (also released on Jan. 16, 2013) confirms, the entire extent of the Hudson River is “extensively contaminated” and these “high levels of PCB contamination have existed for decades, and continue to exist, in the Hudson River ecosystem” and “present a serious and long-term threat to the health of the entire Hudson River ecosystem.” This contamination reaches “surface waters, sediments, floodplain soils, fish, birds, wildlife, and other biota” – to say nothing of its impact on the people along the Hudson River, who, for example, eat certain types of fish and wildlife from the river.

For more than 50 years, millions of pounds of highly toxic PCBs have polluted the lands, waters and wildlife of the Hudson River Valley. This contamination has threatened the health of generations of New York residents, forced the closure of commercial fishing industries, restricted the navigability of the river’s historic shipping channel, and tainted the reputation of the State’s outdoor recreational economy.

From the beginning, the goal of the PCB cleanup in the Hudson River has been to remove as much of the toxins as possible. But as Riverkeeper has pointed out time and time again, GE’s cleanup plan will leave behind areas of PCBs that are likely to recontaminate the River. As the Trustee’s report makes clear, despite GE’s “success” with its remediation to-date, the Hudson River’s water, sediment, and fish and wildlife still exceed certain regulatory thresholds for PCB content (sometimes by as much as 100 times).

By hearing the PCB cleanup update, participants at the Public Forum gained a greater appreciation of the value of being informed in order to protect our resources. It has taken more than 35 years of a concerted effort by agencies, environmental groups like Riverkeeper, municipal officials, and concerned citizens to assure that this remediation happened, and it will take us all to ensure that the cleanup is done right.

The following is a list of the speakers and their presentations from the PCB Public Forum on Jan. 16, 2013:

Dave King, US EPA, Hudson River PCB Remediation Field Director: Project Update

Kevin Farrar, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Remediation: PCB Remediation on Land and Water

Regina Keenan, NYS Dept. of Health: Hudson River Fish Advisories

Dr. Peter deFur, Environmental Stewardship Concepts, Technical Advisor to the Community Advisory Group: Hudson River PCB Highlights and Newest Research on PCB Remediation

Kathryn Jahn, US Dept. of Interior (on behalf of the NRDA Trustees): Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration

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