The Battle Over Dredging

Timeline

1938 – General Electric (GE) considered dropping the use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) because a study revealed health and safety problems, but they did not.

1947 to 1977 – GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs from its capacitor manufacturing plants at the Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities into the Hudson River.

1970 – Journalist and Riverkeeper Founder, Bob Boyle, has 5 striped bass from the Hudson River near Verplanck tested for pollutants. The results show abnormally high levels of PCBs.

October, 1970 – Boyle published his article “Poison Roams Our Coastal Seas” in Sports Illustrated—he did not know where PCBS were coming from at the time. Boyle sent his article and report of findings to DEC Fisheries Director Carl Parker. Parker conducted his own tests which corroborated Boyle’s results, but suppressed results.

1977 – PCBs are banned in the U.S. and Hudson River levels decline significantly once GE suspended active dumping. (However, 25 years later PCBs were found in fish at levels much higher than those considered safe for human consumption.)

1983 – EPA classified the 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River, from Hudson Falls to the Battery in New York City, as a Superfund site under the Superfund law.

May, 1985 – DEC closes commercial striped bass fisheries in New York Harbor and waters off western Long Island.

July 15, 1993 – DEC tells GE to find ways to clean up the land around and under the plants.

October 14, 1993 – DEC and GE agree to begin cleanup on the Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward sites.

September 25, 1997 – Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt holds a press conference along the Hudson demanding that GE stop trying to delay the clean up of PCB contaminated sediment.

April 22, 1998 – shareholder meeting, GE CEO Jack Welch claimed: “PCBs do not pose adverse health risks.”

July 9, 1998 – EPA Administrator Carol Browner stated: “GE tells us this contamination is not a problem. GE would have people of the Hudson River believe, and I quote: ‘living in a PCB-laden area is not dangerous.’ But the science tells us the opposite is true … And concern about PCBs goes beyond cancer …”

1999 – NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sues GE seeking monetary damages for PCB contamination stating that he wants to break the stalemate between GE and government regulators. The suit was thrown out in 2000 by a State Supreme Court Judge saying that it was “premature.”

December 6, 2000 – EPA announced a 5-year plan to dredge 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment along a 40-mile stretch of the river. The cost of EPA’s proposal to GE: $460 million.

2000- Federal law required the EPA to consider local opinion before it issues a final decision in Superfund cases. GE mounted a high-profile political and public relations campaign to stop the dredging plan. GE spent millions of dollars on television commercials, newspaper ads, billboards, bus signs, newsletters and web sites.

GE hired Community Research Group (CRG), a Utica-based firm, to poll upstate residents via phone. CRG representatives told citizens that they were calling to provide information about “an important environmental issue in Upstate New York.” Their first question was whether residents belonged to an environmental group. If the answer was “Yes,” the call ended abruptly, with the caller stating “Thank you very much; we’ve already met the goals of the survey.”

In contrast, a poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which collected survey data for Scenic Hudson, found that of 964 registered voters that were interviewed in counties bordering the Hudson River, 84% favored cleaning up the PCBs in the Hudson River.

2001 – GE filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Superfund law. A federal judge threw out the suit in 2003. GE appealed and in 2004, a federal Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and sent it back to the district court for a hearing on the merits of GE’s claim.

2002 – After battling for two decades to avoid the cleanup project, GE said it would begin testing for PCB hotspots in the Hudson and contract with environmental specialists to dredge contaminated sediments from the river. It would also pay for the dredging and reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for $37 million in previous government expenditures.

May, 2004 – GE sends a letter to the EPA disputing defined goals for the cleanup.

Beginning in 2005 – GE repeatedly requests delays and challenges how much needs to be cleaned up.

December, 2005 – Spitzer states that the deal GE has struck with the federal government is allowing them to delay the project and does not guarantee that they will even finish the job.

July, 2006 – GE states that a riverside sediment processing facility will not be constructed in time to begin dredging in 2007.

November 2, 2006 – Total agreement is finalized between the EPA and GE on how the cleanup of the Hudson River will proceed.

January, 2008 – EPA accepted GE’s plan to remove a third less contaminated river sediment than they agreed to remove.

May, 2009 – Phase 1 dredging begins.