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Hudson River PCBs: EPA plans major study of estuary contamination


Photo: © Joseph Squillante
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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working with GE to plan voluntary research throughout lower 150 miles, from NYC to Troy – a potential first step in cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is signaling that it might be opening a whole new phase in the cleanup of PCB contamination in the Hudson River – possibly.

Hudson River shoreline

The Hudson River PCBs Superfund Community Advisory Group met Thursday, March 31, to discuss current progress on remediating the nation’s largest Superfund site – 200 miles of river extending from the Upper Hudson all the way to the tip of Manhattan. Sediment throughout this vast distance is contaminated by toxic PCBs dumped by General Electric over the course of decades. The chemicals are deemed a long term threat to human health and the environment. Though extensive dredging work has been performed in the 40 miles of river above the Troy Dam, it will be generations before fish throughout the Hudson are safe to consume, and the dredging has had little to no effect on PCB levels in fish below the dam.

GE Plant

Photo: © Joseph Squillante

During Thursday’s meeting, EPA officials said they were working with General Electric to develop a 3-year plan to begin studying the “Lower” Hudson, meaning the 150 river miles south of Troy, to understand the extent of General Electric’s PCB contamination in the tidal portion of the river. That study should begin later this year.

This is potentially groundbreaking. We know we have a significant problem with PCB contamination of the lower 150 miles of river, but we do not understand just how significant or extensive that problem may be. It’s an urgent issue, because delays have health consequences, and the burden falls most heavily on people of color. What little data we have for the lower river is either over two decades old or was collected to help inform the dredging of the Upper Hudson.

For many years, Riverkeeper has been pushing for EPA for a proper remedial investigation of the lower river. A remedial investigation under the Superfund law is a structured way of investigating the nature and extent of contamination at a site, designed to lead to a cleanup decision.

The EPA’s announcement is both exciting and disappointing. Disappointingly, this is not a remedial investigation. EPA is working with GE to develop voluntary studies for the lower river. The voluntary nature of the studies gives GE more control over how those studies are conducted, and GE could decide to stop cooperating at any time.

A remedial investigation is the gold standard, and a remedial investigation is what the Hudson River and its communities need.

But there is reason for enthusiasm and hope, because the first step in developing an effective cleanup plan is to understand how PCBs are distributed throughout the lower Hudson River. Around this time next year, we will have our first glimpse of that picture. We will continue to call on EPA for a proper remedial investigation, but after decades of inaction, we view this as a welcome first step on a road that will let us finally address the PCBs within the lower Hudson River, and potentially, a road that leads to a healthier Hudson.

EPA needs to start investigating the Lower Hudson River

Media contact:
Leah Rae, [email protected], (914) 715-6821

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