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Hudson River PCBs: Where we stand now

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General Electric’s legacy of toxic PCBs is one of Riverkeeper’s oldest battles to protect the health and well-being of the Hudson River. It’s also one of the most complex. We’re at a critical moment as we continue to hold GE accountable. Here is a summary of the latest developments in this decades-old fight.

The status of EPA’s Five Year Review

In June 2017, Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft Five Year Review for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site. The review is an opportunity for EPA to see if the cleanup is working as intended — whether it is meeting the goals necessary to protect human health and the environment established in a 2002 Record of Decision for the site. In the draft, EPA admitted that the cleanup does not currently protect human health and the environment. At the same time, EPA claimed that, for nearly 50 miles of the Hudson River above the Troy Dam, the cleanup would be protective at some unknown point in the future. EPA made no determination for the 150 miles of the River below the Troy Dam.

EPA’s determination in the draft Five Year Review — that the cleanup would be protective in the Upper Hudson — isn’t supported by the science. It is nearly certain that the cleanup will not meet critical short-term fish tissue targets established in the Record of Decision. A technical review commissioned by Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and other environmental organizations shows that, given the current levels of PCB contamination in fish, it could take up to 20 years to meet the first short-term target, which should have been achieved within five years of the completion of dredging. And, it would take 30-40 years to meet the second short-term target, which should have been achieved within 16 years of the completion of dredging. The failure to meet those targets — likely by decades — is unacceptable.

In January 2018, EPA announced that it would consider new information provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in the form of approximately 1,800 sediment samples from the Upper Hudson, along with recent comments provided by state and federal stakeholders about the status of the cleanup. According to DEC, the data that it collected from the Upper Hudson indicates that PCB concentrations in sediment are as much as 2 to 3 times higher than anticipated at the time of the Record of Decision.

What’s next: We welcome EPA’s decision to hit the pause button on the Five Year Review to consider new information and comments. We expect that the agency will use this time to reevaluate its preliminary conclusions, which put EPA at odds with almost every other interested party, apart from GE. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to advocate for a “not protective” determination; additional removal of PCB-contaminated sediment in the Upper Hudson; and a full remedial investigation and feasibility study in the Lower Hudson, which hasn’t responded to the dredging upriver.

GE’s request for a Certificate of Completion

EPA is also considering GE’s request for a Certificate of Completion for the Hudson River cleanup pursuant to a 2005 Consent Order. The Certificate is particularly significant because, if issued, it triggers covenants not to sue that would essentially let GE off the hook for cleaning up the rest of its mess. EPA’s potential issuance of the Certificate has prompted an outcry among state and federal stakeholders. While GE is arguing that it completed the dredging project, others — including the New York State Office of the Attorney General — argue that the Certificate should not be issued until the cleanup is protective of human health and the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior have also expressed serious concerns about issuing a Certificate at this time.

What’s next: EPA has said it will hold off on responding to GE’s request until after it finalizes the Five Year Review.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a separate process under the Superfund law in which federal and state agencies, known as the Natural Resource Trustees, are tasked with assessing and recovering damages for injuries caused to natural resources. The group also considers and develops restoration projects that would compensate the public for the injuries. The Hudson River Trustees — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and DEC — have been engaged in this process for years. Most recently, the Trustees issued an Injury Determination Report detailing how the Hudson River has been injured as a result of GE’s pollution. While a number of things go into that determination, an important component is the fact that the River, by and large, exceeds water quality standards for PCBs meant to protect people and wildlife.

What’s next: The report will be used as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.

The bottom line is that GE must be held accountable — both for cleaning up its mess and for the injuries caused by decades of pollution. The future of the Hudson River depends on it.

What can you do

Join your neighbors and urge the new Regional Administrator Pete Lopez to act for a healthy Hudson. Mr. Lopez has the power to ensure that EPA’s final determination in the Five Year Review reflects the reality that GE’s cleanup to date is not protective of human health and the environment. Call EPA Now or  Send a Messsage

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