Good news: The legal steps are now in place to guide a thorough cleanup of the Hastings shoreline, one of the most contaminated areas of the Hudson River, where toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) have been poisoning river life for decades.
It’s a major milestone in one of Riverkeeper’s oldest cases, the dumping of PCBs, oil and solvents at the former Anaconda Wire & Cable Company/Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) site in Hastings-on-Hudson. A federal court has approved a modification to the 2003 Consent Decree between Riverkeeper, the Village of Hastings, and BP/ARCO, clearing a path that will ultimately lead to the healing and restoration of this beautiful stretch of the Hudson.
Importantly, the Consent Decree was modified to formally integrate the in-river remediation that Riverkeeper fought to include at as part of the overall cleanup of the site, as well as to incorporate certain necessary changes to the shoreline cleanup and on-site restoration.
“The modified consent order removes one of the barriers to remediation at this PCB contaminated site, which is one of Riverkeeper’s longest running causes,” said Professor Karl Coplan, Co-Director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic. “With this agreement among Riverkeeper, ARCO and the Village of Hastings on the scope of remediation that has also been accepted by DEC, site work awaits only the DEC approvals needed for final design. We look forward to seeing this site become an asset to the Hudson River waterfront rather than a source of contamination.”
Riverkeeper will stay vigilant as the process moves forward to ensure that the cleanup removes as much PCB from the Hudson River as possible, while protecting water quality and ecosystem and human health. BP/ARCO and the DEC are presently obtaining the necessary additional data for BP/ARCO to design the cleanup for the site (both on-land and in-river). That process is expected to continue throughout 2017, with the long-awaited cleanup likely beginning in 2018.
Public access to the Hudson River, open space and sustainable design, and consideration of sea level rise implications will be paramount to Riverkeeper’s continuing involvement at the Site once the PCBs and other contaminants are cleaned up. Going forward, there will be a great need for community input regarding the future use of the cleaned-up waterfront property. We will keep you updated in the coming months and years regarding the opportunity for public engagement in the future restoration of and planning for the Site.
This is a seminal case for Riverkeeper, and we will see it through.
From 1929 to 1975, the Anaconda Wire & Cable Company operated a plant that made electrical wire and cable on a 27-acre property on the shore of the Hudson River in Hastings-on-Hudson. During World War II, the plant made shipboard wire and cable for the U.S. Navy as part of the war effort, using PCB mixtures to make the cables waterproof and fireproof. Later use of the property included additional industrial activity, including construction and demolition waste disposal and a fuel storage – all of which added to the contamination of the site.
Riverkeeper began fighting for cleanup of contamination from the property shortly after its creation as the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (HFRA). In 1969, HRFA started investigating Anaconda Wire and Copper Company for a history of dumping oil and solvents into the river and collected a $200,000 penalty from the company in 1973. Anaconda closed the plant and sold it in 1975.
In 1989, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) listed the site as a State Superfund Site, and subsequent investigations of the site revealed the presence of PCBs, petroleum hydrocarbons, and metal contaminants in surface and subsurface soils.
In 1994, the site was still home to a group of decaying former manufacturing buildings and had served as a solid waste transfer station. Riverkeeper described the following conditions inside Building 15, for example: “Hundreds of tons of garbage were pushing down the walls and pouring through the ten-foot-high windows into the Hudson River – oil drums, car parts, roof shingles, insulation, tons of broken asphalt and concrete, thousands of tires, and all kinds of domestic wastes. At the bottom of the pile a putrid ooze leaked through floor drains that emptied directly into the Hudson River.”
That year, Riverkeeper and the Village of Hastings brought a lawsuit under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to push for extensive investigation of the on-site environmental contamination and to require remediation of the toxic PCBs. The DEC, meanwhile, began the process of requiring an environmental investigation and remediation design under the State Superfund law.
In 2003, Riverkeeper, ARCO, and the Village of Hastings signed a Consent Decree to settle the RCRA lawsuit, with ARCO agreeing to cleanup the property. In 2006, a preliminary remedial design plan indicated substantial and connected PCB contamination of the Hudson River sediments just offshore of the site.
Subsequently, Riverkeeper, along with the Village of Hastings and Scenic Hudson, continued to push BP/ARCO and the State to broaden the cleanup plan to include the portion of the Hudson heavily contaminated by PCBs from the site. In 2012 and 2013, after extensive investigation and public comments, both state and federal agreements were reached regarding the cleanup of the in-River contamination.
Recognizing the practical necessity of incorporating the on-land and in-river cleanups into one coherent remedy, the 2017 Consent Decree modifies the 2003 Consent Decree, incorporating these more recent agreements regarding the cleanup of the PCBs in the Hudson. Now that the Consent Decree modification has been approved by the U.S. District Court, BP/ARCO can begin to move forward with the cleanup with oversight by the DEC.
Although the preliminary cleanup design has not yet been issued by BP/ARCO, Riverkeeper, through our attorneys at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, submitted extensive technical comments in 2012 on the proposed remedial action plan. Riverkeeper argued for: more specific details regarding the in-river cleanup design and contaminated sediment data; additional sampling of the Hudson River sediment; a more stringent cleanup level to protect the river organisms and ecosystem; specific details as to what equipment and technology will be used to cleanup the deepwater sediment contamination, including evaluation of resuspension and contaminant dispersion controls; consideration of flooding and sea level rise effects in the cleanup design; and meaningful opportunity for public engagement as the cleanup design and implementation progresses.
View more documents on the Village of Hastings website.
Media contact: Leah Rae, Staff Writer and Media Specialist (914) 478-4501 ext. 238, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: Courtesy of Hastings Historical Society)