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EPA needs to start investigating the Lower Hudson River

Lower Hudson RiverThe saga of the poisoning of the Hudson River by General Electric has been going on for around 70 years. Unfortunately, the end is not yet in sight. The Environmental Protection Agency and GE agreed on extensive dredging work in the 40 miles of river above the Troy Dam, but as yet, nothing has been done to clean up the 150 miles of river below the Troy Dam. It is now past time for EPA to correct that omission.

When the Hudson River PCBs site was declared to be a Superfund site in 1984, the concentrations of PCBs found in fish and river sediments were found to pose a long-term threat to human health and the environment throughout the 200-mile length of the river between Hudson Falls and the Battery in New York City. Fish samples collected by EPA and NYSDEC show PCB concentrations in fish found below the federal dam in Troy have not declined as expected as a result of the upriver dredging.

While we continue to debate the effectiveness of GE’s dredging of the 40 miles of the Hudson above the Troy Dam with EPA, all now agree that the dredging to date will have little to no effect on PCB levels below the dam. EPA has been talking about the need to conduct further investigation in the Lower Hudson River, below the Troy Dam, for over three years and has said it was doing further studies to determine whether a full Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) was warranted approximately two years ago. In June 2019, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation called on EPA to “acknowledge that a full Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) is needed for the remaining portion of the river downstream of Troy.” 

Sampling data collected show unequivocally that neither the upriver remedy nor natural attenuation will reduce PCBs in the lower river fish and sediments in any significant way over the next few decades. EPA believes it should conduct additional sampling to close some data gaps before it makes a determination on whether to require GE and other sources to conduct a RI/FS for the lower river. Riverkeeper agrees with NYSDEC that sufficient information already exists to determine that a RI/FS for the lower river is necessary. 

Most egregiously, even after two years, EPA has failed to set a tentative schedule for completing the work that it believes it needs to decide on whether to order the lower river investigation. It is time for EPA to produce actual timetables and work plans that will result in a decision on the RI/FS as quickly as possible. 

This issue is urgent because delays have health consequences and the burden falls most heavily on people of color. Riverkeeper and EPA’s Community Advisory Group regularly express our concern that people are still eating fish out of the Lower Hudson River. A recent survey of 150 anglers along the Lower Hudson between Troy and Peekskill, conducted by Scenic Hudson and the Sierra Club, found that over 30 percent of the anglers who ate fish from the Hudson River ate more than what the fish advisories recommend. Among African-American anglers that value increased to over 40% and it was over 60% among Latinx anglers. We understand that it is critical to do the work correctly, but we cannot lose sight of the need to get the work done and protect vulnerable communities. 

A comprehensive Remedial Investigation for the Lower Hudson River is long overdue. No remedy has ever been selected for Lower Hudson, meaning over 150 miles of the River has remained in a state that is not protective of human health and the environment, since before it was first declared a Superfund site in 1984. 

Here is how you can help: Citizens rarely contact EPA, but the agency pays attention when they do. Help make this a priority by contacting the Director Gary Klawinski of EPA’s Hudson River Field Office to request that EPA issue a firm timeline for conducting their supplemental investigation of the Lower Hudson River. Director Klawinski can be reached at Klawinski.Gary@epa.gov or 518-407-0400, ext. 1.

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