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‘Defend the Hudson’ protest: Groups demand a complete cleanup of PCBs


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Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Abigail Jones delivered the following remarks during today’s “Defend the Hudson” protest in Saratoga Springs, organized by the Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson.

The damage that GE inflicted on New Yorkers by dumping PCBs into the river for decades has held back our communities for far too long. We cannot let GE undercut the progress it has made by packing up and leaving pollution behind to re-contaminate the river and hinder River communities as they try to rebuild their economies.

And after six years of dredging by GE, we are still discovering the full scope of the damage GE has caused.

It turns out that fish in the Hudson River are more contaminated – and will stay contaminated longer – than we originally thought. This means that GE has far more work to do than EPA assumed, and that it will take far longer for the river to recover than we had anticipated, unless we require GE to do more. This — along with the revelation that GE is prematurely dismantling the equipment used in the Hudson River cleanup — is alarming.

For ten years, GE measured PCBs in fish using a filleting method that excludes the rib bone, against the long-held New York Department of Environmental Conservation requirement to use a standardized method that includes the rib bone. Fillets with the rib bone account for the differences in how people cut the fillets, and therefore contain more fatty tissue, which in turn gives a more accurate assessment of PCB levels in the fish. This sampling error calls into question EPA’s conclusions that the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment. If you rely on bad data, there is no way to confidently say that the remedy will meet its goals.

We know how harmful PCBs are; PCBs are classified by the EPA as probable human carcinogens. When people eat fish contaminated with PCBs, they face greater threats from liver, kidney and nervous system disorders, and developmental and reproductive abnormalities. PCBs become more concentrated as they move up the food chain, so that they are at their highest levels when men, women, and children eat contaminated fish. And PCBs persist for an extremely long time, both in the environment and in our bodies. Because of this, GE must not be allowed to walk away from the river while questions remain about just how much PCB is in the fish that our families eat.

We will only truly restore the river if GE thoroughly removes all of the contaminated sediment. Our own health and the regional economy depend on a healthy river. We know this, the Federal Trustees know this, our business and municipal leaders know this, our State Senators and Assembly Members know this, and thousands of local community members know this. The only ones who refuse to acknowledge it are EPA and GE.

We support the Federal Trustees’ demand for EPA to act, and encourage the State of New York to do everything it can to compel GE to live up to its responsibilities for the damage the company did to the river. GE must not dismantle its dredging equipment and EPA must ensure that the cleanup is fully completed. As the Trustees wrote in their recent letter: “Now is the time for GE to thoroughly address their PCB contamination of the Hudson River.”

And until that happens, GE must not be allowed to claim a job well done in the Hudson, and leave our River and our communities with this mess.

Letter to EPA from Hudson River Federal Trustees

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