News > News > Stop Polluters > Contaminated Sites > Riverkeeper Applauds Dredging of Hudson PCBs and Calls on EPA to Ensure Full Cleanup

Riverkeeper Applauds Dredging of Hudson PCBs and Calls on EPA to Ensure Full Cleanup

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Andrea Kott
(914) 478-4501 x 239
akott@riverkeeper.org

May 14, 2009 (Tarrytown, N.Y.) – The long delayed clean-up of the Hudson River PCBs is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning. While Riverkeeper salutes the commencement of the dredging, it is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure the entire clean-up occurs and that it is thorough.

“We are very pleased that the PCB dredging project will finally begin,” Riverkeeper president Alex Matthiessen said. “General Electric dumped these toxic chemicals into the Hudson and then spent decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars – trying to evade responsibility for cleaning them up. Now, at last, a cleanup is underway. Riverkeeper, which first called attention to the PCB problem 30 years ago, will continue to closely monitor the project and the company’s commitment to a full and thorough remediation. Communities upriver and down deserve nothing less.”

The clean-up includes two phases. Phase 1, scheduled to begin tomorrow and last about six months, will focus on the removal of approximately 265,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. That amount represents only about 10% of the total amount of contaminated sediment originally slated for removal under the 2002 Record of Decision by EPA. A separate legal agreement between EPA and GE, known as the 2006 Consent Decree, provides that GE will notify EPA of its intention to perform Phase 2 of the remediation after Phase 1 is complete. Phase 2 is currently designed to remove approximately 1,500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. Needless to say, the fact that GE can attempt to avoid Phase 2 is quite troubling to many observers.

As early as 1983, EPA studied the PCB contamination in the Hudson River, but it wasn’t until the 2002 Record of Decision that EPA required dredging of approximately 65% of the total PCB mass in the Upper Hudson. More delays and negotiations resulted in the 2006 Consent Decree, specifying additional details.

Federal Superfund law and the 2006 Consent Decree give EPA the authority to take additional action to compel GE to perform Phase 2 and finish the remediation. But, that could result in untold delays and additional legal action, according to Riverkeeper attorney Rebecca Troutman. “We are hopeful that the new EPA Administrator will follow this closely and minimize that possibility. We intend to do the same,” Troutman said. Meanwhile, in 2000, GE commenced a lawsuit challenging the validity of the Superfund law – specifically regarding EPA’s authority to order clean-ups. Although the suit did not succeed in the lower courts, GE filed a notice of appeal this March with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Before they were banned in 1970s, PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, including the manufacture of capacitors (devices for storing electrical charge) at the GE’s Hudson Falls and Fort Edwards plants. Estimates indicate that as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were discharged by those plants into the Hudson River between 1947 and 1977. Once released, PCBs adhered to river sediment and also accumulated downstream. Historically, their highest concentration was in the upper Hudson, but studies show that erosion and water movement have caused redeposits as far down as the Battery in NY Harbor. PCBs accumulate in fatty tissue and their levels increase as they travel up the food chain. Human exposure to PCBs – mostly from PCB-laden fish – has been linked with cancer, thyroid disease and liver damage and is believed to affect learning, memory and immune system disorders, reproduction, birth weight and brain chemistry.

The federal Superfund law, also known as “CERCLA” or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, gives the United States government the authority to compel cleanups of “hazardous substances” and to recover costs incurred. The Hudson River “Superfund site” consists of an approximately 200 mile stretch of the River from the Village of Hudson Falls to the Battery in New York City.

ABOUT RIVERKEEPER: Riverkeeper is an independent member-supported environmental organization. Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect the Hudson River, and its tributaries, and the New York City drinking water supply. For more information, please visit www.riverkeeper.org.

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