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GE Will Assess Upper Hudson Flood Plains Under New Agreement

Dredging of the Hudson River

General Electric and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement to study and develop a cleanup plan for the shorelines along the upper Hudson River, where GE has been dredging to remove contaminants for the past five years.

The EPA says GE will begin a $20.5 million comprehensive study of the shorelines stretching along the Hudson from Fort Edward to Troy, about 40 miles.

Until the 1970s when the chemicals were banned, GE released toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Hudson from electrical equipment manufacturing facilities in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.

GE is scheduled to wrap up its estimated $2 billion dredging project begun in 2009 next year. GE spokesman Mark Behan….

“As you know the dredging project is now in its fifth year, more than 80 percent complete, and scheduled to be completed in 2015, but GE’s work on the river is continuing,” said Behan.

Under EPA guidance, GE will take extensive samples from the banks and floodplains of the upper Hudson. Human health and ecological risk assessments also will be conducted.

Behan said the project will expand upon shoreline work already completed. 

“Where higher levels of PCB’s have been detected, GE installed protective soil covers, caps, to prevent any contact with the material. The next stage of the work, which is embodied in this agreement, calls for further evaluation of the 80 miles of shoreline between Fort Edward and Troy, and the development of options for a long-term remedial strategy.

Since GE began working on the river, environmental groups and advocates have been calling on the company to assess and clean the floodplain areas.

Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the U.S. Department of the Interior for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment, said the agreement recognizes that addressing contamination in the river must also include addressing contamination of the flood plain.

Jahn’s team has been studying the potential impact of PCB’s on wildlife habitat, including an ongoing study on mink populations. She says their work will continue as GE moves forward with its assessment of the floodplains.

“The NRDA work continues because work done by GE under an EPA remedy, including the ongoing dredging and habitat reconstruction work and future floodplain work, it doesn’t resolve GE’s potential liability for natural resource damages,” said Jahn.

Althea Mullarkey, Policy Analyst for environmental group Scenic Hudson, said her organization is pleased with the agreement, and they hope some of their concerns regarding upper Hudson communities and homeowners are addressed as the work begins. 

“We think it’s a little overdue, but we’re glad they finally signed an agreement with EPA. We also were concerned that there were certain areas of the floodplains that might not have been included, for the upriver communities, especially, this is concerning because we wanted to be extensive and comprehensive as possible, and we're hoping when we get into the details of the work plan, that the upriver communities' concerns have been addressed in the scope of this plan."

Behan reiterated that GE’s work on the river will continue.

“In 2016 we’ll be working on habitat reconstruction in the river, and monitoring, and of course our work on the flood plains will continue for the foreseeable future, so GE’s work on the Hudson has a long way to go.”

NOTE: This article has been modified from its original version.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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