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DEC, Activists Call For Additional Dredging Of The Hudson

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is locking horns with the Environmental Protection Agency over dredging and PCB's in the Hudson River.

In October 2015, General Electric announced it had completed its sixth and final year of dredging sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls from the upper Hudson River. But river advocates have long called for more dredging and cleanup.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos sent a letter* Sunday to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, saying his agency has some unaddressed concerns, particularly about the amount of PCB-contaminated sediment left behind after dredging in portions of the Upper Hudson River.


Seggos' letter comes a year after General Electric finished dredging a 40-mile stretch of the river north of Albany for PCBs in a federal Superfund project. Until 1977, GE factories discharged more than 1 million pounds of the suspected carcinogen into the river. When dredging was done, some 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment had been removed.  Seggos says dredging has improved the Hudson, but he thinks it best the EPA re-evaluate the entire project.  The EPA has been collecting samples from fish, water and sediment this year for the review.

GE spokesman Mark Behan: "Dredging was completed just about 10 months ago, and EPA already has begun a comprehensive review of the results of the project, and new data are being collected, fish, water and sediment data, to assess the reduction in PCB levels as a result of the project. This has been the long agreed upon approach, and we believe it's the right approach to make decisions based on the facts, the most reliable, up to date data after dredging has been completed."

In April 2015, Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan and other activists gathered along the riverbank in Green Island to urge General Electric to meet what they said were responsibilities beyond the EPA-mandated PCB cleanup. Today, Sullivan disagrees with those who call the cleanup a success. "Since 2012 EPA has been asserting that the cleanup it negotiated with GE is on-track to achieve its goals. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have documented in peer-reviewed papers that PCBs left behind in the Hudson will compromise the restoration of the river and postpone achievement of the goals of clean, healthy river and fish that are safe to eat by decades, even generations. There is roughly 136 to 175 acres of PCB contaminated sediments that exceed the toxicity threshold, the threshold that EPA requires clean-up for. EPA has been asserting that monitoring of these PCBs is an important next step. Well, monitoring them will not solve the problem."

Behan says GE is confident the EPA’s review will show that the project achieved the agency’s goals of protecting human health and the environment. "The dredging project addressed 100 percent of the PCBs that EPA targeted. EPA concluded that the project was fully protective of human health and the environment, and that it achieved all of its goals. EPA has called it a success, and a national mode, and we agree with that and we're confident that the EPA review coming up will confirm that result."

Sullivan sides with Seggos, who says the cleanup work falls short and will not enable the river to be restored to full health. "New York state is now going to demand of EPA a strongly-based scientific review of whether the cleanup meets the standards. And that New York state is prepared to withdraw its support for the cleanup strategy that it previously signed up to support. Based on the new knowledge that there is much more contamination in the river than previously thought."

The EPA answered a request for comment by emailing a statement in which it promises to review Seggos’ letter and adds "it is not possible for the fish to recover immediately after the conclusion of dredging – that recovery will take decades."

Sullivan added that Seggos announced that New York state is itself committed to dredge the Champlain Canal, which "has been fouled by GE's PCBs for decades." The canal, operated by the state Canal Corporation, was not part of the agreement between DEC and GE.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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