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Schumer, Gillibrand Seek Additional PCB Cleanup On Hudson

Dredging of the Hudson River

Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to declare General Electric’s PCB cleanup on the Hudson River complete.

General Electric wrapped up its dredging work on a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson from Fort Edward to Troy in 2015.

The EPA is due to issue its second five-year review of the Superfund cleanup soon.

But Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the agency not to issue a certificate of completion. The New York Democrats wrote to Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, asking EPA to take local concerns into consideration.

In a statement, Senator Schumer said:

“The EPA must work with GE and impacted communities up and down the Hudson to set forth a plan to remove the remaining PCB pollution to protect public health, to preserve the river and to ensure it is a vibrant resource for current and future generations.”

Senator Gillibrand said EPA must wait until more data is gathered on the effectiveness of GE’s dredging. She said in part:

“The agency must listen to the serious concerns that have been raised by local communities, the state, and other federal agencies that have a stake in the long-term health of the Hudson River. Clean water is a right, and we must ensure that we are doing everything possible to fully clean up the Hudson River for future generations.”

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos says research from New York state over the last two years shows that cleanup work is “far from done.”

“The fact now that we have Congress weighing in on this very important issue for New Yorkers is a significant step forward and we look to working with our federal partners to make sure that the job gets the attention it needs.”

In December, the DEC released a study indicating the cleanup is not protective of health or the environment. The Department collected sediment samples in 2017, showing elevated levels of PCBs remain in surface sediment in the Hudson River. The Department also looked at PCB levels in fish, with studies showing concentrations in fish have been effectively unchanged to levels prior to cleanup.

Also that month, joined by other New York Democrats, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of the 18th District wrote to Wheeler asking EPA to withhold its Certificate of Completion.

The Representatives wrote:

“It would be unconscionable for EPA to surrender its ability to order additional cleanup action in the face of mounting information indicating that the goals of the cleanup have not been reached and more cleanup is needed. The communities and businesses in our districts situated along the Hudson River that have endured decades of toxic pollution and suffered from the loss of water-based industries deserve better.”

Republican Elise Stefanik, of New York’s 21st District, where a portion of the dredging work was performed, did not back the sentiments of Schumer and Gillibrand when interviewed by WAMC Wednesday.

“There are organizations that have advocated on both sides of this issue that I’ve met with and have come to my office and we’re going to keep monitoring that situation,” said Stefanik.

Other Republicans like Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro want to see more cleanup.

Mark Behan, a spokesman for General Electric, said:

“The data show conclusively that the Hudson River dredging project is working and will protect the environment as EPA predicted. New York State’s research affirmed that 99.8% of the sediment samples collected from the Upper Hudson achieved the standards set by the EPA. We look forward to the EPA issuing a certification of completion on the dredging project. GE will continue to work with EPA, New York State, local communities and other interested parties on other Hudson River environmental projects.”

EPA had originally planned to release its second five-year review in January 2018, but paused as it continued to work with DEC to understand sediment data.

EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowksi said in a statement:

"Our decision will come after exhaustive consultation and collaboration with NYSDEC. The intention of this pause was to ensure that we had the most detailed and robust understanding of the performance of the upper Hudson cleanup following dredging. With that said, we have worked with deliberate speed to look at sediment and fish data to ensure that we have the best possible measure of post dredging conditions prior to issuance of the Five-Year Remedy Review and potential issuance of the Certification of Completion. Our timeline is focused on ensuring that we have done a thorough analysis with our state partners."

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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