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EPA begins third five-year review of Hudson River cleanup

 Logo for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Logo for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is beginning its third five-year review of General Electric’s Hudson River cleanup.

Under the federal Superfund program, the EPA will conduct its third five-year review of the project that dredged toxic PCBs from the upper Hudson.

The federal agency that oversaw the years-long effort by General Electric will review data collected since the last five-year review was completed in 2017.

Fish, water, and sediment data collected between 2017 and 2021 will be evaluated as part of the study.

Declining to speak on tape, EPA provided a statement from Region 2 Administrator Lisa Garcia that reads in part…

“As we continue our work to monitor and assess the upper Hudson, move forward with the Hudson River floodplain investigation and evaluate how best to assess the lower Hudson, EPA is committed to continuing to fully engage our state and federal partners and the site’s Community Advisory Group during the five-year review process.”

EPA says it expects to release a report for public input this fall.

Hudson River environmental advocates addressed the review in a virtual press conference this week.

Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson.

“We’ve made progress by working together, getting GE to conduct a hotspot cleanup in the upper Hudson and to remove some of the PCBs, but unfortunately they left roughly two-thirds of the contaminants in the river, where EPA has just announced they are opening another five-year review of whether the cleanup did the job. We know it didn’t,” said Sullivan.

Three years ago, EPA issued a Certificate of Completion of the Remedial Action for GE’s cleanup of the upper Hudson. At the same time, EPA also deferred a determination of the protectiveness of the remedy until more years of fish tissue data is gathered.

Pete Lopez, who was hired by Scenic Hudson earlier this year as the organization’s Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Science, was serving as EPA Region 2 Administrator when the certification was issued.

In an interview with WAMC last month, Lopez cited the advocacy shown in part by Scenic Hudson and the State of New York at the time. The former Republican State Assemblyman said it was their efforts that helped shaped the terms of the decision to require further dredging by GE if determined necessary, as sampling continues.

“And to be honest, I was pleased to have that occur because it was not heading in that direction. And I, again, Ned was very persuasive. And the data was very, very rich. And we made that happen. And so I'm very pleased that that occurred. And that leaves the door open for further conversation because as the fish data is collected, if the remedy, as we're dredging, is not proven to be protective, there is an ability to for EPA to be prevailed on to reopen its assessment and to force GE to go back into the river and do more.”

Last week, Scenic Hudson issued a new estimated a price tag of $11.4 billion for the economic impact and cost of further cleanup on the upper and lower Hudson.

The report is not an official Natural Resource Damage Assessment, something that is in the works under the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees.

In the press conference this week, David Toman of Sloop Clearwater reflected on the importance of staying positive as advocacy for further cleanup continues.

“So the pressure always has to stay there, and we always have to work together, and we always have to try to keep as much of the majority concerned about it and voicing our opinion, so we can continue on a positive course.”

GE spokesman Mark Behan issued a statement about EPA’s third five-year review this week that reads:

“The comprehensive dredging project GE completed in the Upper Hudson in 2016 removed the vast majority of PCBs. Since then, as part of our continuing cooperation with EPA, GE has collected voluminous data on water, sediment and fish to help the regulatory agencies assess the results of the cleanup. We are proud of our contribution to a cleaner Hudson and will continue to work with EPA, New York State and local communities on other Hudson-related projects, including the study of environmental conditions in the floodplains and the cleanup of our plant sites.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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