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EPA says lower Hudson sampling efforts to begin in June

Staff with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency answered questions and provided an update as the agency monitors the cleanup of toxic PCBs from the Hudson River.

In a two-hour Zoom call, the EPA provided informationon the cleanup and monitoring work on the upper Hudson River to date, upcoming sampling efforts in the lower Hudson, and the upcoming release of a third five-year review of the Superfund cleanup work by General Electric.

GE completed its dredging in the upper Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy in 2016 and the work was issued a so-called certificate of completion for the remedial action by EPA in 2019. At the same time, EPA also deferred a determination of the protectiveness of the remedy until more years of fish tissue data is gathered.

During Wednesday night’s presentation, EPA Hudson River Field Office Director Gary Klawinski outlined steps that will begin in the lower Hudson in June. Klawinski said water column sampling will be done down to the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“We're gonna do that for a year, we're going to focus primarily on PCBs for the water for now. And we're going to kind of get a sense of how different or the same those results are over the course of a year, and then we'll regroup and decide whether we need to change the frequency, sample less, sample more, sample at different locations,” said Klawinski.

Fish and crabs will also be sampled for PCB concentrations. Klawinski explained that 14 species of fish will be collected at stations located about 30 miles apart. Blue crabs will be sampled at two locations close to New York harbor.

Klawinski said the EPA’s fish sampling is being set up to compliment the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s ongoing fish sampling efforts.

“We want to kind of stay consistent with what they've done historically so we can compare data that we get that's newer to some of their older data at the same stations. So, we set up these primary stations, then we also added stations in between those,” said Klawinski.

Klawinski said the set-up will allow EPA the opportunity to collect more data between two station points.

Sediment sampling is also being planned. Beginning this year, Klawinski said EPA will begin a study of recently deposited sediment in the Hudson and 12 main tributaries. Additional supplemental sediment sampling and high-resolution sediment core samples will follow in 2024.

On the upper Hudson, Klawinski provided an update on some sites in Hudson Falls that are being addressed. GE has installed a system to collect PCB-contaminated groundwater under the site of the former Hudson Falls plant. But there are two nearby buildings that need to be deconstructed: the former Allen Mill and its downriver Powerhouse. While the Allen Mill is still scheduled to be taken down, work on the Powerhouse began last year and continued into this spring.

“That Powerhouse work has moved along very well. National Grid, and GE has been very cooperative and they've worked closely with us and we've been there the whole time while that building’s being taken down. Really the goal here is to not let anything get in the river while the building’s getting taken down, so that’s why we were involved,” said Klawinski.

Klawinski also said a third five-year review of the Hudson River cleanup is being readied for release for public comment. Work on the review began last year.

Advocates and environmental groups were also able to ask questions during Wednesday’s call.

Aaron Mair, a past president of the Sierra Club and longtime Hudson River advocate, encouraged EPA to take additional steps to protect low-income populations and communities of color – some of whom he said rely on the Hudson for subsistence fishing.

“Number one, is the need to have what I call the ‘culturally sensitive sites,’ where people are actually fishing be added to the sampling sites, number one. Number two, there should be money with regards to the Natural Resources Damages Act for those historic Black communities along the Hudson River – Albany, Beacon, Troy, Ossining, Yonkers -- those communities should have a special assessment done with regards to their needs and that should be factored in,” said Mair.

Klawinski said while EPA has worked with the state Health Department to warn people against consuming fish from the Hudson through public information campaigns, he acknowledged they’re not 100 percent “foolproof,” and that EPA will continue to work closely with DOH.

As EPA prepares to coordinate with General Electric to begin its sampling on the lower Hudson this spring, groups Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper in a statement said “EPA should issue a clear schedule and commitment to ordering a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the Lower Hudson.”

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