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Advocates want more cleanup as EPA conducts third five-year review of Hudson River PCB removal

The Hudson River at Coxsackie (WAMC file photo)
Lucas Willard
The Hudson River at Coxsackie (WAMC file photo)

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepares its third five-year review of the removal of toxic PCBs from the Hudson River, advocates say additional cleanup is needed.

Under its agreement with the EPA, General Electric wrapped up dredging of contaminated sediment in a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson in 2015.

EPA is now reviewing sampling data taken from 2017 to 2021 as part of its third five-year review of the project. The federal agency predicts a release of the report for public comment in 2024.

Ahead of its release, Hudson River advocates have unveiled their own independent analysis of publicly-available data, including from fish and sediment samples.

In a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, David Toman, Executive Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said years after dredging was completed, PCB concentrations remain above remediation targets set by EPA.

“The amounts of PCBs remaining in the river continues to be considerable and is causing the natural recovery of the river to occur much more slowly than what’s anticipated when those goals were set,” said Toman. “At a most basic level, the contaminants remaining in the Hudson River are the limiting factor to achieving the goals and timeline for recovery of the Hudson River.”

Hudson Riverkeeper Tracy Brown agrees.

“So, in summary, the data tells a clear story: post-dredging, natural recovery is not working as EPA had anticipated in the 2002 record of decision. Our recent sampling, as we hear, shows that the PCB concentrations in sediment and fish are much higher than was modeled and are not declining at a rate that is necessary to achieve EPA’s goals,” said Brown.

Scenic Hudson Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Science Pete Lopez previously served as Regional Administrator for EPA Region 2. While he was in the role, EPA issued a Certificate of Completion for the remedial action for the Hudson River dredging. However, as Lopez has asserted, that certification can become null and void if data shows the remedies aren’t working.

Lopez credits Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan for his advocacy and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos with providing thousands of samples beyond what EPA had secured from GE.

“When those samples were combined with the EPA samples – and this was working with Commissioner Seggos, actually forcing the EPA career staff to do this – they had to come back and acknowledge that their prior disposition to say that the remedy was protective was not. This group made EPA blink in the last five-year review and forced EPA to say that the remedy was not yet protective,” said Lopez.

Earlier this year, EPA announced it would begin working with GE to conduct new sampling in the Lower Hudson.

The advocates claim that the agency should more strongly commit to a full Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the Lower Hudson.

Scenic Hudson’s Althea Malarkey wants more communication from EPA about its ongoing sampling effort with GE.

“We feel that this is simply adding delay on top of delay on top of delay,” said Malarkey. “We feel they’re not even asking the right kinds of questions in their investigative work, and we really hope that through people talking about this and framing the discussion, that EPA will be moved to actually order an investigation for the lower Hudson River.”

Lopez also called on EPA to conduct “robust sampling” and engage stakeholders.

“My last instruction before handing over the reins to Ms. [Lisa] Garcia was for the EPA staff to engage thoroughly and aggressively with stakeholders in the Lower Hudson and begin sampling and thorough investigation. That was in concert with work that they are doing in the floodplain right now in the upper Hudson, which was underway, there’s analysis going on in the Upper Hudson as well. So, my direct instructions at the time were lean in, lean forward, engage our stakeholders, be visible, and be communicative. So, I’m bewildered at the stance taken by the career staff at this point, to be honest,” said Lopez.

General Electric calls the Hudson River dredging project a success.

Citing statistics of declining PCB concentrations in water, sportfish, and sediment, GE spokesperson Mark Behan said in an email in part:

“EPA has said repeatedly for years that dredging-related improvements in the Hudson would take time. While that is the case, the direction is clearly positive. The goals EPA set for the project are being achieved.”

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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