EPA Says PCB Cleanup Is Working, Others Disagree

Jun 1, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday released its second review of the cleanup of PCBs from the upper Hudson River. The review concludes that the $1.7 billion cleanup of the Superfund site is working. Several environmental groups and lawmakers from New York disagree, saying more dredging is needed.

EPA Acting Regional Administrator Catherine McCabe spoke on a conference call with reporters.

“The review concludes that the Hudson River cleanup is working as designed and, while it is not yet protective, EPA expects that it will accomplish its long-term goal of protection of human health and the environment when the cleanup is complete,” McCabe said.

General Electric removed 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson through 2015. McCabe says although the dredging is complete, cleanup is not and the natural recovery period of the river system continues.

“This report is not an EPA decision about whether more dredging ultimately should be done,” McCabe said.

A number of environmental groups panned EPA’s review, saying it discounts scientific data presented by New York state, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan says the review ignores the widespread presence of PCBs throughout the river and that there will be thousands more pounds of contamination left behind than originally estimated.

“And we’re very disappointed in this finding. It flies in the face of the science,” Sullivan says. “And we will be fighting it. We will be submitting formal comments. We’ll be rallying citizens and businesses, many of whom stand to lose if this five-year review stands.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Congresspeople Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, Sean Patrick Maloney and Paul Tonko had called on the EPA administrator in May to recommend additional cleanup of PCBs. McCabe acknowledged criticism from some who are calling on EPA to require GE to perform additional dredging.

“But, at this time, we do not believe that the data, the science or the law support EPA imposing a requirement on GE to do more dredging,” said McCabe.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos says the EPA has failed New York by determining that its PCB cleanup of the upper Hudson River is protective of human health and the environment. In a statement, he says, “We strongly dispute their conclusions and maintain that the significant amount of contamination left in the river threatens both public health and the environment. DEC will continue to fight for the Hudson River and New Yorkers and hold the polluter accountable for its actions. Once again, we are calling on EPA to finish the job and refer back to their original Record of Decision that committed the agency’s full responsibility to clean up this toxic legacy and restore the Hudson River.” Again, EPA’s McCabe.

“And the project that EPA chose in 2002 with the concurrence of the state of New York was never intended to remove all of the PCBs from the river,” said McCabe.

Marc Behan is spokesman for GE.

“I think it’s good news for the Hudson River. What we see is the dredging project has successfully reduced PCB levels in the river in a very significant way. And EPA’s conclusion is that these are the environmental improvements that EPA envisioned when it ordered dredging,” Behan says. “The dredging remedy is functioning as it was intended to function, and it will be protective of human health and the environment.”

McCabe says the next major component of the cleanup is now under way, and includes a study of PCB contamination in floodplains. McCabe says extensive soil sampling was conducted in 2016 and will continue this year. Meanwhile, fishing and fish consumption advisories remain for the river. McCabe says that in about 15 years, people will be able to safely eat one fish meal every two months. The goal is one fish meal per week.

“EPA expects that it will be more than 55 years before all local species of fish are clean enough to eat once a week,” says McCabe. “But it is very important to note that more dredging would only accelerate this by a few years at a significantly greater cost.”

The EPA plans to hold two public information meetings on the review during the public comment period. Dates and locations will be announced soon.