A study commissioned by environmental group Scenic Hudson shows PCBs have re-contaminated dredged areas of the upper Hudson River. A spokesman for the company responsible for the cleanup refutes the study’s results. This comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to deem the PCB cleanup project complete.
General Electric removed 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment through 2015. The EPA, in its second review of the cleanup of PCBs from the upper Hudson River released in mid-2017, said that the $1.7 billion, six-year cleanup of the Superfund site is working, and will accomplish its long-term goal of protecting human health and the environment. The president of Poughkeepsie-based Scenic Hudson disagrees. Ned Sullivan says his organization’s commissioned study looked at New York state Department of Environmental Conservation sediment samples taken in 2017.
“Our analysis shows that there are extensive areas that have been previously dredged by GE that are now being re-contaminated because they left so much of the PCB contamination behind in the river,” Sullivan says.
He says the consultant concluded that the dredged areas have been re-contaminated by PCB-laden sediment from non-dredged areas nearby. The EPA most commonly uses 1 part per million (ppm) as its cleanup goal for PCBs at contaminated sites in New York. And the analysis by Scenic Hudson’s commissioned consultant of the DEC’s 2017 sediment data shows that “a large proportion” of the soil samples from both dredged and non-dredged areas contain levels of PCB contamination well above this threshold.
“In portions of the river near the City of Mechanicville in Saratoga County, approximately 80 percent of the samples from areas previously dredged were over 1 part per million, and more than 90 percent of the samples from non-dredged areas exceeded 1 part per million,” says Sullivan.
Mark Behan is GE spokesman.
“Well, we have looked at New York state’s data very closely. I have to say, our analysis is so starkly differently from the analysis that Scenic Hudson presented in its press release,” Behan says. “What we find is that PCB levels in sediment declined as much as 92 percent.”
That’s compared to pre-dredging levels. And, says Behan, where PCBs were detected in river sediments, 99.8 percent of the samples showed PCB concentrations below the level at which EPA said dredging was warranted.
An EPA spokeswoman says Regional Administrator Pete Lopez and staff were slated to have a briefing Tuesday with senior EPA officials to update them on progress toward making decisions related to the Hudson River cleanup. Furthermore, she says EPA is committed to remediation of the Hudson River to protect public health and the environment, and is still intensely engaged with its state partners, including the review of surface sediment data collected in 2017. She adds that the review is taking some time as EPA’s goal is to work with the state on an exhaustive understanding of the data and joint findings and conclusions in the near future.
Scenic Hudson’s Sullivan says it would irresponsible for EPA to issue a Certificate of Completion and allow GE to say the cleanup job is done, which could relieve the company of liability for cleanup.
“EPA must conclude that the cleanup is not protective of the environment and public health, and they should eliminate their unsupported claim in their draft five-year review that the cleanup will be protective at some indefinite time, as much as four decades in the future,” Sullivan says. “That’s pure speculation, unsupported by any findings, any data and opposed by the environmental community, New York state and many others.”
EPA officials have previously said they expect that it will be more than 55 years before all local species of fish are clean enough to eat once a week. Upon release of the second five-year review, the acting regional administrator at the time said more dredging would only accelerate this by a few years, at a significantly greater cost. GE’s Behan says since the completion of dredging along a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson, PCB levels in water have dropped at every monitoring station along the river and PCB levels in sediment and fish have declined as well.
“So the bottom line here is that the data conclusively show the Hudson River dredging project is working the way New York state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would work,” says Behan.
The EPA has not yet made a decision regarding GE's request for Certification of Completion of Remedial Action or the Five-Year Review.