GE Wants to Delay Hudson PCB Cleanup for More Testing

We recently wrote that General Electric (GE) dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into New York’s Hudson River for years, pointing out that it could take longer than first estimated to remove the dangerous chemicals.

Now, says the Associated Press (AP), GE just told federal environmental officials that it should be permitted to complete its test phase of the river’s dredging in 2011 to amass additional data and push back the more intense second phase of the huge Superfund cleanup. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Hudson River PCB site involves some 200 miles from Hudson Falls to New York City’s Battery area. The EPA, wrote the AP, wants to begin phase two of the PCB cleanup in 2011.

GE wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, claiming that, based on an outside review, completion of Phase 1 should be completed next year so that standards could be developed and put in place for Phase 2, which accounts for most—about 90 percent—of the massive cleanup, wrote the AP. “This approach would provide both EPA and GE with the basis to make informed decisions on Phase 2,” wrote Ann Klee, GE’s vice president for corporate environmental programs, to Jackson, quoted the AP.

GE dumped somewhere between 209,000 and 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the upper and lower Hudson River from two capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and St. Edwards; sediments became contaminated. More exposure occurred when the river’s level was lowered in 1973 and the Fort Edward Dam was removed, said the EPA.

WAMC noted that the Hudson River is the nation’s largest federal Superfund site, pointing out that the PCBs GE dumped continue to contaminate the river today. Also, the Hudson River has been designated an American Heritage River because of its significant position in American history and culture, said the EPA.

PCBs—which include upwards of 200 compounds—are a class of very toxic chemicals found in products and materials produced before the 1979 ban. PCBs do not easily degrade and do bioaccumulate, infiltrating plants, crops, fish, and small organisms, ultimately reaching those who eat these products. Because of this, nearly every human being carries some PCB in his/her body, which can also be passed from mothers to children during pregnancy and in breast milk. PCBs can remain in our bodies for many years; the longer we live, the more these toxins build in our systems, increasing in strength over time.

Last year, said the AP, 10 of the 18 PCB so called “hot spots”—targeted for Phase 1—were dredged. Now, the review seeks significant changes on the project’s standards such as work pace, PCB levels dredged and resuspended and also are looking for improved information to diagram the contamination’s scope, said the AP. The EPA is looking at the report and is scheduled to announce its decision this fall, added the AP.

Meanwhile, GE suggests the agency pend the decision until next November following analysis of the emerging data, saying that, at that time, it could render a decision regarding its ability to perform Phase 2, said the AP. But, if GE does not perform the next dredging phase, the EPA could continue with Phase 2, and look to GE to pay triple the costs, noted the AP. The next phase, said The Republic, could take no less than seven years, which exceeds prior five-year estimates, said the EPA’s peer review panel.

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