Hudson PCB Dredging to be Expanded

We’ve long covered the issue of <"">PCB’s–polychlorinated biphenyls—dumped by General Electric Co. (GE) into the upper and lower Hudson River from two capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. The site involves some 200 miles of New York’s Hudson River from Hudson Falls to New York City’s Battery area, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); GE dumped between 209,000 and 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson.

Now, say officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the already enormous Hudson River dredging project must be expanded, wrote Dredging Today.

In 2002, GE and the EPA agreed to a cleanup plan based on the PCB impact believed at the time, according to Tom Brosnan, an atmospheric administration official, said Dredging Today. Since 2002, more PCBs have been discovered in the highly polluted river. “We are not criticizing the EPA or the cleanup plan,” Brosnan said, quoted Dredging Today. “The river is hotter than anybody knew back then. We know things we did not know in 2002.”

Last month, NOAA and Fish & Wildlife made a written recommendation to GE’s project coordinator, John Haggard, in which GE was advised that 100-136 additional acres of the Hudson River’s floor requires dredging, said Dredging Today. This would be in addition to 500 acres slated for dredging under the original cleanup plan. Should this expansion not occur, there is a significant potential that PCBs from “untouched” areas could spread to spots already cleaned, explained Dredging Today, citing Brosnan, who said that recontamination is “very likely” should cleanup expansion not be implemented. Some of the sites are in the 200 feet of approved dredging sites.

Also noted in the report is that cleanup standards were more casual during the second phase of the project, agreed to in December by both GE and EPA, said Dredging Today. The first phase, which took place in 2009, involved dredging the river bottom where PCBs were present in 30 parts per million (ppm) or more; the second phase, initiated in June and could take 5-7 more years, involves PCB cleanup in amounts of at least 90 ppm, Dredging Today added. The difference in PCB amounts eliminates some 136 acres from the cleanup process. “Approximately five times higher concentrations of … PCBs will be left behind” in the second phase than was realized in the 2002 cleanup agreement, the letter said, quoted Dredging Today.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dangerous chemicals banned in 1979, were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment. Suspected carcinogens, PCB health problems also include neurological effects. Dumped by industry in a number of waterways, PCBs accumulate in the environment and marine life, presenting serious human and environmental health issues.

The additional dredging, if approved, is expected to add millions of dollars to the project, which has cost GE about $1 billion, to date. According to Brosnan, the work is needed to meet the plan’s “original goals,” or the river could maintain high PCB levels for longer than first believed, reported Dredging Today.

Others feel the original agreement should be reopened, including some on the citizens advisory group and Julia Stokes of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the group. “I feel kind of lost right now. It begs the question why EPA and NOAA are not reopening the 2002 cleanup agreement,” Stokes said, quoted Dredging Today. Others, such as David Adams, a representative of the Saratoga County Environmental Management Council, said that the move points to another open issue: Cleanup of the river’s navigation channel, part of the Champlain Canal.

The recommendation is advisory and NOAA and Fish & Wildlife cannot force the extension.

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