PCB Cleanup in Hudson River Likely to Take Years

General Electric (GE) was dumping polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into New York’s Hudson River for years and now, it seems, it could take even more years than first estimated for removal of the dangerous chemicals to be completed. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the so-called Hudson River PCBs site involves some 200 miles from Hudson Falls to New York City’s Battery area.

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. As a result, sediments became contaminated. Additional exposure occurred, said the EPA, the river’s level was lowered in 1973 with removal of the Fort Edward Dam.

The State of New York banned fishing in the Upper Hudson River and commercial fishing for a number of species in 1976 over concerns about PCB bioaccumulation in aquatic life there. And, although fishing was later allowed in 1995 in the Upper Hudson, only catch and release fishing was permitted, the EPA explained.

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.

Now, some dredging experts have issued a draft report on the first phase of dredging, which took place in 2009. As part of the report, the EPA asked the panel to specifically look at so-called “hot spots” in which PCBs were dredged, said WAMC. That dredging took place on a six-mile section north of Albany and led to some questions about how future dredging will occur, said WAMC. GE agreed.

“GE applauds the work of the seven independent scientists who evaluated the first phase of the Hudson River dredging project. We agree with the unanimous conclusion in their draft report that the performance standards established by EPA to govern the dredging project could not [be] met in Phase 1 and cannot be met in Phase 2 without significant changes,” said GE spokesman, Mark Behan, quoted WAMC.

It seems some performance standards should be enhanced, which the EPA will review, said WAMC. GE will have the opportunity to decide if they agree or disagree with the recommendations and, after 90 days, if they refuse to comply, the EPA could fully take over the project, wrote WAMC.

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. Phase II accounts for most (about 90 percent) of the cleanup and is dependent on what contaminants are discovered and how fast they can be removed, according to Walter Mugdan, the EPA’s regional Superfund director, wrote The Republic.

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.

GE dumped the toxins prior to the ban, said The Republic, into the Hudson River, which has been designated an American Heritage River because of its significant position in American history and culture, said the EPA.

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