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First Post-dredging Tests Show Reduction in Hudson River PCBs

Posted on October 31, 2016

By Kathleen Moore The Post Star

There are promising results from the first post-dredging tests of the Hudson River.

Although it will take decades for fish in the upper Hudson River to recover from PCBs, the water is already showing improvement, EPA official Mike Cheplowitz said at Thursday’s report to the Community Advisory Group.

The CAG is a group of community representatives that have met to discuss dredging-related issues for years. EPA officials present to them regularly. They met Thursday at Saratoga Spa State Park.

The most recent Hudson River water data shows big decreases in the amount of PCBs, as compared to the amount in 2004, said Cheplowitz, who is the EPA program manager for the flood plains portion of the project. He is taking on more responsibility, so he did the water report to the CAG.

PCBs were cut in half or better at each sample site. One particularly big reduction was at the Thompson Island Dam in Fort Edward, he said.

That site had PCB concentrations of nearly 50 nanograms per liter, but that dropped to 15 nanograms per liter this year. Other sites dropped by about 50 percent.

“There is a decrease across the board,” Cheplowitz said. “The magnitude of the change appears to be the most significant the further north you are.”

However, he noted this was just the first non-dredging year, and water levels were low all year, which could have made a difference, scientifically.

“We’re not seeing the full spectrum of what we might see,” he said.

The news is good, but officials emphasized it doesn’t mean fish are recovering as quickly.

Data from 2015 fish has just been sent to the EPA from the lab, which is now starting to measure PCBs in the fish caught this year.

That will be a critical data point because the fish caught this year are the first to be caught after dredging ended.

The data will be included in the five-year review of the effectiveness of the entire dredging project. EPA is doing that review now, with the goal of releasing it to the public in late January or early February. Then EPA will hold a public comment period before finalizing the report in April.

But they already know what it will say about eating fish: It’s still discouraged.

A new outreach program has been funded for the next 20 years to spread the word about not eating the fish.

The program is offering a more nuanced set of instructions, posting signs in the mid-Hudson and lower Hudson that allows certain fish to be eaten occasionally.

But no woman under age 50 and no children under age 15 should eat any fish from the river from Corinth Dam south to New York City.

However, from Troy to Catskill, men and older women can occasionally eat rock bass, yellow perch, alewife and blueback herring.

In the lower Hudson, that group can eat most fish but should avoid walleye and catfish.

They should also not eat crab liver, shouldn’t reuse water used to cook the fish, and should remove skin and fat because that can eliminate about 50 percent of the PCBs in the fish.

“But that’s not the way many people want to eat their fish,” presenter Regina Keenan of the state Department of Health acknowledged.

The state ran many surveys to find out if people are eating fish. They found that many people are, including women and children, but that most people aren’t eating a lot of the fish.

The top reason for the fish consumption, by far: They prefer the taste of fresh fish.

“This is what we’re up against,” Keenan said ruefully. “This is why people eat locally caught fish. They like it.”

Source: The Post-Star

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