Posted on November 20, 2023
A new report claims that the PCB pollution in the Hudson River from GE’s dumping of the chemical is worse than has been anticipated by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in its evaluation of the effectiveness of the dredging program it approved to get the PCB’s out.
PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals that were banned in the U.S. in 1979 because they harm human and environmental health. For a period of about 30 years, General Electric disposed of PCBs used at its manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York, by dumping them in the Hudson River. In 1984, the EPA declared about 200 miles of the river as a Superfund Cleanup Site and said GE would have to pay for the cleanup. After years of fighting, in 2009 GE began dredging to remove sediment containing the PCBs from the river bottom. The dredging lasted until 2015 and cost GE an estimated $1.6 billion.
With the EPA due to issue a five-year study update on the condition of the Hudson, a report just issued by The Friends of a Clean Hudson, consisting of the Hudson Fishermen’s Association, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Hudson Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club beats the EPA to the punch. The Friends of the Hudson’s study finds that the EPA’s dredging remedy has failed to ensure the protection of human and environmental health because the concentration of toxic PCBs in the river’s fish and sediment remain higher than anticipated. The study examined the upper portion of the Hudson. It calls on the EPA to officially acknowledge that the dredging that took place did not protect human health and the environment.
According to Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan, “The dredging remedy in the Hudson River did not do enough to make the river safe for people and the environment. EPA must acknowledge the dredging remedy’s failure to meet the essential standard of protecting human health and the environment.”
Tracy Brown, president of Riverkeeper, said that studies of fish collected from the Hudson that still show PCB contamination tell a clear story that what was done to remove PCBs wasn’t enough.
“A significant amount of PCB contamination was left behind, and as a result we are not seeing the drop in PCB concentrations we were promised,” Brown said. “Now is the time for EPA to reassess what is needed to get the Hudson on a true path to recovery.”
The Friends report charges that for at least 15 years the EPA has known that it underestimated the PCB concentrations left in river sediment after GE’s dredging and continued pollution upstream has affected pollution levels in the lower part of the river.
The report says that the continued warning against eating fish from the Hudson is not adequate to control risks to human health. It says that people who have been living along the river and were exposed to PCB pollution have been subjected to long-term and cumulative health impacts such as cancer, birth defects and neurological impacts.
The report calls on the EPA to determine what further active remediation is needed to deal with PCBs that remain in the river so that the original goal of allowing for a natural recovery over time after dredging can be achieved.
The Superfund law requires EPA to conduct a review of hazardous waste sites every five years where cleanups do not remove all contaminants from the site. It’s expected that the EPA will release its new draft five-year review of the Hudson before the end of the year.