Environmentalists press EPA to require additional Hudson cleanup

December 4, 2018

Environmentalists are urging EPA to require General Electric (GE) to conduct additional remediation of contaminated sediment in the Hudson River, pointing to newly released expert findings indicating that the $1.7 billion cleanup the company has conducted so far is not adequate as remediated areas exceed cleanup goals.

“This independent, expert analysis makes clear that the mandated goals of the EPA's Hudson River Superfund cleanup will not be achieved unless it compels polluter General Electric to undertake a more comprehensive cleanup,” Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan says in a Dec. 3 press release issued jointly with Hudson Riverkeeper.

“Unless -- and until -- that occurs, these carcinogens will continue to pose a health threat to people and wildlife who come into contact with the Hudson, and economic revitalization along a 150-mile stretch of the river will remain at a standstill.”

At issue is whether EPA will finalize a draft five-year review finding that cleanup of the site is working as intended, although “not yet protective,” and will grant GE's request to issue a certificate of completion for the company's years-long dredging remedy of the river. GE, the sole potentially responsible party at the Hudson River polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Superfund Site, completed a six-year, $1.7 billion sediment cleanup of the river in 2015.

The agency in January though signaled it was taking a step back and would collaborate with New York state regulators in evaluating 1,800 sediment samples taken by the state in the Upper Hudson River, before making decisions on the certification -- which had originally been expected last December.

New York state officials, who a year ago threatened to sue EPA if it certified the cleanup as complete, environmentalists and others strongly opposed certification and urged EPA to use its five-year review as an opportunity to strengthen the cleanup requirements for the site.

Despite nearly a year since the agency announced its re-look, EPA has yet to announce a decision and continues to punt on any deadline.

EPA spokesman Dave Kluesner told the Poughkeepsie Journal that the agency has reviewed sediment data this past year and will “continue to consider input about our various Hudson decisions and hope to come to some conclusions in the coming months."

In the recent data evaluation, Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper hired Dr. Remy Hennet, a geochemist with expertise on analyzing contaminated sites, to review the 1,800 sediment samples New York state had taken in 2017 to evaluate the cleanup's effectiveness. Hennet is with environmental consulting firm S. S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc.

Hennet examined sediment data for both dredged and non-dredged areas and found 80 percent and 90 percent, respectively, exceeded 1 part per million (ppm) for PCBs -- the level EPA typically uses as a cleanup goal for PCBs at contaminated sites in New York, the groups say in the press release.

“The only reasonable conclusion is that the dredged areas have been recontaminated by PCB-laden sediment from non-dredged areas located nearby,” he says in the release.

Further, Hennet found the river contains “hotpots” of contamination that far exceed the river's average for total PCB concentrations, the release says.

The new sediment data matches PCB levels in fish, it says, noting that 2016 data showed fish tissue levels of PCBs ranged from 300 to 600 percent higher than what EPA anticipated post-dredging.

The findings add to the growing scientific evidence that the cleanup is not protective, and that GE should remain responsible for the contaminated sediment that remains, Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay says in the release, adding “for that reason, we urge EPA to refrain from issuing a Certificate of Completion.” Rather, EPA should require more remediation, he says.

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