The latest dredging plan for the Hudson River PCB cleanup project shows a 60 percent increase in the amount of the toxic chemicals to be removed from the river.
At the same time, the amount of contaminated river sediment planned for removal will be reduced significantly because the PCB concentrations aren’t as deep in the river bottom as first thought, federal officials say.
“It turns out [PCB contamination] was much shallower than first thought,” said David King, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hudson River field office.
King said on Friday the EPA has approved General Electric’s proposal for the largest, second-phase of the dredging project between Fort Edward and Troy.
The phase two plan has no effect on the project’s first, much smaller dredging phase, which is scheduled to start in 2009 in the Fort Edward and Moreau area of the upper Hudson River. The second phase of dredging is expected to start in 2010 or later.
When the EPA ordered GE to pay for the estimated $700 million dredging project in 2002, the information and river testing was not nearly as extensive as the data GE has developed through 50,000 sediment samples and other mandated in-river investigations.
King said the new, much more accurate information, will mean that instead of removing 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment, the amount to be removed will be closer to 1.8 million cubic yards of tainted sludge.
Mark Behan, a GE spokesman, said the number of acres dredged will increase from 430 acres as stipulated in the 2002 mandate to 490 acres of river bottom.
The majority of the PCB contaminated sediment to be dredged is in the river’s Thompson Island Pool, an area about six miles south of the Fort Edward GE plant.
Behan said that 98 percent of the PCBs in the Thompson Island Pool will be removed under the new plan as compared to the 60 percent figure listed in the 2002 EPA order.
At the same time, much less river sediment will have to be dredged because the PCB “hot spots” are closer to the top of the river bottom, less than 3 feet on average.
“We will be dredging more of the bottom at a shallower depth,” Behan said.
Neither King nor Behan would project any cost savings in the redesigned dredging plans.
“It’s a more efficient project,” Behan said.
GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River for 30 years, ending in 1977 when the practice was banned by the government.
The cleanup project includes a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River from Fort Edward south to Troy. PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, are described by the EPA as a probable carcinogen that also cause a variety of other health problems in humans and wildlife.
A small fleet of barges, floating dredge machines and tug boats will dredge the contaminated sediment, which will be loaded onto the barges and transported up the Hudson River by tug boats. The barges and tugs will go through Champlain Canal Lock No. 7 to a 114-acre sludge processing and transportation site in Fort Edward that is currently under construction along the banks of the barge canal.
The dewatered and compacted PCB sludge will be loaded on railroad cars and shipped to a hazardous waste landfill in Andrews, Texas.
This week GE announced that it has signed a contract with The Shaw Group Inc. of Baton Rouge, La., to operate the sludge processing and transportation center.
The company will use local subcontractors and local manpower from Washington County and the Capital District region, according to a statement from The Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 company with offices around the world.
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