The towns of Waterford and Halfmoon are receiving support from two downriver environmental organizations and a U.S. congressman in their attempt to secure clean drinking water during the Hudson River PCB dredging project.
Both Saratoga County towns currently take their water from the Hudson River.
Town officials say they fear that toxic PCBs will be resuspended in the river during dredging and contaminate their water supplies.
The towns gained support this week from Riverkeeper, the Tarrytown-based advocacy group that monitors river pollution and litigates against polluters, as well as Scenic Hudson, an environmental watchdog organization based in Poughkeepsie.
Rep. Michael R. McNulty, D-Green Island, is also supporting the towns.
In a letter to Stephen L. Johnson, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, McNulty said he “strongly supports” the towns’ efforts to have a safe alternative water supply during the entire six-year dredging project.
The EPA has agreed to pay, with help from the General Electric Co., for an estimated $6 million pipeline from Troy under the Hudson River to the two towns so they have access to Troy water during the dredging. The pipeline will be built this year.
The first phase of the PCB cleanup project is scheduled to start next spring.
However, the EPA says it can’t pay for Troy water (or the difference between the lower cost of local water and more expensive Troy water) unless PCB levels in the river water reach federal drinking water thresholds or there isn’t enough time to test the water in the event of PCB resuspension.
Waterford Supervisor John Lawler has been on a three-year campaign to ensure that his town does not use any Hudson River water during the six-year dredging project.
Lawler maintains that between the two towns and the Mechanicville City School District, approximately 38,000 people currently consume filtered, treated Hudson River water. He contends that it is unfair, unsafe and unreasonable for these people to use Hudson River water during the dredging.
The EPA in 2002 ordered GE to pay for the estimated $700 million project. GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged at least 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river over a 30-year period that ended in 1977, when the practice was banned.
PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, are a compound of chemicals once used in capacitor manufacture. The EPA says they are a probable carcinogen that also cause other health problems in humans and wildlife.
Lawler questions the amount of time it takes to test river water during the dredging project and the amount of PCBs (500 parts per trillion) allowed in the water before the EPA will allow the towns to access Troy water.
David King, director of the EPA’s Hudson River Field Office in Fort Edward, said the EPA must follow the law regarding the alternative water supply.
“We can’t do it as part of Superfund [federal law]; that’s not legal,” King said Friday about providing the two towns with Troy water during the dredging project.
He said a congressional member item to pay the estimated $600,000 cost per town per year for the alternative water could be a possibility. He said the money would have to come from a source other than the EPA budget.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the project’s community advisory group (CAG) in Saratoga Springs, Robert Goldstein, general counsel for Riverkeeper and a CAG member, said not providing the towns with an alternative water source for the entire project is just “bad policy.”
“A community should not have tainted water,” Goldstein said. He asked the 25-plus members of the community advisory group to draft a letter to the EPA in support of the towns. The other CAG members at the meeting agreed to this.
Warren Reiss, general counsel for Scenic Hudson and a CAG member, also asked the EPA to clarify and outline the laws that prevent the EPA from providing the towns with an alternative water source during the entire dredging project.
“How much flexibility does the EPA have?” Reiss asked.
EPA officials at the meeting agreed to provide the advisory group with this information.
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