GE eyes change in dredging standards

Hudson River dredging released almost 25 times more PCBs into the water than expected, General Elect

Hudson River dredging released almost 25 times more PCBs into the water than expected, General Electric said Thursday in calling for changes in performance standards before the massive Superfund cleanup resumes.

GE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency each released draft evaluations Thursday of last year’s dredging of PCB “hot spots” north of Albany. The dredging was a test run for the far larger Phase 2 of the cleanup, which regulators want to start in 2011. The second phase of dredging would represent about 90 percent of the cleanup and could take five years.

GE plants in Fort Edward and neighboring Hudson Falls discharged wastewater containing PCBs for decades before the popular lubricant and coolant was banned in 1977. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are considered probable carcinogens and the EPA called for the cleanup under federal Superfund law in 2002.

Both GE and the EPA suggested changes for Phase 2 in their preliminary reports, which are a key step in modifying the dredging project.

Contamination levels were a concern in both reports. Dredge crews hired by Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric last year found greater concentrations of PCBs than expected. Only 10 of 18 areas targeted for dredging in the Fort Edward area were completed.

In its report, the EPA said the amount of contaminated river bottom that will need to be removed also will likely be “significantly higher” than initially expected. The agency’s proposed recommendations include reassessing the depth of the contamination, increasing control of contaminated oil releases and resetting productivity targets.

GE, in its report, said 3 percent of PCBs dredged were re-suspended in the water — far higher than the estimated 0.13 percent rate. The company said there was a fivefold increase in the concentrations of PCBs in upper-river fish last year.

GE concluded that it was not practical to attempt to meet both the existing productivity standards and the standards to make sure dredging doesn’t re-contaminate the river. The company called for changing either the recontamination or productivity standards.

“Based on 18,000 pieces of data and actual experience, we see that some practical adjustments are needed,” GE spokesman Mark Behan said.

In its companion report, the EPA said there was no significant downstream movement of suspended solids beyond the immediate dredging area.

The EPA and GE exchanged their evaluations and can make changes to them before sending them to a peer-review panel. The panel can make recommendations to the EPA, which will set the standards for Phase 2.

“EPA believes there is every indication that if Phase 2 activities are planned well, the project can be completed within the Phase 2 schedule,” according to a fact sheet accompanying the EPA report.

Categories: Schenectady County

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