When dredging starts this spring on the upper Hudson River to remove toxic PCBs from the river bottom, the work is expected to be more effective and less disruptive than dredging done in 2009, officials said Thursday.
“We learned a lot in phase one,” said David King, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hudson River Field Office in Fort Edward.
He said there is better information about the depth of the PCB contamination in the areas of the upper Hudson between Fort Edward and Troy where dredging will be done.
General Electric Co. contractors took more than 2,000 samples last summer of river-bottom sediment to better gauge the depth and level of PCB pollution, King said.
This will mean that one or possibly two passes of the environmental dredge will remove at least 95 percent of the contamination, rather than the four or five passes of the dredge bucket that occurred during the project’s first phase in 2009.
The additional passes of the dredge bucket at a contaminated “hot spot” on the river bottom caused excessive resuspension of PCBs into the water and forced GE and EPA to temporarily shut the project down four times during the summer of 2009.
Dredging was not conducted in 2010 because the project’s first phase was under review by an independent peer review board.
King and John Haggard, Hudson River project director for General Electric Co., discussed changes being made for the larger and longer second phase of the environmental cleanup project Thursday during a meeting of the project’s Community Advisory Group at Saratoga Spa State Park.
Late last year, GE agreed to perform the second phase of the project to remove PCB hot spots from the river between Fort Edward and Troy over the next five to seven years. GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a probable carcinogen) for 30 years ending in 1977, when the government banned the discharges.
Dredging on the upper Hudson will start as soon as the canal locks open in May and will continue until November. The dredging will continue and move downriver over the next five to seven years until the work in completed.
The EPA ordered GE to pay for and conduct the estimated $750 million cleanup in 2002 after years of study and debate.
King said that areas where dredging is done will also be closed more quickly than was done in 2009 so that any residual PCBs remaining will not go downriver.
Improvements at the project’s multi-million-dollar PCB sludge processing and dewatering complex near Lock 7 of the Champlain Barge Canal in Fort Edward are also being made.
Haggard said changes at the processing center, where dewatered and treated PCB sludge is loaded onto train cars for shipment to hazardous waste landfills out of state, will alleviate delays in removing the PCB sludge from barges brought to the site by tugboat.
Over the second phase of the project, Haggard said, around 2.4 million cubic yards of PCB contaminated sludge will be removed from the river at a rate of between 350,000 to 500,000 cubic yards of material each dredge season.
This year’s dredging will be done primarily in a 2.5 mile stretch of the river south of the Route 197 bridge in Fort Edward and Moreau, Haggard said.
Contractors will work around the clock, six days a week on the dredging. Haggard said GE is in the process of hiring a variety of contractors for the work, including dredge operations and rail yard operations.
Mobilization for the work will start in April, when numerous river barges and more than a dozen tugboats will be transported to the upper river.
“More than 200 local businesses have worked on the project to date,” Haggard said about the dredge project.
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