Saratoga County

PCB testing sought on upper Hudson flood plain

Saratoga County officials want General Electric to do more testing for the presence of PCBs in the f

Saratoga County officials want General Electric to do more testing for the presence of PCBs in the flood plains along the upper Hudson River.

Such testing could establish the locations where polychlorinated biphenyls discharged from upstream GE plants have been deposited during flooding, and could lead to pressure for a new round of PCB cleanup, this one on land.

“We need to get [GE and federal authorities] understanding the problem,” said Saratoga town Supervisor Tom Wood. “Why do they need to be taken care of? For health and safety reasons.”

A GE spokesman said a significant amount of flood plain testing has already been done and many of the tests found no PCBs in the soil.

The county Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development Committee approved a resolution requesting more testing last week. It will be considered by the board’s Law and Finance Committee on Wednesday in Ballston Spa. It could go to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote next week.

The resolution may also support navigational dredging of the Champlain Canal, which hasn’t been done in decades because of contamination fears. GE has said it shouldn’t be responsible for that work.

County officials are raising the issue of onshore contamination as a six-year, $1 billion effort to dredge PCB contamination from a 40-mile stretch of the river below Hudson Falls approaches completion. The work could end in 2015, and local officials fear a dewatering plant in Fort Edward and other infrastructure built for the project will be shut down after that.

The cleanup project — the biggest environmental remediation effort in U.S. history — is being undertaken by GE under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The work has focused almost entirely on the PCBs in the river bottom, not the lands around it that could have been contaminated during past flooding.

In the town of Saratoga, there’s particular concern that a section of the historic Champlain Canal on the west side of the river hasn’t been addressed. That section lies uphill from the village of Schuylerville’s wells, and may contain PCBs in its bottom sediments.

At Hudson Crossing Park north of Schuylerville, meanwhile, a sign warning against disturbing soil recently went up after PCBs were found at a new kayak launch.

The Historic Hudson-Hoosic Partnership, a regional intergovernmental tourism and economic development effort, is concerned that fears about contamination could keep businesses away and slow their community revival efforts.

“The sediment is a huge problem because they’re not testing it,” said Mechanicville Supervisor Tom Richardson, chairman of the partnership of towns in Saratoga and Washington counties. “That sediment is full of PCBs.”

Flood plains are low-lying areas along the river that may flood during high-water events, such as during spring runoff.

GE spokesman Mark Behan said there’s already been a lot of testing done in the flood plains, though that fact isn’t widely known. “A very significant amount of sampling has been done over the last few years under EPA supervision,” he said.

The EPA and the landowners are told the results, and some covers of clean soil have been installed. But of about 500 samples taken to date, Behan said about 80 percent have come back with either no PCBs or very low levels.

GE has installed soil covers on 39 properties and signs informing the public of the presence of PCBs on 14 additional properties, Behan said.

He said GE and the EPA are working on a long-term remediation program for the flood plains.

The PCBs were discharged from GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward from 1946 until about 1977, when the oily substance was banned as a suspected human carcinogen.

The dredging begun in 2009 followed three decades of administrative review and public debate, and an EPA decision in 2002 to mandate the dredging of the river.

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