Federal and state trustees of the Hudson River this week said that the river’s recovery from PCB contamination may take decades longer than expected, despite years of dredging to remove the toxins.
The Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees are disputing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusions about the success of the dredging project. EPA is defending its conclusions.
“As trustees, knowing when fish are no longer contaminated above human health thresholds is crucial to our understanding of how long injury to fish will last into the future,” the trustees said.
The competing conclusions about long-term fish contamination are likely to come up today when the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site Community Advisory Group meets at 1 p.m. at Saratoga Spa State Park.
The trustees are charged with determining what environmental damage has been done to the river by the polychlorinated biphenyls discharged from General Electric plants decades ago. Because of the contamination, human consumption of fish from the river is prohibited.
The river’s trustees include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and New York state. NOAA has led the research studies.
In a report released Tuesday, the trustees said their studies have sampled perch and bass from the river between 2003 and 2014, and found PCB levels in the fish aren’t dropping as quickly as dredging proponents hoped.
“NOAA’s analysis shows that, absent further removal of PCBs, achievement of [lower Hudson River] fish PCB threshold concentrations protective of human health may be delayed for up to several decades,” the trustees concluded.
Their new findings were presented at scientific conferences last year, and were recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, “Science of the Total Environment.”
“The updated projections indicated that post-dredging fish in the Lower Hudson will remain contaminated with PCBs above human health consumption thresholds for much longer than predicted under the [EPA and GE] remedy,” the trustees said.
The dredging project concluded last fall, though habitat restoration and other studies will continue. The project has cost well over $1 billion for GE, which removed many of the 1.3 million pounds of PCBs in the river between Hudson Falls and Troy
The PCBs — suspected of causing cancer and other health problems — were discharged from GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977. EPA ordered the cleanup in 2002, with GE footing the bill.
Since dredging ended last fall, Hudson Valley environmental groups have been unanimous in calling for further dredging and cleanup work, though GE and the EPA have resisted.
In a response, EPA officials said the trustees’ analysis didn’t consider the most recent fish sampling data, which the EPA says shows contamination in fish flesh is indeed declining.
“The Hudson River dredging project was one of the largest and most technically complex environmental dredging projects ever conducted,” the EPA statement said. “Since the NOAA analysis became public, it has been used to support claims that more dredging is needed.”
EPA officials contend the environmental cleanup has been a success.
“EPA expects that the project will continue to help restore the environmental health of the Hudson River,” the agency said.
Despite the disagreement, EPA officials said they support the Hudson River trustees’ efforts to determine the environmental damage done by PCBs. EPA officials announced they have decided to accelerate their planned five-year review of the dredging work.
A review of superfund cleanup sites is required every five years. The last review was in 2012, while dredging was still underway.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.