The state Department of Environmental Conservation will do its own testing for PCBs in the Hudson River if the federal government or General Electric won’t.
In a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Director Judith Enck, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos outlined the state’s position that additional sampling is needed to determine whether GE’s cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls, completed in 2015 at a cost of more than $1 billion, has removed enough PCBs to eliminate the environmental threat.
“If EPA elects not to perform or require such sampling, the [DEC] will undertake the sampling in the spring of 2017, using its authority pursuant to state and federal law, while reserving its right to recover the cost of such sampling from GE,” Seggos wrote.
The state’s demands come as questions about the EPA’s future are raised in the wake of Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency. Trump has vowed to eliminate the EPA or drastically reduce its role.
Under federal Superfund law, the EPA has overseen GE’s 2009-15 dredging of PCBs that were discharged from GE plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls from 1946 to 1977. PCBs are suspected of causing cancer and other human health problems, as well as impacting wildlife.
EPA is conducting a review of whether the dredging has been effective, with results due to be reported in the spring.
The dredging was concentrated along a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy.
GE officials said the company has lived up to the 2002 river cleanup order, and EPA officials generally agree. But environmental groups in the Hudson Valley and DEC officials have contended since the dredging ended in late 2015 that more cleanup work is needed, citing continued high PCB levels in fish.
“The state believes that unacceptably high levels of contamination remain in the river sediment, and DEC has called on EPA to re-examine its cleanup to ensure that the cleanup effectively protects public health and the environment over the long term,” DEC said in a statement.
The EPA has told state officials that 375 new sediment samples are needed in the upper Hudson to determine whether dredging was effective, while DEC says a statistically valid analysis requires taking at least 1,800 samples, with some concentrated in river “pools” where fish are known to stay.
The environmental cleanup, one of the largest if not the largest ever undertaken, has not been certified by the EPA as complete.
“Requiring appropriate sampling to understand the effectiveness, and identify specific areas that may require additional work, should be in everyone’s interest,” Seggos wrote in his letter.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.