MOREAU — New York state is putting time and money into its fight to get more PCBs dredged from the upper Hudson River.
State officials announced Wednesday they have nearly finished a summer of new riverbottom sediment sampling, results of which weren’t known as of this week.
Depending on what’s found, the data could be used to strengthen the state’s argument that more needs to be done to remove the polychlorinated biphenyls discharged decades ago from riverside General Electric plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said more than 1,650 samples have been taken from the river this summer, along a 40-mile stretch between Hudson Falls and Troy. That is more than four times the number of samples taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before the agency declared that dredging done between 2009 and 2015 had been successful.
“The EPA, in my mind, has failed New York thus far, but it has a chance to get it right,” Seggos said Wednesday. “This has been a black eye for the EPA — the way it was conducted.”
The state has spent “a couple of millions dollars” on the new tests and will seek reimbursement from GE, Seggos said.
GE spokesman Mark Behan, in a prepared statement, sought to defend the decision to end the dredging effort.
“New York State approved and oversaw the dredging project and was instrumental in every major decision related to the project,” Behan said. “Its criticism flies in the face of the most up-to-date scientific data from the river itself.”
Behan said more than 80 percent of the PCBs in the river were removed, and PCB levels in fish are declining.
Seggos held a press conference in Moreau just days before a Sept. 1 deadline set by the EPA for public comments about EPA’s five-year review of the dredging effort, which cost GE an estimated $1.7 billion.
While the EPA’s five-year review has declared the work successful, the state disagrees, and the new sampling could provide scientific ammunition for the fight. Seggos said the data will be ready to present to the EPA sometime this fall. The state began the testing — done in a grid pattern throughout the river between Hudson Falls and the Troy dam — after the EPA and GE both refused state requests to do more tests.
While declaring the project successful, the EPA’s initial report — released in June — also found it will be nearly 50 years before PCB levels in fish drop to the point where it will be safe for humans to eat fish taken from the river on a frequent basis. The five-decade time frame sparked criticism from state officials and a number of Hudson River environmental groups.
“This should provide enough additional data for the EPA to make another determination — one that will be protective of New York for years to come,” Seggos said. “The science shows (the decision to stop dredging) has not been protective.”
The commissioner said he doesn’t know whether additional dredging is the answer, but he said the state believes something more needs to be done.
Also Wednesday, the state submitted 31 pages of detailed comments on the five-year plan to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, urging EPA to take measures to more-quickly reduce the amount of PCBs found in fish flesh.
“EPA appears desperate to come to a conclusion which simply is not supported by the current conditions of the Hudson River,” Seggos wrote in a cover letter to Pruitt.
EPA officials have been saying little, as the public comment period comes to a close. At a public meeting in July in Saratoga Springs, EPA Hudson River project manager Gary Klawinski said the dredging targeted the river’s “hot spots,” and additional dredging was unlikely to have a significant impact on fish health recovery times.
Two environmental groups, Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper, issued statements praising the DEC for conducting the new tests.
Among the arguments local officials have made is that removing more PCBs from the river will benefit the economies of communities along the river.
“The river has always been a powerful economic resource, not just for the communities on the river but for the state,” Seggos said. “A restored river will be much more valuable to New York state and its residents than one that is polluted with PCBs.”