Capital Region

Editorial: A healthy step to a clean Hudson River

State needs to keep up pressure for comprehensive PCB cleanup
PCB dredging operations on the Hudson River in Mechanicville on June 19, 2015.
PCB dredging operations on the Hudson River in Mechanicville on June 19, 2015.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to expand its review of the Hudson River PCB dredging operation is a good sign for the environment and a good sign that state and federal officials might be able to agree on an acceptable conclusion to this project.

Pete Lopez, the new director of EPA Region 2, announced Monday that the EPA had agreed to examine 1,800 samples of sediment collected from the upper Hudson River last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

He also said the agency would begin supplemental studies, including collection of additional sediment samples from the lower Hudson River, where fish are recovering slower than expected from the PCB contamination.

Let’s hope the decision represents a genuine and honest attempt by the EPA to re-evaluate the true effectiveness of the cleanup project and is not just a gesture designed to placate supporters of a more comprehensive cleanup project.

The decision comes six months after the EPA concluded in June that General Electric Co. had fulfilled its legal obligation to clean up the river under a 15-year-old agreement. The EPA reached its conclusion, despite the fact that its own report said it could be at least 15 years before it will be safe to eat fish from the river once every two months and 55 years before fish will be safe to eat on a weekly basis.

The June report prompted harsh rebuke from the DEC, state and national environmental projection organizations, and top state and federal elected officials. In December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ramped up the state’s opposition by threatening to sue the EPA if the project was officially declared complete.

Despite the questions raised by the report and objections from opponents to the report, GE was allowed to dismantle equipment it used to collect and dispose of PCB-contaminated sediment.

The EPA’s willingness to review the DEC’s samples and conduct additional studies are very likely the result of stepped-up pressure by the state to reconsider its earlier conclusions.

If so, then kudos to officials and others for continuing to push for a satisfactory solution to the PCB problem.

If it turns out, as many believe, that the cleanup effort was indeed unsatisfactory, then the EPA needs to do more than just conduct additional studies. It needs to withhold a certificate of completion for the project and order GE to do more cleanup until the work has been done right.

Monday’s announcement is a step in the right direction to a cleaner river.

But this fight is far from over.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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