With the latest plans for dredging PCBs out of the Hudson River calling for a more shallow dredging of the river bottom, some community activists are calling for a second opinion.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced in January that the latest design for the second phase of the dredge project will remove 60 percent more PCBs than first estimated.
Yet less river sediment will have to be removed with the PCBs because the chemicals are not buried as deep in river sediment as thought five years ago, the EPA says.
EPA and General Electric Co. officials are heralding the change.
"The dredge area delineation process has produced a dredging project that is substantially more efficient than was estimated in the cleanup plan outlined in the EPA's 2002 record of decision," says an EPA fact sheet.
The EPA has given final approval to this phase-two dredging plan developed by General Electric Co. for the largest part of the long-planned project to remove PCBs from the river bottom of the upper Hudson River between Fort Edward and Troy.
In 2002, the EPA ordered GE to conduct the estimated $700 million cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) discharged from GE's Fort Edward and Hudson Falls capacitor plants for 30 years until 1977 when the practice was banned.
PCBS are described by the EPA as a probable carcinogen that also cause other health problems in humans and wildlife.
Manna Jo Greene, environmental action director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., questioned the major numbers change of the latest plans at a recent meeting of the cleanup project's Community Advisory Group (GAG) in Colonie.
Greene and Julia Stokes, representing the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce on the CAG, both said they and the other members of their group need help in understanding how there will be less sediment dredged but more PCBs removed from the Hudson.
"I would like someone else to look at this for us," Greene said. "Some technical assistance is critical."
Kristen Skopeck, an EPA community outreach specialist, said last week she is lining up someone to bring unbiased educational and technical assistance to the CAG members. Skopeck hopes such a outside contractor will make a presentation at the CAG's June meeting.
"We need somebody outside the EPA and GE to evaluate this," said Stokes, adding that the more than 20 other CAG members from across the upper and lower Hudson region need to be assured that the new numbers are right.
"They are charging full-steam ahead with phase two without knowing about the phase one [dredge results]," Stokes said.
The smaller, first phase of the dredge project will start in May 2009 in the section of the river between Fort Edward and the town of Moreau. A 100-acre, multimillion-dollar river sludge dewatering, processing and transportation complex for the dredge project is being built along the Champlain Barge Canal, just north of Lock No. 7 in Fort Edward.
The second phase of dredging could start as early as 2010. This phase will include dredging from Fort Edward south to Troy and take about six years to complete.
David King, director of the EPA's Hudson River Field Office, said before the EPA approved GE's latest plan, it was reviewed by both state and federal agencies as well as EPA's consultants for accuracy and completeness.
"It's a long process, several years in the making," King said about the review of this and other segments of what is considered the largest environmental dredging project ever to be conducted in the United States.
"The PCBs are shallower," King said about the latest information.
He said the EPA's 2002 decision was developed using a limited and older set of river core samples.
In the years since that 2002 decision, GE’s scientific consultants collected 50,000 river core samples to gauge where the PCBs are and at what depth.
The average depth was found to be about three feet from the surface of the river bottom. This is significantly closer to the surface than projected six years ago, King said.
"Now we have better information," King said. "This is the reason for the change in [PCB] volume from 2002 and 2008."
new river samples
Mark L. Behan, a GE spokesman, said the EPA's ROD was based on old state river samples that were decades old.
He said GE contractors spent two seasons obtaining core samples to create the latest dredging plan.
Even though less sediment will be dredged, the total river bottom to be dredged is larger. Behan said the 2002 plan estimated that 430 acres of river bottom would be dredged as compared to the 490 acres listed in the latest plan.
For example, 90 percent of the PCBs currently located in river sediment in the Thompson Island Pool (about six miles below Fort Edward) will be removed as compared to the ROD estimate of 80 percent of the chemicals, Behan said.
The 2002 plan projected that 145,860 pounds of PCBs would be removed during the dredge project; the latest plan predicts 248,600 pounds of PCBs will be removed.
More than 60 percent more PCBs will be removed than predicted in the 2002 plan, Behan said. Yet less sediment will be removed.
"It's more efficient, there will be less re-suspension [of sediment]," Behan said.
Behan said the latest report has not been subject to a scientific peer review, as have some aspects of the dredge project. He said the next peer review, in which outside experts review and suggest changes in a scientific and engineering report, will be done after the phase one dredging is completed in the late fall of 2009.
For more information about the dredge project, see the EPA Web site (www.epa.gov/hudson).