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Editorial: Prudence on Hudson PCBs

Editorial: Prudence on Hudson PCBs

PCBs in Hudson being stirred and shaken by dredging

After PCB spikes last month around Fort Edward, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to compensate Waterford and Halfmoon year-round through 2012 for the additional cost of getting their drinking water from Troy during the Hudson River dredging project, and from May to October after that. It’s the responsible and fair thing to do.

A $5 million pipeline from Troy was built before the project started last year in case PCB spikes exceeded safe water standards. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did — four times in five months of dredging. Just as residents of those towns shouldn’t have to be exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs in their drinking water, they shouldn’t have to pay extra to avoid it.

Of course a pipeline doesn’t solve the bigger problem, which, according to one’s view, is either PCBs remaining in the river sediment, or the dredging project making things worse by stirring them up, resuspending them in the river and volatilizing them in the air.

GE, whose upstream factories put the chemicals into the water and which for years resisted the dredging project (the work will cost the company an estimated $780 million), suggested the latter in a review last year that showed much-higher-than-expected PCB resuspension levels.

While acknowledging the resuspension problem, and the exceeding of safe water standards downstream, EPA blamed it largely on the wetter-than-normal season that resulted in a faster-than-normal river flow. The agency also found that the PCBs buried in the river bottom were in greater concentrations than expected and shallower, arguing that this meant they weren’t being made less dangerous by time and accumulating river sediment, as GE had previously claimed, and thus have to be removed.

An independent peer-review panel is now reviewing EPA’s and GE’s separate assessments for the first phase of dredging and their recommendations for how to improve things in phase two, which starts in 2011 and will continue for another five years. The panel will be holding public meetings at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls May 3-May 7, and we urge people to attend to learn more about the project and see whose data and claims are more accurate and/or believable.

If it’s GE, then its proposal to do less dredging and more capping makes sense.

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