State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos on Monday called General Electric's cleanup of PCB contamination in the Hudson River inadequate, and said more river dredging may be needed.
In speaking out, Seggos added the state's voice to that of environmentalists who for months have said the $1 billion project that removed 1.3 million tons of PCBs from the river-bottom fell short.
"Unacceptably high levels of PCB-contaminated sediment remain in large portions of the upper Hudson River," Seggos said a press conference on the Corning Preserve, overlooking the river.
Seggos was joined by U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and representatives of four environmental organizations that have already called for more dredging.
Seggos sent a letter Sunday to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional Administrator Judith Enck calling for the EPA to reevaluate the effectiveness of the dredging, and require more of it if needed.
The work has been done by GE contractors under an order issued by the EPA in 2002, and focused entirely on removing contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy.
"EPA must ensure the remediation conducted by General Electric is effectively protecting public health and the environment from exposure to PCBs," Seggos said.
He urged EPA to arrange a "comprehensive, independent and objective analysis of all the data."
DEC contends, among other things, that levels of PCB in fish remain too high for safe human consumption, and those levels haven't dropped as much as some cleanup models predicted.
The six-year dredging project concluded last fall. The EPA is currently conducting an every-five-years review of the cleanup required by the federal Superfund law.
In a statement, the EPA said the five-year review will consider all current data, and the agency welcomes DEC's continued involvement in the process. But it said the pace of the river's recovery is what was predicted.
"As is widely understood, it is not possible for the fish to recover immediately after the conclusion of dredging - that recovery will take decades," the EPA statement said.
However, a report in March by the project's Natural Resource Trustees - one of which is DEC - found that sampling indicated little drop in PCB levels in fish since the dredging project started.
Aaron Mair, national president of the Sierra Club, said more work needs to be done for the sake of black and Latino populations who continue to eat fish from the river for subsistence, despite advisories against consuming contaminated fish.
"To leave the 220 miles of the river below the Troy dam (undredged) is a betrayal of a sacred trust," Mair said.
The majority of the contamination found in bottom sediment is between the Hudson Falls and the Troy dam, though testing shows PCBs in fish flesh in the lower river.
Maloney, D-Newsburgh, agreed with Seggos that more work is needed.
"The risk posed by PCBs remaining in the Hudson River is very real and I have seriously concerns about the effectiveness of the current cleanup strategy," Maloney said.
The PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls - are a suspected carcinogen. They were discharged into the river from GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977.
EPA officials said GE has lived up to the cleanup order, even though critics have called the scope of work inadequate.
Since last fall, GE has begun decommissioning and dismantling the PCB-sludge handling plant it operated in Fort Edward during the dredging project.
In response the Seggos' announcement, a GE spokesman said the EPA review needs to move forward as planned.
"We believe decisions about the river should await a thorough analysis of the most reliable and up to date data," said GE spokesman Mark Behan.
"GE is confident that EPA's review will demonstrate that the project achieved the agency’s goals of protecting human health and the environment," he said.
Behan said GE addressed 100 percent of the PCBs targeted by EPA, removing twice the volume of PCBs that had been anticipated. "EPA declared the project a success and said no additional dredging is warranted," Behan said.
At the press conference, Seggos said the state is also committed to navigational dredging of the lower part of the Champlain Canal, where sediment is contaminated, but not to the level covered by the EPA-supervised project.
"All our legal options are on the table," Seggos said.
EPA's review of whether the cleanup has been adequate is due to be finished by April 2017.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, email@example.com or @gazettesteve on Twitter.