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Legislators urge EPA to require more GE Hudson River dredging

Legislators urge EPA to require more GE Hudson River dredging

EPA review report is due soon
Legislators urge EPA to require more GE Hudson River dredging
A PCB dredging operation is seen on the Hudson River in Stillwater in August of 2014.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

CAPITAL REGION — A bipartisan group of state legislators has joined New York's two U.S. senators in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to declare that General Electric's cleanup of PCB contamination in the Hudson River is successful and complete.

A letter signed by 45 state legislators urged EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez to recommend that further river cleanup be required.

"For me than 50 years, our communities have been denied quality of life and economic benefits offered from a clean, healthy river, and it was with great hope that New York state watched the USEPA oversee a cleanup intended to achieve very specific environmental and human health outcomes," they wrote in a Feb. 1 letter.

"As elected representatives of the people and resources that have been so deeply damaged for generations by the legacy of PCB contamination, we urge you to fully exercise the ability of the USEPA to achieve these objectives for the Hudson River Superfund Site.

Capital Region signers included Democratic Assembly members Carrie Woerner, Patricia Fahy, and John McDonald, Democratic state Sen. Neil Breslin, and Republican Assembly members Dan Stec and Chris Tague.

The legislators released their letter on Wednesday, days after U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday.

The EPA is expected to announce the conclusions of a five-year cleanup review in the near future.

If the review recommends issuing a certificate of completion, and Wheeler approves it, that would mark the end of the active phase of GE's $1.7 billion cleanup of the upper Hudson. Dredging began in 2009 and wrapped up in 2015, though monitoring is expected to continue for decades.

The two Democratic senators noted that state officials, and a Department of Environmental Conservation report issued in December, found significant PCBs remain in the river, even though GE dredged 2.75 million cubic yards from concentrated spots between Hudson Falls and Troy.

"We believe that the issuance of a certificate of completion under those conditions is premature and could result in continued harm to the health of the Hudson River and its ecosystems. Instead, we urge the EPA to engage with GE and New York State to continue the PCB cleanup process," the senators wrote in their letter.

EPA staff have said the project has been successful, even though it is estimated it will be decades before fish in the river are safe to eat.

GE contends the project has been successful in removing PCBs and lowering PCB levels in fish samples taken from the river.

"The data show conclusively that the Hudson River dredging project is working and will protect the environment as EPA predicted," said Mark Behan, of Behan Communications in Glens Falls, a public relations firm hired by GE, in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

"We look forward to the EPA issuing a certification of completion on the dredging project. GE will continue to work with EPA, New York State, local communities and other interested parties on other Hudson River environmental projects," Behan added.

The five-year review is one of the requirements for all Superfund cleanups. EPA officials have been working on it for more than a year, amid calls from environmental groups and public officials for more action.

"The EPA should not issue a certificate of completion for the Hudson River dredging until we have more data that show this remedy actually worked," said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Democratic candidate for president. "The EPA has a responsibility to ensure that the cleanup protects the health of New Yorkers and our environment, and the state must listen to the serious concerns that have been raised by local communities, the state and other federal agencies that have a stake in the long-term health of the Hudson River."

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in electric insulators made at GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1947 and 1977, when the substance was banned because of concerns about its toxicity.

In 2002, the EPA designed the Hudson River a Superfund site due to the contamination and ordered the cleanup in 2006.

A separate ongoing project is looking at ways to remove PCB contamination from the river floodplains in Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer counties.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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