EPA Expands Scope of Hudson River PCB Cleanup Analysis

Jan 30, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it will work with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to evaluate sediment samples from the upper Hudson River. EPA is studying the river and reviewing public input before deciding whether General Electric’s PCB cleanup is complete.

EPA Region 2 will evaluate some 1,800 sediment samples taken by the DEC in 2017 from the Upper Hudson River, working closely with the state agency. EPA also will continue studying the Upper Hudson and conduct supplemental studies of the Lower Hudson. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos…

“Listen, very importantly, EPA should not deem the project complete, the dredging project is not complete,” Seggos says. “And while this process now under way is encouraging, it should not serve as a substitute for what is needed, which is to deem this project incomplete.”

EPA says its scientists will analyze data from DEC’s samples and expects to collaborate with the state on joint findings and conclusions. EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said it is imperative to expand the scope of the agency’s efforts to ensure the Hudson River is fully remediated. Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan says Lopez’s comments and plan are encouraging.

“This is a major shift of policy and intent on the part of EPA to adopt a cooperative model in assessing the data,” says Sullivan.

The DEC’s Seggos believes the data should convince the EPA that more PCB cleanup is needed.

“Look, I’m encouraged that EPA Region 2 is finally willing to step forward and review our data. We collected thousands of samples from the river last year which show, unfortunately, an extensive contamination still remains, PCB contamination still remains, in the sediment,” says Seggos. “And we will work with EPA throughout this process. Obviously, we are passing our information over to them. We want to help them understand our analysis, we want to work with them on their own analysis.”

In an emailed statement, spokesman Mark Behan says GE will continue to cooperate with EPA, New York state and other interested parties, and believes the facts warrant a certificate of completion of the dredging project. General Electric removed 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson through 2015. The EPA, in its second review of the cleanup of PCBs from the upper Hudson River, says that the $1.7 billion, six-year cleanup of the Superfund site is working, and will accomplish its long-term goal of protecting human health and the environment. An EPA spokeswoman says the agency is still reviewing input it received for the second Five-Year Review report and there is no specific timeframe for when it will be finalized and released. EPA wants to finalize the review report before deciding whether to issue GE a certificate of completion.

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a Republican, says the newly announced EPA/DEC collaboration represents a potential breakthrough in state-federal relations concerning the PCB cleanup.

“What this signals to me is a much more collaborative approach between the EPA and the DEC, federal government and state government, with a recognition that the cleanup may not have gone far enough which, of course, we in the Hudson River Valley believe, the cleanup hasn’t gone far enough and the EPA ought not issue a certificate of completion but rather ensure the full and complete cleanup of the Hudson River,” says Molinaro.

EPA also says that given fish recoveries in a portion of the Lower Hudson River may be slower than expected, the agency will begin supplemental studies to include additional sediment samples and other information to better understand PCB contamination in the Lower Hudson. This is welcome news to Scenic Hudson’s Sullivan.

“He’s taking actions that both address the Upper Hudson and the Lower Hudson and recognizing they’re connected,” Sullivan says. “The contamination in the Upper Hudson is continuing to flow over the Troy Dam and contaminating the Lower Hudson all the way to New York New Jersey Harbor. So this is one river, one system, one estuary, and it’s critical that EPA’s actions look at the river holistically.”

Republican Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison welcomed the EPA news about additional sampling and studies.

“I am at a meeting right now with Riverkeeper and other municipal officials here at the Poughkeepsie joint water plant where we get our drinking water from,” says Rolison. “So the timing is great to be able to comment because we all want to make sure that we are doing everything we can, specifically with our partners at the state level and the federal level, to keep our drinking water source clean and safe.”

Meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both Democrats, have said they will sue EPA if the federal agency declares dredging of the Upper Hudson complete.