The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that dredging of the upper Hudson River to remove PCB’s will resume Wednesday.
The fifth season of dredging to remove the neurotoxin and cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyl — or PCB’s — was announced by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck Monday during a conference call. “Wednesday May 7th we will start dredging the Hudson River. This is one of the largest Superfund cleanups currently underway in the nation. The dredging is being conducted to remove PCB contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Hudson River. This year’s dredging will begin just south of Schuylerville and then it’s going to move southward towards Troy.”
Until 1977, General Electric discharged about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River. They had been used as coolants in electrical equipment at two facilities in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward over a 30-year period. A federal superfund project began in 2009 to dredge approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from the river. In the first four seasons of dredging, GE has spent more than $1 billion to remove nearly 2 billion cubic yards of sediment.
This season, the EPA plans to dredge 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. But Judith Enck says this year will be logistically challenging because the path includes an area near two dams, making transport to the processing facility difficult. “We’re going to be dredging around dams, shallow areas around islands and a two mile section of the river near Fort Miller that cannot be directly accessed by boat.”
The EPA credits contractors, the NYS Canal Corporation and Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck among those who helped find a solution to the Thompson Island dredging conundrum. Supervisor Peck notes that there is no boat access due to several factors such as shallow water or rapids and the Champlain Canal. A trucking route in the area was also logistically impractical. “What they’re going to do is stage on Canal Authority property, and then be able to off-load there, then on-load on the other side of one of the dams. Not only does it reduce truck traffic, but the actual site that they were going to work off of was going to need to be a mini de-watering site. They were going to have to build a whole sub-area here that was going to be its own little de-watering site in order to truck this material. Now by barging up the river, they’re able to disturb this area much less. It takes away the whole idea of the PCB laden soils hitting the ground here.”
Stillwater Mayor Ernie Martin says the PCB’s dumped by GE contaminated the aquifer, forcing the village to find another water source. But dredging the Hudson, he believes, isn’t helping water quality. “Years ago when this thing first started I was deadly set against the dredging. I still am somewhat. You’re just not going to get them all. You stir up a lot of residue that just flows down the river anyway. I thought the river was cleaning up itself on its own for a long time, but the EPA has forced GE to do the dredging.”
Dredging of the Hudson River is expected to be finished in 2015, and is currently about 70 percent complete. When PCB removal is completed, the project will continue with habitat and shoreline restoration, decommissioning of the de-watering facility and floodplain mitigation.