Hudson River Sloop Clearwater's Public Comment
on EPA's Hudson River PCBs Superfund Reassessment and Proposed Remediation Plan. April 17, 2001.

[ Table Of Contents ] - [ Executive Summary ]
Main Document: [ Part 1 ] - [ Part 2 ] - [ Part 3 ]
[ Conclusion and Recommendations ]

Conclusion and Recommendations

Clearwater applauds EPA’s decision to actively remove PCB-containing sediments from targeted hot spots in the Upper Hudson. It has become perfectly clear that physical removal is the only way to protect the health of at least two generations of Hudson Valley residents, and to remove the blight of continual recontamination from the non-human biological communities of the Hudson Valley. Clearwater respectfully wishes to take this opportunity to point out areas in EPA’s Proposed Plan that need to be improved, as well as elements that must be addressed.

  1. Clearwater’s remedy recommendation:

    The Preferred Remedy is neither comprehensive enough, nor cost-effective enough. It has been made clear, from the foregoing analysis, that EPA’s 3/10/SELECT preferred remedy is too timorous both in terms of PCB mass removed and cost-effectiveness. Clearwater strongly urges EPA to adopt a 3+/0/3+ remedial standard.

    Clearwater believes that 3+/0/3+ best meets the tests of cost-effectiveness and human health protection. In support of this statement, we offer the following:

    1. A 3/0/3 option provides the best return on investment, measured by cost per kilogram of PCBs, and may be as much as $2,000 per kilogram less expensive than the 3/10/select option.
    2. 3+/0/3+ removes almost as much PCB mass as 0/0/3, and more than 3/0/3, more cost-effectively, while reducing the amount of material that must be dredged by almost 500,000 cubic yards.
    3. 3+/0/3+ simply involves extending the removal operations beyond a strict perimeter defined by a 3 ppm contamination level. Three-plus is a pragmatic standard that will remove more PCBs, ease the navigational burden on the dredge operators, and as a result may save money.
    4. The most recent NYS DEC fish data indicate that fish at river mile 168 (Stillwater) have lipid burdens of PCBs that average eight times greater than those of fish at river mile 11 (near the George Washington Bridge). It follows that the EPA remediation hypotheses for time to safe consumption of fish at weekly or monthly intervals may be reduced significantly (if not directly by a factor of eight) for fish caught in the tidal estuary. Hence, where monthly fish meals may be safe 26 years post-remediation at Stillwater in the 0/0/3 scenario, thousands of subsistence anglers in the estuarine Hudson may be able to safely eat their catch weekly or better within a few years after remediation at the recommended 3+/0/3+ standard.

    Clearwater believes strongly that these elements present a compelling argument in favor of more-stringent remediation, and we believe that in addition to protecting public health, 3+/0/3+ is the most cost-effective scenario.

  2. EPA’s final ROD should specify hydraulic suction as the default technology, and establish criteria which must be met before mechanical dredging is permitted.

    There are many reasons for hydraulic dredging to be so specified:

    1. Hydraulic dredging produces the lowest levels of resuspension.
    2. Hydraulic dredging can be engineered to minimize volatilization.
    3. Hydraulic dredging works faster than mechanical dredging.
    4. The ability to pipe the spoils as far as ten miles can reduce heavy equipment traffic on the river.

    The choice of dredging technologies, and the values they embody, must not left to a contractor.

  3. Clearwater believes that simultaneous removal in all three river sections is crucial to meeting any reasonable time to completion – with caveats.

    Several municipalities have suggested a phased-in approach to remediation, beginning in Section 1 and proceeding downriver to Section 2, then 3. The advantage to this would be prevention of downstream recontamination and increased possibility of recapturing minor amounts of sediment that have been resuspended. The disadvantage is time-to-completion.

    The advantage of EPA’s plan to have environmental dredging occurring simultaneously at various locations is that the remediation project can be completed more expeditiously. Clearwater is confident that the proposed combination of protective mechanisms including the use of silt curtains and continuous monitoring minimize resuspension and remobilization so effectively that simultaneous worksites should be employed.

  4. Only one water treatment facility is needed.

    Material from River Section 3 can be barged or piped to one location, rather than building a second dewatering facility in the Albany area. The dewatering facility can offer a win-win solution to the host community and the project if it is sited in exchange for full remediation of existing upland hazardous waste sites created by NYS DOT, which dumped PCB-laden dredged spoils upland to maintain navigation before PCB contamination was known about.

  5. The remnant deposits and reach from Hudson Falls to Fort Edward must be addressed.

    Clearwater urges EPA, in the strongest possible terms, to invite and cooperate with NYSDEC to reopen and reassess the remedial orders that capped the remnant deposits left behind when the Fort Edward dam was dismantled. It is clear that PCBs are leaking from those deposits, as evidenced by the USF&WS tree swallow study. Those deposits contain massive quantities of PCBs, and constitute an accident waiting to happen. Located, as they are, upstream of all the hoped-for PCB removal sites, the remnant deposits have the potential to recontaminate the river and render even the most stringent remediation an exercise in futility. Because of that nexus, the remnant deposits must be bundled in with the remediation of record.

    Similarly, the reach of river between Hudson Falls and Fort Edward seems to have been orphaned. This reach needs to be defined, assessed, and folded into the record of decision as an addendum after the fact. While this reach may not present the danger posed by the remnant deposits, it still has the capacity to recontaminate remediated areas over the long term, assuming source control has been successfully completed.

  6. The Proposed Plan’s preferred remedy overlooks the importance of geographic dispersion of PCBs.

    Recognizing that PCBs are persistent organic pollutants that are easily being dispersed throughout the biosphere, Clearwater’s perspective includes a concern about the effects of PCBs on human, wildlife, and the environment, locally and globally. First, EPA offers little acknowledgment of the global distribution of PCBs to diverse ecosystems, including the ocean and all oceanic species, and little recognition of the potential for redistribution via atmospheric transport to upland areas, including crops, all forms of habitat, and inland waters both near and far. While we acknowledge that insufficient study exists in the area of volatilization as a route of exposure to humans, EPA’s apparent dismissal of volatilization as insignificant needs to be revisited.

    This policy shift will be a crucial prerequisite for the design of non-volatilizing remedial facilities and infrastructure.

  7. Prevent volatilization by enclosing systems, handling, and transport, and maintaining negative air pressure in material-handling facilities.

    Volatilization has been described in detail herein. Clearwater strongly urges EPA to specify of its contractors that all structures in which PCBs are stored or handled be enclosed, airtight, and maintained at a pressure slightly below ambient to prevent leakage of PCBs into the environment.

    Settling basins can be covered with floating membranes, and dredged spoils pumped directly beneath the membrane. All water treatment should be enclosed, and the removal of sediment from the settling basins accomplished through conveyors or other means that can be enclosed.

    EPA might consider the use of modular containers to transport materials from the handling buildings directly to the point of discharge into a TSCA-approved facility. Containers offer the flexibility of being suitable for truck or rail, and are closed. They can be returned empty without extensive cleaning, for savings of time and money.

    Worker safety must be assured by observance of all OSHA and NIOSH regulations, plus protection from dermal and inhalation contact with PCBs. This should take the form of protective clothing and either activated carbon or outdoor replacement respiration equipment, as well as continual (> 4x/hr.) filtration of ambient air in the buildings. Even barges should be closed after filling for transport and layover.

  8. Clearwater believes that EPA should revisit treatment technologies.

    Originally driven by the vast market for destruction of chemical and biological weapons, sediment treatment technologies, which can remove or destroy PCBs found in dredged spoils, offer a number of potential benefits – possibly including cost-effectiveness.

    1. The quantity of gravel and backfill that must be mined will be reduced if decontaminated sediment can be put back in the river.
    2. New York Harbor, with its contaminated sediment problems, has provided a test-bed for treatment technologies. The volume is so great, and the concentrations so small, that the costs of sediment treatment have been deemed unaffordable for the most part, but several technologies have been demonstrated at scales never before achieved.
    3. Treatment technologies are most cost-effective when applied to the most highly-contaminated sediment. Not only is the product of the process re-usable, but the most costly shipment and disposal can be obviated.

  9. PCBs are harmful to human health.

    Clearwater’s findings support our early contentions that PCBs are harmful to human health. The results of our colloquium at the SUNY School of Public Health were unequivocal. PCBs cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, physical deformities, hormonal disruption in many forms, immune system disruption, and cancer. Both acute and chronic effects have been repeatedly observed by researchers around the world.

    Our analyses of GE’s human health studies reveal a grossly unethical a priori structural bias in GE-funded studies, which renders Kimbrough and others almost entirely without value.

    We have also learned that GE has sequestered the medical records and names of 60-100 former capacitor workers at its corporate headquarters in Fairfield, CT. GE promptly reached an expensive settlement with the Town of Moreau rather than reveal those names and records. Clearwater urges EPA to demand those unredacted records to help fill in the gaps surrounding the legendary health problems experienced by capacitor workers.

    It is widely believed that GE settled preemptively with families afflicted by PCB-related illnesses. It would be very helpful for the historic record and for the sake of better understanding the effects of PCBs on human health if EPA were to develop and support a legal instrument indemnifying these GE beneficiaries from any recourse or retribution that might accrue following their complete and candid testimony before public health researchers.

  10. PCBs are harmful to wildlife.

    It is clear that PCBs are entering wildlife, bioaccumulating to levels that classify some animals as hazardous waste, and impairing their reproductive viability. These effects have been observed in snapping turtles, mink, river otters, muskrats, tree swallows, terns, cormorants, eagles, osprey, owls, and many other organisms. GE has made much of the return of the bald eagle, as if to say that it was in some way responsible. In fact, the eagle’s comeback is due almost solely to the efforts of Peter Nye at the NYSDEC, whose hatchling relocation efforts undid the damage from decades of DDT contamination which caused local extinctions of the bird. The question should be asked: how would the eagles be doing without exposure to PCBs?

  11. Clearwater believes that the PCB discharges were illegal from start to finish.

    While not directly affecting remediation, the issue of legality is important to many communities. Some people object to Superfund on principle, citing a fundamental unfairness in forcing a polluter, which was ostensibly law-abiding, to pay for an expensive cleanup. It will be important, assuming that GE continues its advertising campaign to undermine popular support for the remediation itself, to fold the legality issue into any public outreach.

    1. GE was in violation of the Federal Rivers and Harbors act for the entire term of manufacturing at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.
    2. GE was in violation of State water quality standards from their inception in 1965.
    3. GE violated its SPDES permits 129 times, including citations which covered 30-plus individual exceedances.

  12. The economic benefits of a remediation are clear and significant.

    1. Navigational dredging of NY Harbor will be less expensive without continual recontamination, saving the taxpayers millions per year.
    2. Over 4,500 jobs will be created during and after the term of remediation.
    3. The GRP (gross regional product) of Saratoga and Washington counties will jump by $800,000,000 as a direct result of the remediation.
    4. Property values post-remediation will rebound throughout the Hudson Valley. The observed range of rebound is from 2%-8%, which could increase the capital stocks of the Hudson Valley by billions of dollars.
    5. As many as 8,900 new long-term jobs could be created post-remediation, resulting in an economic benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the Hudson Valley.

  13. Clearwater urges the use of biodiesel fuels. Other transport issues need to be addressed.

    Diesel exhaust has been brought up as a potential problem for the quality of life in the areas being remediated. Diesel exhaust can be made far more benign through the use of soy diesel biofuel, which will eliminate CO emissions, decrease particulates by 75%, and achieve significant reductions in SOx and NOx. Clearwater strongly urges that all vehicles, vessels, and stationary engines involved in the remediation be fueled with soy diesel.

    Engines should be muffled to the greatest extent possible. Noise levels have been a concern shared with us by many communities.

    An additional rail siding may be needed to accommodate up to 45 boxcar or container-loads of dewatered sediment per day.

    EPA should specify that material shipped by rail to existing hazardous waste landfills go directly on-site without having to be transshipped onto trucks, to avoid double handling and save money.

  14. Public Participation must be continued proactively throughout the entire remediation process.

    Several communities and other sources have told us disturbing stories about the responsiveness of EPA after delivery of a ROD. In Cold Spring, NY, for example, phone calls were ignored, elected officials rebuffed, and community concerns unanswered. The village has an abiding distrust of EPA emanating from the Foundry Cove cleanup. This must not be allowed to happen during the upper Hudson remediation, as it will certainly engender vehement and possibly obstructional opposition from many sectors.

    EPA’s final ROD must specify a holistic structure for ongoing public input during remedial design phase and throughout remediation and follow-up monitoring. The system should include a Hudson River PCB Remediation Advisory Committee, an oversight group with no veto power but with the power to force reconsideration and/or appeal upon a significant majority vote. It should be comprised of representatives from local municipalities, municipalities that take drinking water from Hudson, municipalities with subsistence fishing communities, health experts, scientists, environmental experts, citizens groups, representatives of the dredging industry, treatment technologies representatives, economists, and academics.

    Absent from this group is the PRP, which will undoubtedly be well-represented by certain “citizen” groups. The PRP’s contact with EPA must be outside the public process, which was so effectively manipulated over the years of the PCB Reassessment, and restricted to issues of finance, legality, and logistics. The people of the Hudson Valley overwhelmingly believe that GE has been gaming the process throughout, and want the manipulation to stop.

    EPA and the Department of Justice should vigorously investigate obtaining injunctive relief from GE’s advertising campaign, if it continues past the end of the public comment period. If the campaign continues, it can only be for the purpose of undermining the credibility and effectiveness of a government agency, and hence must be regarded as purely destructive.

    EPA has enjoyed the support of many environmental and civic associations, which have played a pivotal role in education and in balancing the public discourse. Clearwater believes that the remedial budget should include substantial funds for educational and outreach efforts, both internal and external to EPA. We call for EPA to create and staff three satellite offices, and to offer grants for educational and technical assistance.

In closing we would like to quote from John Peterson Myers, author of Our Stolen Future, who is an authority on endocrine disruptions which are caused by PCBs. Myers offers a compelling argument for removing PCBs and breaking the chain of toxicity they create. He says,

"I have come to believe that some of the basic ground rules by which new chemicals and their derivative products are developed, tested, and brought to market, need new examination if we are really serious about creating a world in which babies can grow up toxic free, in which babies can grow up in ways that allow them to explore their full potential. As laws and commerce work today, too much of the real testing of chemicals takes place in the real world. It takes place in our bodies, in our children's bodies, and in the global ecosystem. ... The scientist and the father in me argues that we should take care of this problem now, so that our kids can focus on all those other problems, all those other challenges, they are faced with as they grow up."

Clearwater’s Executive Director, Andy Mele adds,

"It all comes down to human potential. As long as there are PCBs in the Hudson River, and as long as there are chemicals anywhere in the environment interfering with our hormones and our brains, we are the losers. We may never know what we might have been, what we might have become, what we might have accomplished, or how our children might have fulfilled their dreams had we lived in a world free of these chemicals."

Back to the Table of Contents
Back to Clearwater

© 2001 Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.