As GE, EPA Begin Final Phase of Historic Hudson River Cleanup, Environmental Groups Promise Vigilance

Jay Burgess, Scenic Hudson, (845) 473-4440 x222, jburgess@scenichudson.org
Julia Church, Clearwater, 845 265 8080, ext. 7112, julia@clearwater.org
Kate Slusark, Natural Resources Defense Council, 212 727 4592, kslusark@nrdc.org
Tina Posterli, Riverkeeper, 914 478 4501, Ext. 239, tposterli@riverkeeper.org

CAPITAL REGION/HUDSON VALLEY—Following reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and General Electric Co. (GE) may resume the historic Hudson River PCB cleanup as early as next week, leading environmental groups are heralding the start of the final phase and promising vigilance to ensure it is completed successfully. The groups—Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson—stressed that objective science, not corporate interests, must determine how the cleanup is managed and completed.

The environmental groups stated that strict compliance with the standards set by the EPA will make the river much healthier and bring huge benefits—including greatly expanded economic opportunities—to communities up and down the Hudson. The remediation project already has brought 500 jobs to communities surrounding the cleanup.

After seeking unsuccessfully to further delay the cleanup and curtail its scope, GE committed last year to a negotiated settlement that requires the company to finish the job according to EPA’s standards. The environmental groups emphasized the importance of EPA oversight to ensure GE removes the maximum volume of PCBs, while limiting releases of these toxins into the river and air. Comprehensive monitoring during the cleanup, to collect high-quality scientific data, is crucial to provide the basis for fine-tuning of dredging techniques during the project. The EPA is responsible for mandating such adjustments (known as adaptive management) as needed to maximize PCB removal and minimize the amount left behind under so-called “caps.”

The groups also urge a re-examination of cleanup plans for areas downriver of this year’s planned work, to address concerns state and federal natural resource agencies have raised that the dredging may be too narrowly focused to capture all of the PCB hotspots.

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan has experience as an official overseeing toxic cleanups in New York and Maine. From that perspective, he said, “Three different White House administrations have recognized the need for this cleanup and acted on findings that the technology exists to accomplish it. As long as the Hudson River is labeled the nation’s largest toxic waste site, public health, our environment and economy remain at risk.

“As the polluter, GE has been at the table with the EPA, negotiating every detail of this cleanup. If there are problems to overcome, it has 40,000 engineers on staff to create solutions. In my experience, the single most important factor in a successful cleanup is whether the company performing the work is committed to getting it done right. Now is the time for GE to dedicate its resources and technical know-how to restoring the Hudson,” he added.

Clearwater Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene said, “Our goal is to assure that the resuspension of PCB-contaminated sediment and the volatilization of PCBs into the air are minimized, while assuring that a rigorous clean-up occurs. We are especially concerned and will be watchful to see that no unnecessary capping occurs.  We have worked hard for many years to assure that this effort is a world-class cleanup, and we will continue to monitor its progress closely throughout the remediation and beyond.”

Riverkeeper Senior Counsel Rebecca Troutman noted, “The Hudson River has endured this environmental travesty for decades, and it’s time to finally recover this national treasure. We intend to monitor the full cleanup process closely and raise any issues that may still need to be addressed. If GE is truly committed to restoring the ecosystem and removing the maximum level of toxic PCBs, we have no doubt that it will succeed—and the river and its communities deserve no less.”

“Today marks a major milestone in the long saga of cleaning up the Hudson River,” said Lawrence Levine, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is a testament to the unwavering determination of the citizens who stood up to GE and for decades demanded the company clean up the mess it made in our backyard. Now, it’s up to the EPA to make sure GE vigorously conducts the world-class cleanup that this world-class river deserves.”

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