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The Hudson River PCB Story

March 2006
Hudson River PCB Update

By now most people in the Hudson Valley have heard of “PCBs” (polychlorinated biphenyls) and know that they are a class of persistent organic pollutants which were used by General Electric as insulating oil in transformers and capacitors. An estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were discharged by GE into the Hudson between 1947 and 1977, when they were banned.
The problem of PCB contamination has dominated the Hudson River Valley for the last 30 years. If you are not familiar with PCBs in the Hudson, there is good background information on the Clearwater website at Scenic Hudson's website and on EPA’s Hudson River Superfund Site website.
Here is a quick overview of the remediation timeline:
December 6, 2000: EPA releases Proposed Plan to Remediate River PCBs Superfund Site; public comment period began.
April 17, 2001: Public comment period complete; EPA review period began.
August, 2001: EPA announced its intention to require General Electric to clean up PCBs concentrated in sediment in hotspots along a 40 mile stretch of the upper Hudson, north of the Federal Dam in Troy.
February 1, 2002: EPA issued its Record of Decision (ROD) calling for the removal of an estimated 2.65 million cubic yards of sediment containing 150,000 pounds of PCBs. The 2002 decision called for a three-year design and scheduled the cleanup to begin in 2005. GE is responsible for implementing or paying for the cleanup, or EPA can initiate its own clean-up and charge GE triple costs of the clean up.
Spring 2002 to 2009: Remedial Design Phase which includes detailed design, siting and permitting processes for water treatment facilities, selection of disposal sites, issuing requests for proposals to do the actual remediation, etc. This phase, originally scheduled to take three years, will have taken five.
2009 to 2015: Implementation of Remediation: The actual clean-up is projected to take 6 years.

Current Status
PCB Remedial Design: The project is now in the "remedial design phase". During the design phase, EPA has been meeting behind closed doors with GE to develop engineering and quality of life performance standards (evaluation criteria) and intermediate remedial design reports, and a consent decree announced in October 2005. A Final Design Report (FDR) is imminent.
EPA and GE have encountered multiple delays and the project is now scheduled to begin in 2009. With each year of delay another 500 pounds of PCBs wash downstream, over the Federal Dam at Troy to the lower Hudson, an area that will not be remediated under this clean up.
Community input: Throughout the remedial design, Clearwater, Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and others in the Friends of a Clean Hudson coalition have participate in EPA’s Community Advisory Group (CAG), along with representatives from upriver municipalities, unions, farmers, tourism, and other interests.
An interesting dynamic has occurred during the CAG meetings. Prior to the issuance of EPA’s decision to require GE to dredge, there was a tension between many elected officials from upriver municipalities, who were more allied with GE (a major employer in the area) and the environmental groups, who were more aligned with EPA, urging them to use the increasing scientific data the were amassing to require a clean up.
Delineating areas to be dredged: After considerable dispute, a Dredge Area Delineation (“DAD”) report was released in February 2005 -- behind schedule. GE tried to circumvent the ROD by suggesting less dredging than called for in the ROD. Fortunately, EPA stuck to their guns on this point, but the dispute cost valuable time, postponing the start of the dredging until 2007 at the earliest.
Siting: Dewatering of PCB contaminated sediment is necessary before shipping and disposal. The treated water, from which PCBs have been removed, will be returned to the river. The dewatered sediment containing PCBs will be transported by rail to a lined landfill for burial. After narrowing the field from twenty-four possible sites in 2003, to seven, to three sites, to one final site selected in December 2004, the dewatering facility will be located in Fort Edward, near where a bulk of the contamination is located.
Preliminary, Intermediate and Final Design Reports: A Preliminary Design Report (PDR) was developed and released in April 2004. In August 2005, GE released a more refined Intermediate Design Report (IDR) for the clean-up, which includes using environmental (sealed) bucket mechanical dredging, rather than hydraulic (suction) dredging, as many area environmental groups had recommended. The proposed IDR will allow a significant amount of PCB-contaminated sediment at the shorelines to remain -- which the environmental community believes to be inconsistent with the ROD and engineering performance standards. Other problems include lack of adequate backfill and dependence on "natural recovery and recolonization" rather than proactive habitat restoration. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the NYS Attorney General's office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) have raised similar objections.
Consent Decree: After more than three years of negotiations, on October 6, 2005 a Consent Decree was reached between GE and EPA. Unfortunately this agreement, contrary to the ROD, allows GE to “opt out” of the clean up after the first phase or only 10 percent of the remediation is complete. The public comment period for the consent decree closed on December 14, 2005. As required by law, EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have asked the court to approve the CD.
Environmental groups are now stuck between a rock and a hard place, weighing the pros and cons of sitting by and watching a compromised cleanup go forward or challenging the inconsistencies with the ROD. A challenge could possibly delay the clean up.

For further information, please contact:
Manna Jo Greene
Environmental Director
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
112 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
845-454-7673 x113

The Hudson River PCB Story


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