Project Updates and Looking to the Future
Photos by Julia Church
Hudson River PCB Forum: January 16, 2013 at Marist College Boathouse
Click here to view the agenda
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Riverkeeper, The Natural Resources Defense Council and Scenic Hudson would like to thank all who attended the Hudson River PCB Public Forum and dredging project update held at Marist College on January 16, 2013.
The federal and state agencies present reported on the progress, the success, and the lessons learned during the first three years of dredging in the Upper Hudson. By hearing details about the effectiveness of General Electric’s long-delayed PCB cleanup, we know that attendees also gained a greater appreciation for the necessity of being vocal and standing up to corporate polluters who can wage massive legal and media campaigns to avoid cleanup responsibility. Speaker after speaker confirmed that PCB removal is the best solution to ensure the river will recover and become a vigorous natural and economic resource for the people and communities throughout the Hudson River Valley and the state.
As a recent report from the Natural Resource Damages Trustees confirms, the entire extent of the Hudson River is “extensively contaminated” and these “high levels of PCB contamination have existed for decades, and continue to exist, in the Hudson River ecosystem” and “present a serious and long-term threat to the health of the entire Hudson River ecosystem.” From the beginning, the goal of the PCB battle has been to remove as much of the toxins as possible.
The progress of the PCB cleanup project to date underscores that goal and, even more importantly, highlights the value of community involvement in supervising the country’s largest Superfund site. Getting the cleanup started took every one of us, and getting it done right will require continued vigilance and an informed understanding of what is at stake if we do not. Thank you for your continued support in helping us ensure a clean Hudson River.
Project Update: Dave King, Hudson River PCB Remediation Field Director, US Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. King outlined the progress made from the time of EPA’s Record of Decision (ROD) in 2002, through the remedial design process, to the initial year of dredging in 2009 (Phase 1), followed by a Peer Review process in 2010, and two more seasons of dredging in 2011 and 2012 – and how each year of the clean up more PCB-contaminated material has been removed from the Upper Hudson River, while less sediment (sediment (and therefore less contamination) has been resuspended to move downstream. He explained that sediment settles out of the water column quickly and by dredging north to south, much of that will be removed as dredging proceeds downstream. Mr. King also noted that because a false floor of woody debris was discovered in 2009 the depth of contamination of PCBs in the sediment had to be reassessed, and, in fact, much more PCB-containing sediment needed to be removed than expected. Improvements in dredging operations and modifications to the dewatering processing facility in Ft. Edward have resulted in greater productivity with less capping and better results for the river and the environment from this 24/6 remediation effort. More than 1.3 million cu. yd. have been removed to date, with another 30 miles of dredging yet to complete. EPA has also done extensive sampling of soil in floodplains adjacent to the River in the upriver communities and is preparing a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study to address this aspect of the contamination.
Click here to view Mr. King’s presentation, which gives a clear picture of the scope and scale of this major Superfund remediation
Contact: Hudson River Field Office: (518) 747-4389; King.David@epamail.epa.gov.
PCB Remediation on Land and Water: Kevin Farrar, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Environmental Remediation.
Mr. Farrar’s presentation stressed the importance of controlling recontamination of the River from the two major sources of PCB contamination – the GE plant sites at Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward, which is being accomplished by ‘source control’ measures required of GE. Most of the PCB releases were abated when discharges into the River were stopped in the 1970’s, however leakage continued until additional and extensive source control measures were implemented. An elaborate tunnel drain collection system and water processing facility to recover and treat the large amount of PCBs stored in fractures in bedrock at Hudson Falls and a collection, and processing system for PCBs in groundwater, bedrock and overburden at Ft. Edward have effectively reduced leakage into the river to a fraction of the original contribution. In addition DEC implemented the removal of 004 Outfall Area Soil and Sediment, and has required GE to implement an Offsite Soil Vapor Intrusion Investigation and Abatement Program, and a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of ongoing bedrock contamination at the 004 Outfall to assure ongoing remediation of contaminated soils and groundwater. Surface water monitoring over the past few years downstream of the two plant sites has consistently shown very low concentrations of PCBs, indicating that cleanup work at the plant sites is working to help meet EPA’s objectives for upstream source control.
Hudson River Fish Advisories: Regina Keenan, NY State Department of Health.
Ms. Keenan stressed the fact that PCB contamination in fish requires ongoing health advisories warning against consumption of Hudson River fish and crabs. Although details are a bit complicated, there is a do not eat health advisory for children up to 15 and women of childbearing age (< 50) throughout the 200 miles of this Superfund site, and catch-and-release only from Bakers Falls to the Troy Dam. The advice for adult males and women over 50 is that they can consume one meal per month of alewife, rock bass, blue back herring and yellow perch (but not striped bass) from Troy to Catskill, and more species and 6 crabs per week from Catskill to NYC — but not fatty fish such as white or channel catfish, American eel or gizzard shad. See www.health.ny.gov/hudsonriverfish or call 518-402-7530/800-458-1158 for details. Fish consumption is the major route of exposure to PCB contamination. Removal of skin and fat helps reduce PCB exposure and discarding tomalley or “green stuff” (hepatopancreas) from crabs is also advised. DOH advises that when possible people should swim in a regulated beach because these beaches are monitored for safety and health and are posted for closures or advisories. There is no significant difference between PCB levels measured at the public water supplies before dredging began and during dredging. PCB concentrations present are low and comply with the drinking water standard for PCBs. See www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/hudson_river/
Hudson River PCB Highlights and Newest Research on PCB Remediation
Dr. Peter deFur, Environmental Stewardship Concepts, Technical Advisor to the Community Advisory Group
Dr. deFur focused on the technical assistance he and his firm have provided to the upriver community and community at-large. This has included ongoing monitoring and reporting of exceedances of sediment resuspension, air quality, noise, odor and other data, interpretation of a variety of reports, explanation of the differences in reports or positions taken by the involved agencies, especially with regard to the potential impact of unremediated surface sediments and habitat restoration. Peter cited new research including the finding of increased learning disabilities in boys living near the highly contaminated PCB site in New Bedford Harbor, MA and new technologies for processing and dewatering contaminated sediments, including barge-mounted dewatering equipment. Dr. deFur also moderated the first question and answer panel, at which it became clear that occasional air exceedances, which can cause PCB exposure via inhalation, are mainly a concern immediately adjacent to the dewatering facility in Ft. Edward and at some of the hot spots during dredging. Also PCBs, which are steadily declining in the water column and have not been shown to increase in the Mid-Hudson area during dreading, are fairly well filtered out of drinking water by activated carbon and other filtration systems used by the municipalities that take their drinking water from the Hudson.
Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration: Kathryn Jahn, on behalf of the NRDA Trustees; US Department of the Interior Case Manager. Ms. Jahn reviewed the role of the Natural Resource Trustees (NYS, NOAA, DOI) in protecting and restoring natural resources held in trust for the public. In addition to the actual remediation (removal of PCBs by dredging), the environment and its wildlife have been adversely affected by the presence of PCBs in the River and along its floodplains and wetlands for decades. Once the injuries to natural resources are identified and damages are assessed by the Trustees, restoration needs can be determined and the Trustees then seek to resolve the damage claim, either through settlement negotiations with General Electric or by filing suit against General Electric. Recovered damages are then used for restoration to compensate the public for injuries to natural resources. Under the DOI NRDA regulations, the definition of injury is “…a measurable adverse change, either long or short‐term, in the chemical or physical quality or viability of a natural resource, resulting either directly or indirectly from exposure to a release of a hazardous substance…” For example, the existence of a fish consumption advisory is an injury, the loss of the service that fishery provides has an economic value, which can be defined. Ms. Jahn also told of ongoing studies of impacts of PCBs on fish, birds, mink and other wildlife that have been seriously impacted. She said the contamination from Hudson River PCBs is very widespread. Once the assessment of damages is complete, a restoration plan will be developed; public review and comment will be solicited in that process. The full extent of injuries may not be known until the remediation is complete, and the ongoing studies are completed. In the meantime the public is invited to propose restoration projects that are connected to specific injuries and that will help restore the natural environment or compensate for the loss of services. Examples of restoration options include dam removal or fish passage, wetland restoration, habitat restoration to help mink or other wildlife return to the shores of the Hudson, or projects, which provide increased public access to the River.
Trustee web sites:
National Oceanic and Atmostpheric Administration
New York State Department of Environemtnal Conservation (NYSDEC)
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)