March 20, 2024


Environmental Justice Leaders Convene to Demand EPA Take Action to Address Legacy Toxic Pollution in the Hudson River

Albany, NY – Statewide leaders in environmental justice gathered to demand the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take action to address “forever chemical” polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination that continues to plague the Hudson River and severely impact disadvantaged communities along its shores. In April, the EPA is set to release its latest five-year review (FYR) to determine whether ongoing cleanup efforts have been effective in protecting public health and the environment, an assessment that will shape the future of the river and surrounding communities for generations to come.

The press conference, organized by Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Pete Harckham, Assembly Deputy Majority Leader and Chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus Michaelle Solages, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, and the Friends of a Clean Hudson (FOCH) coalition, led by Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, calls on the EPA to protect the future of the Hudson by concluding in its FYR that ongoing cleanup efforts have failed to protect human and environmental health.

GE’s actions over the course of more than 30 years transformed a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River into one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation. The pollution, primarily affecting subsistence anglers from communities of color, immigrants, and economically disadvantaged populations, has stunted the region’s fishing industry, compromised ecological health, and rendered the river’s fish unsafe for consumption.

From 1947 to 1977, GE dumped PCBs into the Hudson River from its manufacturing plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, N.Y. PCBs are man-made, persistent pollutants that accumulate in living organisms and have been linked to a wide variety of adverse health effects, including cancer. PCBs discharged by GE are still found at dangerous levels throughout the Hudson River ecosystem. Today, members of the State Senate and Assembly joined together to call on EPA to follow the science and issue a “not protective determination” in its upcoming FYR for the Hudson River Superfund site. In addition, more than two dozen Assemblymembers and 17 Senators signed on to a bipartisan letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, calling on the agency to issue a “not protective determination.”

Despite six years of dredging (2009-2015), significantly more PCBs remain in the river’s fish and sediment than was expected. An independent analysis by the FOCH released late last year indicates that neither fish nor sediment are recovering at the rates necessary to meet the goals for protecting human health and the environment. The human health and ecological risks remain well in excess of EPA’s acceptable risk ranges, and based on current trends in fish and sediment, PCB levels will not be in the acceptable range for the foreseeable future.

Elected U.S., state, and local officials, environmental organizations, and members of the public are joining together to fight for the Hudson River and demand EPA acknowledge the failure of the Upper Hudson River remedy to meet the goals and objectives of the cleanup.

Assemblymember and BPHA chair Michaelle Solages, along with Senator Pete Harckham, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, Assemblymember Carrie Woerner, former EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez, and environmental justice pioneer Dr. Aaron Mair of the Arbor Hill Development Corporation, among other BPHA caucus members, led the discussion that underscored the urgent need for action to mitigate the persistent health and ecological risks posed to disadvantaged communities by contamination in the Hudson River.

Senators Michelle Hinchey, John Liu, and Robert Rolison, as well as Assemblymembers Patricia Fahy, Sarahana Shrestha, Tony Simone, Dana Levenberg, MaryJane Shimsky, Chris Eachus, Emily Gallagher, and Steve Otis also attended the press conference.

Assemblymember and Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus Chair Michaelle Solages: “Communities of color along the Hudson River have borne the brunt of environmental injustice for far too long, grappling with toxic PCB pollution that threatens their health and wellbeing. It’s time for accountability. EPA must hold General Electric responsible and take decisive action to restore the health of the Hudson River,” Solages said. “Ignoring the fact that the cleanup of toxic PCBs didn’t achieve the goals originally set by EPA not only jeopardizes our environment but also deprives many across the state of a safe food source. We cannot stand by as vulnerable communities continue to shoulder the burden of corporate legacy pollution. EPA must act swiftly and decisively to uphold their commitment to environmental justice and issue a ‘not protective’ determination’ in the upcoming five-year review.”

Senate Environmental Conservation Chairman Pete Harckham: “Until a significant amount of PCBs, laden in the river’s sediment, can be removed and this environmental travesty mostly remediated, the contamination of the Hudson will continue to impact public health and hinder economic promise in the region,” said Harckham. “It’s time for the EPA to stand up to General Electric and require it to clean up the PCBs it dumped into the river for three decades.”

Assembly Chairwoman of the Environmental Conservation Committee Deborah Glick: “New York City’s diverse population, including many from low-income and minority communities, faces mounting health risks due to toxic PCB contamination in Hudson River fish. Even though many people in New York City rely on fish from these waters for subsistence, advisories restrict consumption, particularly for vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children. The alarming and dangerous PCB concentrations in Hudson River fish and sediment underscores the urgency for EPA intervention. A ‘not protective’ determination is essential to prompt decisive action and safeguard the health of our communities for the future.”

Assemblymember Carrie Woerner: “The Hudson River is a mighty environmental, commercial, and recreational resource. Based on the latest 5-year review of PCB levels, it’s still one of the largest brownfield clean-up projects in the country. Because of the less than adequate clean-up efforts, fish from the Hudson are not safe to eat and people who live along the Hudson are still impacted by the cancer-causing PCBs. Remedial clean-up, beyond dredging, needs to continue to address the high PCB levels still found in the 200-mile Hudson River PCB Superfund Site. Our state’s future generations are depending on it.”

Assemblymember Dana Levenberg: “The evidence is clear – the dredging remedy has not been successful in removing PCBs from the Hudson River Superfund Site. The EPA must acknowledge this fact by issuing a ‘not protective’ determination in their upcoming five-year review. To do otherwise would further compound the harm that has already been done to communities along the river. I also call for the EPA to hold corporate polluters responsible as cleanup continues and additional remedies are sought. Corporations should not feel free to pollute our shared home while taxpayers pick up the tab for the damages.”

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy: “Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘efforts’, PCB levels up and down the Hudson River remain unsafe for human beings and continue to rise in fish and other mammals,” said Assemblymember Patricia Fahy. “Communities up and down the Hudson River have grappled with this environmental injustice for decades, and we are only just beginning to learn the full breadth and scope of the shortcomings of the EPA’s years-long cleanup. We must continue to clean up the Hudson River to protect the health of the frontline communities here in Albany and on both sides of our Capital Region’s historic artery, and I urge the EPA to listen to the science.”

Senator John Liu: “After 30 years of dumping poisonous PCBs into our waterways and decades of insufficient remediation efforts, it’s way past time to get serious about finishing the job of cleaning it up. The EPA must hold General Electric accountable for this pollution that has now extended well beyond the Hudson and will impact human and environmental health for generations. Many thanks to Senator Pete Harckham, Assembly Member Carrie Woerner, BPHA Caucus Chair Michaelle Solages and all our partners who are standing strong in demanding that these ‘forever chemicals’ don’t become a never-ending story.” 

Senator Rob Rolison: “The natural beauty of the Hudson River is unrivaled and must be protected for future generations. Although I appreciate the EPA’s efforts concerning PCB remediation, more can be done to ensure that these toxic compounds do not migrate into Hudson Valley communities via drinking water and aquatic life. I am proud to stand with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and local stakeholders to call on the EPA to fulfill its mandate to keep our local waters safe and clean.”

Senator Michelle Hinchey: “GE spent decades dumping millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into our Hudson River, leaving our Environmental Justice and Hudson Valley communities to pick up the pieces. There is no justification for allowing a billion-dollar company to pollute our Hudson River and evade accountability. We are calling on the EPA to hold GE fully responsible for cleaning up the remaining PCBs and restoring the health of our majestic Hudson River. In its upcoming five-year review, the EPA must unequivocally declare a ‘not protective’ determination.”

Senator Cordelle Cleare: “All New Yorkers deserve a Hudson River that is clean, pristine, and protected for all future generations. The western portion of my Senate District borders this essential waterway and, on behalf of our residents, we must ensure that the degradation wrought by PCBs is cleaned up to the highest standards by those who perpetrated this crisis in the first place.”

Additional quotes:

“EPA’s data confirm that the PCBs General Electric discharged are still found at dangerous levels throughout the Hudson River ecosystem. Without additional cleanup, General Electric’s toxic pollution will continue to be absorbed by plants and ingested by wildlife. People living, working, and playing near the Hudson River will continue to face negative health impacts for decades to come,” said Tracy Brown, President of Riverkeeper. “The EPA has an ethical obligation to make a ‘not protective’ determination in the current five-year review to protect the health of the Hudson and our communities.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must act in the best interest of “protection” for human and ecological health; therefore, the EPA needs to declare a non-protective determination in their upcoming five-year review of the Hudson River’s PCB Superfund site. The data is clear that the remedies applied to PCB clean-up have not met the success targets originally projected. The EPA needs to continue to hold General Electric accountable for the lasting legacy of harm caused by the Hudson River PCB contamination,” said David Toman, Executive Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

“As the former EPA Region 2 Administrator, I was able to bring EPA and DEC staff together during the second five-year review to jointly assess thousands of post-dredge sediment samples taken from the Upper Hudson. Based on this joint analysis, EPA staff were compelled to acknowledge that the remedy was not on track and that more data was needed to determine if its mitigation efforts would ultimately be protective of public health and the environment,” said Pete Lopez, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Science at Scenic Hudson. “Alarmingly, the data collected for this third five-year review reveals that EPA’s efforts are even more off target than before. The agency must conclude that the remedy is not protective and step back to determine how it can put the river on the path to real recovery in our lifetime.”

“From the headwaters of the Adirondacks to the harbor of New York, New Yorkers for generations recreationally and for subsistence enjoyed waters and fish from this unique heritage river. With the passage of the Clean Water Act and cutting-edge science, we know that deadly Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) discharged by General Electric have placed Hudson River communities at significant risk,” said Aaron Mair with the Arbor Hill Development Corporation. “EPA has been charged, using science, with overseeing General Electric’s Hudson River clean-up and reduction of PCB contamination. That effort is currently failing. The EPA must now act to enforce more of its dredging remedies to protect Hudson River Valley communities.”

“It is clear from the most recent sampling and analysis that GE’s alleged cleanup of the Hudson River is not adequately protective of human health or the environment. The river remains significantly contaminated with PCBs and thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom represent immigrant, low-income and minority communities, regularly eat the fish they catch from the Hudson for sustenance, despite the health advisories. People simply trust long-standing traditions over nuanced warnings, and barring citizens from eating fish does not represent the kind of justice Hudson River communities need. Sierra Club applauds New York’s legislative leaders for recognizing that true justice requires the EPA to fund and implement a meaningful clean-up of PCBs in the river,” said Roger Downs, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Media contact:

Riverkeeper: Lewis Kendall
914-478-4501 ext. 238

Clearwater: Amber Stewart
845-265-8080 ext. 7108

Scenic Hudson: Carli Fraccarolli
845-372-5615 ext. 139

About BPHA:

The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus is dedicated to advocating for environmental justice, equity, and empowerment for communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and pollution. The 77-member body of state legislators representing a quarter of residents across the State of New York from Long Island, the metro New York City area, and upstate.

About Friends of a Clean Hudson:

The Friends of a Clean Hudson (FOCH) is a coalition of national, state, and regional organizations fighting for the restoration of the Hudson River through the aggressive removal of PCB-contaminated sediments that includes Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, Inc., and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater with Appalachian Mountain Club, Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, Coast Alliance, Environmental Advocates, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Public Interest Research Group, New York Rivers United, and Sierra Club.