ALBANY — State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos recently penned a scathing letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stating he finds its assessment of the Hudson River PCB Superfund “unacceptable.”
In a May 31 document titled “Proposed Second Five Year Review Report for Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site” the EPA stated that dredging efforts to remove harmful PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) from the riverbed have not yet rendered the Hudson “protective of human health and the environment,” and will achieve long-term remediation goals more than 50 years from now without any further dredging.
The center of the debate focuses on a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River, just north of the Troy Dam, into which General Electric dumped more than a million pounds of toxic PCBs from 1947 to 1977. The company attempted to dredge the contaminated material from the river between 2009 and 2015, after being compelled by the EPA, which now appears to be taking steps to end the clean-up process.
Public advocates, state officials and residents in the communities along the 200-mile stretch downriver from the site, however, don’t believe the job is done.
“A remedy that fails to meet its goals for 55 years is not protective,” said Seggos. “[The] EPA has a legal and moral obligation to complete the work they started and meet the goals the agency set when the dredging remedy was selected. Anything less is unacceptable. As I promised one year ago, in the absence of leadership and responsible action by the EPA, Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and New York are stepping up to protect public health and the Hudson River environment.”
DEC has criticized EPA sampling efforts as dramatically insufficient and, at the direction of Cuomo, is nearing completion of its own independent investigation to determine how much PCB contamination remains in the river.
The state has rejected much of the EPA’s findings, saying its own research and analysis of existing information has revealed that unacceptable levels of PCBs remain in both river sediment and fish tissues, and has submitted detailed comments to EPA challenging the conclusions reached in the five-year report.
DEC and environmental organizations have repeatedly rejected EPA’s assessment of the Hudson River cleanup remedy. In a 2016 letter to the agency, Seggos questioned whether reduction targets of PCB levels in water and fish tissue could be achieved within the timeframes originally anticipated by EPA. In 2002, EPA predicted that dredging would allow for the relaxation of restrictions on fish consumption within ten years. This May, the agency amended that prediction, saying it is likely to take more than 50 years.
DEC is urging EPA to enforce the remedial goals set when the decision to compel remediation was made, which called for rapid reductions in fish PCB concentrations with goals to be met as soon as five years after the end of dredging. EPA used these targeted reductions in fish PCB concentrations to justify the need for the dredging remedy.
“Over 500 people and business leaders attended the public meetings held by EPA on its draft Five Year Review, and more than 1,000 have filed comments calling for additional cleanup of the Hudson so that the full potential of the river can be realized,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson. “We are hopeful EPA’s final report will acknowledge the true state of the river and lay the groundwork for its restoration as the foundation of the region’s health, economy and quality of life.”