U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck was joined by Congressional Representative Paul Tonko, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Deputy Commissioner Eugene Leff and Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia on the shore of the Hudson River to mark the third season of dredging to remove PCB-contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the river between Fort Edward and Troy, New York.
From the site of a former junkyard in Troy currently slated for cleanup and redevelopment, the officials noted progress on the federal Superfund cleanup of the Hudson River and efforts to restore properties along its shorelines. The group also toured the Mercury Refining Superfund site, a former mercury reclamation facility in the towns of Colonie and Guilderland.
The Superfund cleanups of the Hudson River and Mercury Refining sites are being paid for by the companies responsible for the contamination. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. When sites are placed on the Superfund list, the EPA looks for parties responsible for the pollution and requires them to pay for the cleanups. Cleanups are funded by taxpayer dollars when the responsible parties cannot be found or are not financially viable. These cleanups also produce jobs, with the Hudson River Superfund project creating an estimated 500 jobs. In 2011, Superfund cleanups supported an estimated 1800 jobs across New York State.
“Superfund cleanups are pivotal for protecting public health and the environment,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The Hudson River PCB cleanup is accomplishing just that, while also creating 500 new jobs. This project illustrates the many benefits of the EPA’s Superfund program.”
“The combined efforts of DEC and EPA have resulted in significant improvements at contaminated sites in the Capital Region,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “From the dredging of the Hudson River to cleaning up former manufactured gas production facilities, the cooperative efforts of both agencies have resulted in a better environment and increased economic opportunities for the area. DEC looks forward to accomplishing future environmental wins in its partnership with EPA.”
Over a 30-year period, ending in the late 1970’s, at least 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were discharged into the Hudson River from two GE capacitor manufacturing plants located in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, NY. Earlier this month, dredging of the Hudson River began south of the village of Fort Edward and will continue approximately three miles downriver through the area of Griffin Island. The dredging is targeted to remove 350,000 cubic yards this year. The second phase of the historic Hudson River dredging project began in 2011 and targets 2.4 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment. In 2011, about 363,000 cubic yards were removed from a one and one-half mile section of river, while meeting the EPA’s strict limits for re-suspended sediment and the amount of area allowed to be capped. The EPA is overseeing the dredging project that is being conducted by General Electric under the terms of a 2006 legal agreement. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is supporting the EPA’s oversight of the cleanup. The entire second phase of the project is expected to take another four to six years to complete.
PCBs build up in the food chain and accumulate in the fatty tissue of fish and mammals. The primary health risk to people is from eating contaminated fish. PCBs are likely cancer-causing chemicals and can cause neurological damage, especially in children.
Anglers should consider that some fish species contain chemicals that may be harmful to people’s health and make informed decisions by consulting fish consumption advisories for waters such as the Hudson where chemical contamination may be a concern. In some areas of the Hudson River, fish should not be consumed at all.
The first site on today’s tour was once home to a junkyard and auto repair shops. A former manufactured gas production facility located nearby also used a right-of-way area adjacent to the scrapyard as disposal location for its purifier waste. That facility and the right-of-way are being cleaned up through New York State’s Superfund program under a Consent Order between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the responsible party, National Grid. The New York State Department of State has provided a $1 million grant to the city of Troy to construct a boat launch and restore a portion of the site.
On the second leg of yesterday’s tour, the federal and local officials visited the Mercury Refining Superfund site, which used an industrial oven to recover mercury from batteries, thermometers, pressure regulators and dental amalgams. The recovered mercury was sold by the Mercury Refining Company from the mid 1950s to 1998. Prior to 1980, Mercury Refining disposed of waste contaminated with mercury over an embankment between an old process building and the railroad tracks to the south of the property, and mercury-contaminated rainwater drained off the site into the unnamed tributary to the creek. Mercury is an extremely toxic metal that can cause serious health problems, especially in children. Exposure to mercury can harm the heart, kidneys, lungs, immune and nervous systems.
The EPA has finalized a cleanup plan for the site that will address soil, sediment and ground water that is extensively contaminated with mercury and has overseen study and design work that is needed before the cleanup can begin. That work is expected to be completed by the spring of 2013.
Under the cleanup plan for the Mercury Refining site, contaminated soil at the surface and more easily accessible to people will be excavated and taken off-site. Contaminated soil that is deeper will be treated using a solidification and stabilization technology, which will also stabilize contaminated ground water. This method treats the contaminated soil and ground water by locking the mercury in a mixture of portland cement and another agent, preventing it from moving into the surrounding soil and ground water. In addition, the cleanup plan calls for the removal of contaminated sediment from a tributary to Patroon Creek, which receives rainwater runoff from the Mercury Refining property. Water will be removed from the excavated creek sediment and disposed of at an off-site landfill. EPA is finalizing a settlement with responsible parties for the cleanup of the site.
Dredging Today Staff, May 23, 2012; Image: hudsondredging