USA: GE Must Expand Hudson River Dredging, Study Says

GE Must Expand Hudson River Dredging, Study Says

As General Electric wraps up its Hudson River dredging project for the year, a report that shows the process is effectively removing toxic PCB pollution and highlights the need to expand the scope when it resumes next year in order to capture large pockets of contamination that are currently not slated for cleanup.

As GE prepares to pull its dredging equipment out of the water for the winter, an EPA announcement earlier this week stated that the corporation has made significant progress in cleaning up toxic PCB chemicals in a portion of the Hudson River, after dumping the pollution decades ago. However, this finding actually underscores the need to expand the scope of the cleanup when it resumes next year to incorporate significant areas of highly polluted riverbed not currently in the planned dredging areas.

In 2013, the project enters a phase of less thorough, more confined removal of PCBs, so critical planning would have to happen this winter to enhance the initiative and ensure that large amounts of toxins are not left behind. For these reasons, Clearwater, Riverkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council and Scenic Hudson, along with community leaders and businesses, are urging GE not to miss this opportunity and are calling for a smart project expansion that would capture this missed pollution.

Thus far, GE has limited its participation in the cleanup to the areas covered by the original cleanup plan despite reports the very high-level PCB sediments left behind will delay or forestall the river’s recovery. Environmental and community groups are calling on the corporation to broaden the good work it has begun in the Hudson while it’s still in the water dredging. Doing so while all of the cleanup infrastructure is in place, is the most efficient and logical way to address a substantial pollution hazard.

Details of benefits from an improved cleanup

Given the project’s rapid progress thus far, GE can likely make the modifications necessary to clean up additional pollution and still reach its expected completion date.

A more complete removal of PCB-laced sediment would secure the public health and allow the river’s natural resources to heal decades sooner. In a formal review of the cleanup project this year, EPA acknowledged that, in portions of the river, the current dredging plans will reduce PCB levels only about half as much as originally expected, and that the cleanup’s goals of protecting human health and the environment “could be achieved more quickly…if additional dredging…were to be carried out.

But PCBs left behind will continue to permeate wildlife habitats and the bodies of fish, birds and other river creatures—imposing a continued closure of the river’s commercial fishing industries and catch-and- release health warnings for every species of sport and edible fish in a 200-mile stretch of the river.

The cleanup area also affects a vital shipping corridor that for decades has been impossible to dig out for deep-draft shipping due to GE’s pollution. Several waterfront communities and organizations—including a group of all of the local elected leaders in a three-county area—are asking the EPA and GE to include removal of contaminated sediment in the navigation channel as part of the ongoing cleanup. Under the current remediation design, navigability will not be restored and opportunities for major economic revitalization will stall or disappear.

If the shipping channel is opened, economically hurting communities in the cleanup area could be magnets for new investments that have been projected to create up to 4,000 jobs and $150 million in wages. For example, a recently proposed major barge terminal is on hold due to the lack of a navigable shipping channel. Also, huge opportunities to grow the region’s strong agricultural economy by shipping products to New York City’s network of greenmarkets are being held back. These and other job-creating initiatives can’t proceed without including navigational dredging in future seasons of dredging.

Source: riverkeeper, November 20, 2012; Image: hudsondredging