The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that next week the Hudson River dredging will conclude for the year. Dredging is expected to continue in spring 2015.
To date, about 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been removed. In 2014 approximately 575,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment were dredged from the bottom of the river, exceeding the annual goal of 350,000 cubic yards.
Dredging will resume next spring when the Champlain Canal reopens for the season. The remaining dredge areas are expected to be completed next year. Habitat planting and reconstruction will continue in 2016.
The historic EPA-mandated cleanup, which began in 2009, targets approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson River between Fort Edward and Troy, New York. The dredging project employs about 350 people each year. More than 280 local area contractors, subcontractors, vendors and suppliers have provided goods or services related to Hudson River dredging.
“It’s exciting to say that we’re approaching the finish line for this historic cleanup,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “We’re already seeing how the cleanup is changing the outlook for Hudson River communities that have been burdened with a toxic legacy for decades.”
For nearly thirty years, ending in the late 1970’s, an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were discharged into the Hudson River from two General Electric Co. capacitor manufacturing plants located in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York.
PCBs are potentially cancer-causing chemicals that persist in the environment and can affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. GE is conducting the cleanup work with EPA oversight under an agreement with the agency. According to GE, the company has invested more than $1 billion on the cleanup project to date.
Over the next several weeks, clean sand and gravel will be placed over previously dredged areas. The dredged material remaining at GE’s dewatering and processing facility in Fort Edward will be shipped by train to permitted out-of-state disposal facilities by the end of the year.
During dredging, water quality is monitored for compliance with the federal standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2014, all tests showed the water measured at Waterford and Troy, New York, the farthest downstream monitoring locations in the Upper Hudson River, met the standard.
The limits set for the amount of dredged sediment that can be transported downstream were also met. Additional monitoring is conducted as needed during dredging operations to limit “quality of life” impacts on surrounding communities. Air monitors are placed near dredging operations and around the processing facility while work is underway.
The EPA also set a requirement for the amount of capping that is allowed to isolate remaining PCBs on the river bottom. The requirement that capping not exceed 11% of the total project area continued to be met in 2014 with about 7% of the area being capped, not counting those areas where capping is unavoidable.
Over the winter months, the EPA will be reviewing and approving 2015 technical dredging plans. Several logistically challenging areas remain to be dredged next year, including those near dams and shallow areas around islands. Dredging will also continue in a two-mile section of river near Fort Miller that is inaccessible by boat, located between the Thompson Island Dam and Fort Miller Dam.
In this section of river, a trans-loading station was constructed on the east shoreline to transfer dredged material into barges located in the Champlain Canal. The trans-loading station will be shut down during the off-season and will resume operations when dredging starts in in the spring.
In early October the EPA announced that GE has agreed to conduct a comprehensive study of contamination in the shoreline areas of the upper Hudson River that are subject to flooding, called floodplains. Under the agreement GE will investigate the PCB contamination in a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River floodplain from Hudson Falls to Troy, New York and will develop cleanup options. The estimated value of this investigation work is $20.5 million.