NY State Study Says Hudson River PCB Cleanup Not Complete

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has released a study by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation showing General Electric’s cleanup of PCB contamination in the upper Hudson River is incomplete and not protective of public health and the environment.

New York State is demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not issue a Certificate of Completion to GE, which would end its responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund site, as PCB – or polychlorinated biphenyls — levels in fish are above EPA’s own acceptable risk range.

DEC is also calling on EPA to direct GE to collect additional data to determine if another round of sediment remediation is needed. In addition, EPA must compel GE to fund a full investigation of the lower Hudson, where PCB concentrations in fish have not recovered. If GE refuses, EPA should fund this necessary work.

The health of the Hudson River estuary and the vitality of the communities along its banks are at stake and the EPA must not let GE off the hook for a job that is not done,” Governor Cuomo said. “The latest sampling data confirms the overwhelming body of evidence that PCB levels remain unacceptably high in both the riverbed and in fish. If the EPA issues the Certificate of Completion for this cleanup, New York will take any action necessary to hold them accountable and demand they fulfill their obligation to restore our treasured river.

At the Governor’s direction, DEC launched a sampling effort in the summer of 2017 to fully assess the nature and extent of contamination left behind after six years of dredging to remove PCBs, which was required by EPA in order to meet the goals of a 2002 Record of Decision (ROD).

The last study included both surface sediment and fish samples. The State also submitted comments rejecting the EPA’s Five-Year Review and its conclusion that the dredging sufficiently remediated the Hudson River to a level that would be protective of public health and the environment.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “EPA has a legal and moral obligation to complete the work they started and direct GE to meet the cleanup goals set when the dredging remedy was selected. Anything less is unacceptable, and New York is prepared to use all legal options to ensure EPA and GE finish the job and protect public health, the Hudson River environment, and the communities that depend on a clean and healthy river.

In the absence of federal leadership, DEC conducted a comprehensive analysis to collect hundreds of new sediment samples, confirming that elevated levels of PCBs remain in the surface sediment of the Hudson River.

DEC sampled nearly 1,700 locations—in many areas, the average PCB concentrations exceed the 1 part per million cleanup level typically used by DEC for sediment cleanup projects.

Overall, the average sediment PCB concentration varied significantly between different reaches of river, indicating there are still certain areas in the upper Hudson where PCB contaminated sediments remain.

DEC also collected nearly 230 fish samples and also evaluated fish data generated by the EPA and GE during and after the dredging project, finding that fish PCB concentrations are not recovering at the rate anticipated by EPA.

To determine how much additional sediment cleanup is necessary to achieve the cleanup objectives in the ROD, EPA must direct GE to collect additional data to understand how to successfully meet the goals set in the ROD, officials said.

In addition, DEC is calling on EPA to compel GE to fund a full investigation of the lower Hudson or EPA should fund the work. EPA admits that dredging work in the upper Hudson will have little to no beneficial impact in the lower Hudson.

In its Five-Year Review, EPA stated that human and environmental risks from PCBs in the lower Hudson remain unacceptable and are not expected by EPA to improve because of the work in the upper Hudson.

DEC and environmental organizations have repeatedly rejected the findings of EPA’s Five-Year Review Report on the Hudson River cleanup remedy.


Photo: Photo courtesy of EPA