New data gathered by the Department of Environmental Conservation show that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are still heavily contaminating the Hudson River, the state says.
The news comes after a seven-year cleanup paid for by General Electric Co. decades after it dumped PCBs into the river.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on the brink of announcing that GE’s job is done, except for maintaining vegetation and continuing to pay for sampling.
But state officials have insisted the dredging did not do enough to clean the river. The state conducted its own study of the river this year after a dispute with EPA.
The state said EPA should take 1,800 samples to fully test the level of PCB contamination in the river. EPA intended to take 375 samples.
In the end, the state took more than 1,400 samples on its own. EPA agreed to take an additional 100 samples above the number it had previously planned to do.
DEC is still waiting for data on its sampling. The initial evaluation of every sample was completed less than two weeks ago. Now analysts must look closely at all of the data to determine any conclusions. The state plans to issue a report in January or February.
But one thing is clear, DEC officials said: The river is still sick. It is much more contaminated than EPA had expected it to be after dredging.
So the state urged EPA not to issue a certificate saying General Electric had completed the cleanup.
“It’s clear from the state’s ongoing research that EPA’s job is not done and they cannot declare that this remediation is complete,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “If the federal government fails New York, we will explore all legal options to challenge the EPA’s decision and ensure this river is not left to suffer the consequences of pollution for generations to come.”
He also sent a letter to EPA, detailing the preliminary results of the sampling.
In it, he wrote, “recent sampling by the state suggests that River Section 2 is two to three times more contaminated than EPA estimated it would be at the completion of the dredging remedy, and there are other areas of the Upper Hudson where levels of PCB left behind are well above 50 parts per million (ppm) at the surface, and likely higher levels just below the surface. If these levels of PCB were found on land they would be regulated under the Toxic Control Substance Act, and EPA would require that they be disposed of in a permitted hazardous waste landfill.”
Last week was the deadline to submit any arguments for or against a Certificate of Completion. While EPA officials have said for a year that the dredging is over, they have been studying the river before issuing the certificate.
EPA officials said Monday they would make a decision about the certificate by the end of the year. In the meantime, they will look at DEC’s data.
“EPA will carefully consider the recent letters from Commissioner Seggos and Attorney General Schneiderman in reaching a decision on GE’s request for the Certificate of Completion,” said EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski.
She noted that the certificate would confirm that GE had completed all actions required in a consent decree regarding the cleanup. The decree did not assume the river would be PCB-free at the end of the dredging.
Still, state officials said the river is much less clean than the decree intended, and that the eventual recovery will take much longer than expected. The ultimate goal in the decree — fish safe to eat — won’t be met for at least 55 years, according to current data, DEC officials said.
Also, some fish have such high PCB concentrations that DEC officials said it is a “near certainty” they will never recover as much as was ordered in the decree.
The state asked EPA to plan out “remedial” dredging in certain areas, based on the higher-than-expected PCB contamination results in data gathered during and after dredging.
“Much more PCB (than expected) was found in the river during both project design and project implementation, and the state has confirmed that more PCB was left behind than was intended when the remedy was selected,” Seggos wrote. “Despite persistent calls throughout the remediation from the state, NOAA and other stakeholders, EPA has never considered adjusting the remedial work to take the increases in known PCB mass into account. EPA has not provided any sound scientific basis for dismissing such consideration. EPA has an obligation to consider the science, and the new data that the state has collected, before making any determination about relieving GE of its liability for the ongoing contamination of the Hudson River.”
Seggos also called for EPA to begin investigating PCB contamination in the Lower Hudson River, south of the Troy dam. The 150-mile stretch of river has contaminated fish that aren’t getting better, he said.
“In light of the overwhelming evidence and data that the remedy is not protective of human health and the environment, EPA legally cannot certify the PCB remedy for the Upper Hudson River as complete,” he wrote. “EPA must instead move forward with gathering additional data and performing the evaluations necessary to determine how much further sediment removal is necessary to meet the ROD (Record of Decision) goals, ensure habitat reconstruction is performed properly, and at the same time move forward with the needed investigation work in the Lower Hudson. The state stands ready to work with and support EPA in accomplishing these tasks.”
General Electric disagreed with the state’s assessment and issued its own statement in response.
“GE successfully completed the Hudson River dredging project in 2015, having removed all of the PCBs that EPA targeted for removal, and having met all of our commitments to EPA and New York state,” said Mark Behan of Behan Communications, which was hired by GE to handle media coverage related to the PCBs issue.
Behan also noted that the state was involved in the entire cleanup.
“The state played an instrumental role in every major decision related to the dredging project and approved and oversaw the work,” he said in the statement. “The EPA’s latest report shows PCBs have already declined by more than 70 percent. EPA found the dredging remedy is functioning as intended and will protect human health and the environment. EPA is not recommending additional dredging.”