FORT EDWARD -- Officials overseeing the project to remove PCB-laden muck from the Hudson River confirmed Thursday what longtime observers of the cleanup feared: the scope of the contamination is larger than believed.
A draft report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the first year of the cleanup was hindered by underwater debris and delays at the sediment processing facility. It was also marked by higher-than-expected levels of PCB contamination.
In its draft report also released Thursday, General Electric Co. found that new productivity guidelines were needed to move the project forward so it can be completed on time.
"The purpose of the report is to ensure the project is more effective and it meets the goals EPA has established," said Mark Behan, of Behan Communications and a spokesman for GE. "We concluded that from the 18,000 data samples and our experience performing the dredging that some practical adjustments are necessary in the standards EPA established."
GE's report found that the migration of PCBs was more frequent than believed.
The company's report doesn't make specific recommendations and Behan said that aspect will be left up to a peer-review panel of experts who will study both reports.
Despite the delays, federal officials are confident the project will finish by 2015, its expected end date.
"If EPA's recommendations are implemented, we believe the project will still conclude in the six-year time frame," said agency spokeswoman Kristen Skopeck.
Both the agency and General Electric will exchange reports before submitting their final studies on the first year of the project.
Dredging crews removed 300,000 cubic yards of river sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, which were discharged by General Electric until 1976. Federal officials planned to dredge 265,000 cubic yards in the first year.
It remains unclear how much contaminated material remains in river, according to the EPA report. General Electric's report found that as much as six to eight times the amount of PCB-laden sediment will need to be removed in the next phase of the cleanup.
Ten out of the 18 areas slated for dredging work on the river were actually cleaned up. The additional eight units will be added to the second phase of the project.
"An estimate of the total volume of sediment likely to be removed from the river during Phase 2 is needed to fully evaluate the ability of the dredging and sediment processing design to remove, dewater, and dispose of the material," according to the report.
The long-delayed project started on May 15 and wrapped up the first stage of the cleanup in October. The project's base is a sprawling 110-acre facility on the Champlain Canal in Fort Edward and has offices for the local EPA staff in Hudson Falls.
The cleanup is on hiatus for one year and is expected to resume in 2011.
It wasn't until the project was actually under way did engineers realize how much contamination was beneath the water, said EPA spokeswoman Kristen Skopeck.
"Before we were actually in the river, we were basing it off theory," Skopeck said. "Once we did a dredge season, we have first-hand knowledge."
Skopeck said the draft's findings contradicted claims made by critics and opponents of the cleanup, namely that the river would either wash away or bury the PCB contamination.
"The amount of PCBs hasn't declined," she said. "They haven't been buried, they haven't broken down."
The government's draft report is available on the agency's Web site that tracks the project's progress, hudsondredgingdata.com.
GE's report can be found at its own Web site, hudsonriverdredging.com.
The data compiled by both reports is expected to be considered by a peer-review panel of experts assessing the effectiveness of the first year of the project, which officials at both General Electric and the federal government have always maintained is an experimental phase.
The final study is due to be released in February. Observers of the project were not shocked by the high level of contamination.
"For anyone who follows the project, it shouldn't be a great surprise to anybody," said David Carpenter, a professor of Environmental Sciences at the University at Albany.
Still, the breadth of the contamination is incredible, he said.
"It's just mind boggling," Carpenter said. "It's just mind boggling."