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Residents sound off on second phase of Hudson River dredging

Residents sound off on second phase of Hudson River dredging

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FORT EDWARD -- Robert Michaels wanted to know why General Electric Co. is wasting its time dredging PCBs out of the Hudson River.

As the president of the RAM TRAC Corp., a health risk management company in Schenectady, Michaels distributed a chart based on GE's latest numbers to more than 40 residents in attendance at the community informational meeting on the second phase of the Upper Hudson River Dredging Project that GE held at the Fort Edward Firehouse on Thursday night.

The chart showed that there will be no benefit from dredging until 2057 if 5 percent of the polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, are released from the sediment - or resuspended - back into the river.

"You break even with doing absolutely nothing in 46 years," he said.

But David King, the Environmental Protection Agency's director of the Hudson River dredging project, said PCBs don't degrade.

"The concept that nature will take care if itself doesn't apply," he said.

The dredging project was on hiatus for 2010 while a seven-member panel of scientists reviewed the results of the first phase, and ultimately determined that the resuspension of PCBs was an issue.

The project will resume in May with the second phase, which is expected to run through November.

John Haggard, GE's dredging project manager, said the peer review was not meant to make any recommendation about whether the project should move forward, but rather recommended how best to conduct the second phase of dredging if the project was to continue.

"They did say we need to better understand what happens with materials that are resuspended," he said.

This time around, Haggard said GE will be monitoring the river bottom from the point of dredging to "way downstream," he said.

Approximately 525,000 tons of sediment is expected to be dredged from a 40-mile stretch of river bottom from Fort Edward to Troy during the second phase of the project.

GE said the EPA created new standards for the second phase, which stipulate two dredge passes at a time in one location, meaning the bucket is only allowed to go down into the water, dig up sediment from the bottom and pull it out of the river twice.

EPA's standards also say that no more than 2 percent of the total amount of PCBs excavated from the river's bottom will be allowed to travel down the river.

But Rose Henderson was more concerned about PCBs in the air than in the water.

Haggard assured her that GE was following EPA air emission standards and said only a "small percentage" was released into the air during the first phase of the project.

"I'm right behind where you're dredging and when it's hot, you can smell the PCBs. Now, don't tell me it's a small percentage," said Henderson, 84, who lives along Route 4.

"It is a small percentage," Haggard said again. "What you're smelling is not PCBs."

For more information about the Hudson River dredging project, visit GE's website at www.hudsondredging.com or call GE at 792-4087 or (888) 596-3655.

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