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Group to convene on PCB dredging

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Environmentalists will watch closely this week as a committee of engineers forms in Saratoga Springs to review the first year of the Hudson River dredging project.

The two-day meeting, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at Saratoga Spa State Park, will include presentations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and General Electric Co. on the results of the first year of the six-year project to remove chemically tainted sediment from the river.

The goal of the dredging project is to remove river sediment that contains polychlorinated biphenyls, a chemical discharged by GE at its Fort Edward and Hudson Falls plants until 1976.

The cleanup started last May after years of delays, and it is being overseen by the EPA. General Electric is paying for the $780 million project, which is based in Fort Edward.

Federal officials and GE will also give presentations on the amount of PCBs escaping into the air or floating downstream, a phenomenon called "resuspension."

It is the latter topic in which observers like Manna Jo Greene are interested.

"There seemed to be a lot of questions about that," said Greene, the environmental director for Hudson River Clearwater, a Poughkeepsie-based environmental watchdog group. "We are very concerned also about the frequency with which the air emissions occurred and the amount of PCBs in the water."

The committee, composed of five engineers from around the country, will meet throughout the year to discuss the cleanup. In August, the committee is expected to release its study and a set of recommendations on how the rest of the project should proceed.

"It was a much more difficult cleanup than they predicted with the extra debris and high amount of rainfall," Greene said. "We just really want to also be sure that the (PCB) sampling being done is adequate to protect the river, the air and the workers and people in the nearby communities from exposure."

In draft reports issued in January, both the company and the federal government said the amount of PCBs escaping into the surrounding area was higher than they expected.

The project was halted several times in 2009 after high levels of PCBs were recorded at different points in the river.

Officials at the EPA also noted a slowdown in productivity and difficulty in unloading PCB-contaminated material at the dewatering facility, which squeezes and separates sediment from the river water.

Officials at both the company and the EPA noted in their reports that higher-than-expected levels of PCBs were found in the river, especially around Rogers Island.

"All the estimates have underestimated significantly the contaminates in the river," said David Carpenter, a professor of environmental science at the University at Albany. "The real question is, what's EPA going to do about this, what's GE going to do about this? Is the current plan for dredging going to be sufficient?"

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