SARATOGA SPRINGS — The state Department of Environmental Conservation made it clear Tuesday that it believes fish in the Hudson River, below where dredging of PCBs occurred, will not recover without more cleanup.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not ready to agree.
Fish have been a sticking point between the General Electric Co., the EPA and the DEC, and the public got a visual representation of where their differences lie on Tuesday.
The discussion was part of the latest Community Advisory Group meeting for the Hudson River PCB Superfund Site, held at the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Conference Center.
The EPA announced in April that it considered GE’s $1.7 billion dredging project of the Upper Hudson River complete, but it would not issue a decision on whether the dredging worked.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had mixed messages Thursday about the cleanup of the Hudson River Superfund site.
Pete Lopez, EPA’s Region 2 administrator, emphasized that the announcement did not mean GE was “off the hook,” and the EPA could order GE to dredge again. That didn’t stop Gov. Andrew Cuomo from announcing the state would sue the EPA.
One of the ways EPA and DEC are looking at whether the Hudson River is healing from the pollution of 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls dumped over decades in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward is by looking at concentrations of the pollutant in fish.
Kevin Farrar, a remediation specialist with the DEC, presented the state’s findings.
He explained that GE collects five species of fish from 14 locations between Fort Edward and Stillwater. While PCB concentrations have declined over the last several years, they appear to be leveling off for some, and in rare instances, increasing.
This has led the DEC to conclude that “further remediation of contaminated sediments in the Upper Hudson will be required” in order to protect human health and the environment.
The EPA, however, feels more data is needed before making that decision.
Althea Mullarkey, of the environmental group Scenic Hudson, asked the DEC and EPA to specifically explain what the disagreement was.
Ed Garvey, an environmental consultant for the EPA, said EPA is concerned about the uncertainty of the data. But the most concrete difference the audience could see was in a graph.
DEC is considering the PCB concentrations in fish collected the first few years after dredging, while EPA is not. Therefore, the declining trend of PCB concentrations appears more uncertain, when you take out the dredging years.
Garvey said the EPA is not willing to include those two or three years, as it believes they are "artifacts" of the dredging. He showed the shrinking trend line using his arms. He showed the steeper slope of data points the DEC is looking at, versus the more gradual slope the EPA is considering.
“It’s a difference in professional judgment,” Farrar said. “If I were EPA, I might say it will take eight years or more to confirm (the data), but I would not say I could not see the trend.”
Farrar, who is retiring in a few months after working with the DEC for decades, said he and Garvey have a good working relationship and were arguing over the data right up to the start of the meeting.
Gary Klawinski, director of the EPA’s Hudson River Field Office, said the EPA appreciates the points Farrar has made over the years.
Many advisory group members thanked Farrar for his service and knowledge and applauded him, as it was his last advisory group meeting.
Toward the end of the meeting, advisory group members said they felt it was important that a representative from GE attend the next meeting, which is still to be determined. A representative from GE has not been present during the last two Community Advisory Group meetings.