General Electric Co.’s dredging of the Hudson River injured natural resources including the loss of 50 million freshwater mussels, according to a report released on Friday from the Hudson River Trustees.
The report was part of a natural resource assessment of GE’s project to remove polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from the Hudson River.
Other impacts were the destruction of 30 acres of wetlands that serve as buffers against flooding; dredging 133 acres of aquatic vegetation that serve as food and shelter for wildlife; and removal of more than 3,000 trees, according to a news release.
The trustees are represented by the Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Meagan Racey said the report is one part of a larger assessment of impacts to the natural resources by dredging, as well as contamination of surface water and groundwater.
The trustees have issued reports about impacts to groundwater, surface water, recreational fishing, and birds, fish and other wildlife.
Racey said the study identified nine kinds of freshwater mussels.
“Freshwater mussels are essentially nature’s equivalent of a water filter,” she said.
Each individual mussel can filter up to 11 liters of river water per day, according to Racey.
“Fifty million would be able to filter over 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” she said.
In addition, she said the mussels help stabilize the sediment on the river bottom and they serve as an important source of food for fish and wildlife.
Racey said the wetlands serve as habitat for fish, frogs, birds and they also act as buffers for flooding.
Aquatic vegetation also absorbs nutrients and reduces erosion, according to Racey.
GE did some remediation including constructing new wetlands through placing backfill material, seeding and putting in new vegetation beds. However, she said it has not worked effectively to restore the environment.
“Monitoring has indicated that many of these resources are not recovering as planned and they’ll take really decades to reach pre-dredging conditions,” she said.
Racey said the next step is to quantify injuries and identify potential restoration. Work will continue to identify any other impacts.
Federal law says that the public should be compensated when the cleanup of hazardous substances in the environment causes natural resource injury and that is what the trustees are trying to do.
For examples, mussels have been raised in captivity and returned to the wild in the past, according to Racey.
“That could be another restoration option for us,” she said.
In response to the report, GE spokesman Mark Behan said the company completed the dredging according to plans.
“GE worked closely with the U.S. EPA and other federal and state agencies, and carefully followed the plans they approved, to ensure the successful completion of the Hudson River dredging project,” he said in an email.
“As dredging was completed, GE placed clean, locally sourced fill across the river bottom and planted 1.4 million new plants to restore wildlife habitat in dredged areas,” Behan stated. “GE agrees with EPA’s conclusion that the project was a ‘historic achievement for the recovery of the Hudson River.’”