Environmental groups and the state are calling on the General Electric Co. to undertake a larger cleanup effort on the Hudson River after sediment samples show some areas may have been recontaminated with PCBs.
Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper said there continue to be unremediated “hot spots,” too, that put human health and wildlife at risk, in a joint news release issued Monday.
But GE’s review and analysis of the sediment data tells a different story, one that shows the cleanup of the river has worked.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has delayed issuing a potential finished stamp on the Superfund cleanup while it reviews the latest data, which it was expected to decide in January.
Remy Hennet, a scientist and expert on contaminated sites hired by Scenic Hudson, evaluated samples the state Department of Environmental Conservation collected in 2017. Hennet said dredged areas of the Hudson River should not have appreciable PCB concentrations because during the Superfund cleanup process, clean material was backfilled in.
But the samples indicate that the dredged locations have “significantly elevated” levels of PCBs, an organic compound and probable human carcinogen that was once used in industrial products.
“The only reasonable conclusion is that the dredged areas have been recontaminated by PCB-laden sediment from non-dredged areas located nearby,” Hennet said in a news release.
The environmental organizations also said the analysis showed contamination near Schuylerville and Mechanicville.
Members of the Superfund site’s community advisory group met on Nov. 8 to discuss the sediment sampling, but the only update at that time from Gary Klawinski, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Hudson River Field Office, was that the EPA, GE and DEC were continuing discussion on the sediment samples “to reach a common understanding of the data.”
An EPA PowerPoint presentation at that meeting showed that GE collected 215 samples in the fall of 2016. DEC collected 1,162 samples in the summer of 2017. Klawinski also said samples are being collected from floodplains this year.
The DEC said Tuesday that PCBs remain in sediments of the Upper Hudson at varying amounts. Fish samples collected from DEC and GE also show a small rate of improvement, but the DEC added that the most recent fish PCB concentrations continue to be three times higher than the EPA-targeted concentrations to be reached five years after dredging, which is in 2020.
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said a more comprehensive cleanup is needed, based on Hennet’s findings.
“Unless — and until — that occurs, these carcinogens will continue to pose a health threat to people and wildlife who come into contact with the Hudson, and economic revitalization along a 150-mile stretch of the river will remain at a standstill,” Sullivan said in a release. “It would be outrageous if the EPA ignored these findings and issued General Electric a Certificate of Completion, effectively closing the door on further cleanup of the Upper Hudson.”
Mark Behan, president of Behan Communications and spokesman for GE, questioned the news release and said no study or report had been issued.
“The reason I raise the question is that GE carefully reviewed the New York state data, and our analysis is starkly at odds with the Scenic claims,” he said in an email Tuesday.
Behan pointed out that PCB levels in Upper Hudson River sediments declined as much as 92 percent after dredging. He also found 99.8 percent of samples where PCBs were detected in river sediments showed that concentrations were below the EPA’s level for dredging.
“The data show conclusively that the Hudson River dredging project is working as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and New York state projected,” he added. “Since the completion of dredging, PCB levels in water have dropped at every monitoring station along the Hudson. PCB levels in sediment and fish have declined as well. EPA has predicted these declines will continue over the next several years as the full benefits of dredging are realized.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos emphasized the state’s position that there’s not enough data and science to prove the cleanup protects public health and the environment.
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“DEC’s surface sediment sampling shows that the cleanup of the Hudson River is not complete,” he said in a statement. “DEC will continue to use all legal tools at our disposal to ensure EPA does not let GE off the hook and betray both the river and the communities that depend on it.”
Larisa Romanowksi, public affairs specialist with the EPA Region 2, said while the EPA was expecting to make a decision on the certificate of completion in January, it has hit the pause button to continue reviewing the sediment data with DEC.
“Our decision will come after exhaustive consultation and collaboration with NYSDEC,” she wrote Tuesday. “The intention of this pause was to ensure that we had the most detailed and robust understanding of the performance of the upper Hudson cleanup following dredging. With that said, we have worked with deliberate speed to look at sediment and fish data to ensure that we have the best possible measure of post-dredging conditions prior to issuance of the Five-Year Remedy Review and potential issuance of the Certification of Completion. Our timeline is focused on ensuring that we have done a thorough analysis with our state partners.”
The next community advisory group is planned for March, but a final date and location have not yet been released.
Invasive bug workshop scheduled
The hemlock woolly adelgid is a pest that destroys hemlock trees, one of the iconic conifers in the Adirondacks.
Charlotte Maimborg, a natural resources technician with the New York State Hemlock Initiative at Cornell University, will talk about the invasive bug, the importance of hemlock trees and how to identify an infestation in an upcoming talk.
It will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 at the state Department of Environmental Conservation office in Warrensburg, 232 Golf Course Road.
Maimborg will also talk about the initiative’s research into biological controls, and DEC staff will give a presentation about another invasive insect, the spotted lanternfly.
The talk is free and open to the public, but attendees must register. To do so, contact Dan Carusone at 518-668-4881 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harmful algal bloom monitoring
Monitoring for cyanobacteria, or harmful algal blooms, was a colossal effort on Lake Champlain this year.
The Lake Champlain Committee reported that it and volunteers collected data from 150 sites in the watershed and filled out more than 1,800 reports about water conditions over 19 weeks starting in mid-June.
Most of New York’s sample sites were clear this summer, except for a high alert at the Port Henry Champ Beach and Bulwagga Bay Beach in Moriah in mid-July.
The committee monitors the waters along with the Vermont Department of Health and New York Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation.
Volunteers interested in becoming a monitor for the 2019 season can fill out a form online at lakechamplaincommittee.org.