There have been precious few issues that have caused such a local emotional reaction as the 12-year debate on whether General Electric should dredge PCBs from the Hudson River.
It was clear disagreement over what was the best for the river and the people who live near it, with competing science supporting competing viewpoints.
Was it better to let the carcinogens lie buried in the muck, or scoop them up and risk re-suspension in the waters and further contamination downstream?
We thought that was all behind us.
Sadly, the debate continues.
With the Environmental Protection Agency on the brink of releasing GE from any further responsibility, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is screaming in full throat – “Not so fast.”
The state says new data gathered by the DEC reveals dredging didn’t work as well as was anticipated by the EPA and more precision dredging is needed before GE is released from its obligation.
The DEC took 1,400 samples from the river and is analyzing the data now, with a report due in January or February.
Considering the work is already done by the DEC, we see no reason why the EPA should not wait on that report to see if anything more needs to be done.
What is especially sad to report – but not surprising – is that the health of the river may have become a political football. We worry that a Republican administration in Washington is at odds with a Democratic administration in Albany, instead of both sides working for the good of our region.
We hope that is not the case, but politics seems to have infected every other part of our society.
The undisputed fact is GE dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river before the health risks were known. The PCBs eventually contaminated a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River.
What the EPA asked for with the cleanup that began in 2009 was an almost impossible task of putting the genie back into the bottle. Those greasy little PCBs float and drift and are tough to isolate. And sadly, they appear to still be there in force.
Is the Hudson River better than it was before?
But the EPA expected things to be improving much faster than they have.
We’re not sure anyone would be in favor of another mass dredging project. We know we’re not—we opposed the first one as well. We believe if it didn’t work as well as expected the first time around, it is difficult to imagine it working any better the second time, although we might be persuaded that a smaller targeted dredging could do a significant amount of good.
That said, this might be an opportunity for General Electric to do the right thing.
Since the dredging project was completed, GE has closed down its factories in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward and taken apart the dewatering plant.
Those properties have been revalued and cost those communities significant tax revenues, which will cause provide hardships for residents.
We know GE didn’t know that PCBs were bad when they were dumping them in the river, but they did do it. And since the cleanup did not work as well as was expected, they should not be allowed to just walk away.
We’re not sure if they should ever be off the hook.
They forever changed the landscape of river communities along the Hudson River, especially in places like Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, and who knows the impact on the health of residents.
GE is lucky. It has become one of the richest companies in the world and billions of dollars hardly matter to its bottom line.
GE should voluntarily – yes, we are dreamers – pay annual stipends to these communities to help them to move forward, reinvent themselves and educate their children.
If not, perhaps a deal can be struck that forces them to contribute funds in exchange for no more dredging.
It might be the only way to make lemonade out of a sour situation that never seems to end.