EPA Orders Dredging of Hudson River

The EPA has orderd a massive dredging of the Hudson River to remove PCBs, a move that could cost the General Electric Co., generally thought to be responsible for the pollution, more than $500 million.

The Bush Administration is proceeding with a major cleanup of the Hudson River, a move which could cost General Electric - thought to be responsible for years of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) contamination in the river - in excess of $500 million. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has forwarded the Record of Decision (ROD) to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) for its review.

The ROD calls for dredging an estimated 2.65 million cubic yards from a 40-mile section of the river to remove approximately 150,000 pounds of PCBs. The PCBs were deposited over a 30-year period from two General Electric plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, N.Y., which manufactured electric capacitors.

EPA has ordered GE to pay for the dredging, which is one of the largest ever undertaken in the United States.

A 200-mile portion of the Hudson River was declared a Superfund site in 1984 because of the widespread PCB contamination. PCBs bio-accumulate in fish and pose potential cancer and other health risks to people who eat the fish.

"We are going ahead with this important cleanup," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said yesterday. "We will do so with a continuing open process that will involve all parties. The affected communities also will have the opportunity to comment on all siting issues."

Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been critical of the Bush Administration''s environmental policies, praised the decision.

"We know that GE tried its best to derail the cleanup plan and it appears they almost succeeded," said Frances Beinecke, NRDC executive director. "But despite GE''s ceaseless lobbying and the millions it spent to fight the cleanup, it appears that GE will now be held accountable.

"We thank EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman for doing the right thing and making the cleanup plan final. And we thank Governor Pataki and all those who encouraged Mrs. Whitman to stick to her guns," Beinecke concluded.

As announced in August, the cleanup plan will include several performance standards. Two standards - those for air quality and noise - are included in the ROD, consistent with state and federal law.

The rest of the performance standards, which will include resuspension and production rates during dredging, will be developed with public input and in consultation with the state and federal natural resource trustees. In addition, EPA will monitor PCB levels in fish and restoration of aquatic vegetation.

Because of the complexity of the scientific issues, these performance standards will be developed over approximately a 12-month period from the date of the signing of the ROD, during the first part of the design phase of the project.

The performance standards will be enforceable, based on objective environmental and scientific criteria. The purpose of the standards is to promote accountability and ensure that the cleanup meets the human and environmental protection objectives of the ROD.

"These enforceable performance standards, which will be based on objective environmental and scientific criteria, will promote accountability and ensure the cleanup meets the human and environmental protection objectives of the ROD," said Whitman.

Before these performance standards are finalized, EPA will ask an independent scientific peer review panel to evaluate them.

After the NYSDEC completes its three-week review and submits its comments, Region 2 will consider them and make appropriate changes to the ROD, which could be finalized in January.

Riverkeeper, an organization that was founded in the early 1980s to be a public advocate for the Hudson River, posted a statement on its Web site (www.riverkeeper.org) that says in part, "In making this decision, the EPA recognized that PCBs are dangerous to human health and the environment; that the Hudson River is not cleaning itself of the PCBs dumped into the Upper Hudson by the General Electric Company; and that PCB removal is necessary to allow the river to recover." The group says it supports the EPA decision but adds, "The battle is not over yet. GE''s teams of high-paid lobbyists and attorneys continue their efforts to gut this nation''s environmental laws and specifically, to get GE out of the mess it created on the Hudson."

If GE challenges EPA''s order to dredge the Hudson River, the agency could proceed with the cleanup and charge the company as much as triple the actual cost of the cleanup.

by Sandy Smith (ssmith@penton.com)

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