PCBs won’t dis­ap­pear any­time soon, reg­u­la­tors say

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle Hughes NYSNYS News

Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors pre­par­ing a re­port on PCB con­tam­i­na­tion of the Hudson River say the water­way won’t be free of the toxin any­time soon.

“I think it is fair to be say we will be do­ing five-year re­views for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” project di­rec­tor Gary Klaw­in­ski said dur­ing a U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency work­shop Wed­nes­day even­ing in sub­ur­ban Al­bany.

The meet­ing was held to provide the pub­lic with a sta­tus re­port of the largest Su­per­fund toxic waste cleanup in the na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the EPA, fiveyear sci­en­tific re­views are nec­es­sary when “re­me­dial ac­tion leaves haz­ardous sub­stances on the site at lev­els that do not al­low for un­lim­ited use and un­re­stricted ex­po­sure” to hu­man be­ings and wildlife. The next fiveyear re­port is due in Fe­bru­ary and will be fol­lowed by pub­lic com-

ment and a meet­ing be­fore a fi­nal re­port, sched­uled to be is­sued April 23, 2017.

“We don’t want peo­ple eat­ing the fish, but there’s only so much we can do re­lat­ing to that,” Klaw­in­ski said. He said the re­cent mul­ti­year dredg­ing project was in­tended to speed up the process of clean­ing the river and mak­ing the fish safe to eat, not to provide an im­me­di­ate and fi­nal so­lu­tion to the con­tam­i­na­tion.

He also said the re­cov­ery of the river is not likely to oc­cur uni­formly, with some sec­tions re­main­ing pol­luted.

“They took out 2.75 mil­lion cu­bic yards of PCBs, but that may not be enough to meet the goals and that is what the data is in­di­cat­ing,” said Abi­gail Jones, an at­tor­ney with the en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy group River­keeper who par­tic­i­pated in the fo­rum.

“The rem­edy is not work­ing as they thought it was, and a large part of it has to do with the amount of con­tam­i­na­tion that was in the river. [That was] com­pletely un­der­es­ti­mated,” said Althea Mullarkey of Scenic Hudson, an­other en­vi­ron­men­tal group. “If there’s a con­nec­tion be­tween the con­tam­i­na­tion in the sed­i­ment and the con­tam­i­na­tion in the water and the fish, which is the pri­mary ex­po­sure path­way for hu­mans, you’re leaving a lot of con­tam­i­na­tion be­hind.”

Mullarkey said that, de­spite the ex­ten­sive dredg­ing, “eco­log­i­cal risks are the same as they were 15 years ago and hu­man risks are the same as they were. It doesn’t mean they have to run right out and dredge again, but they have to ac­knowl­edge it.”

An es­ti­mated 1.3 mil­lion pounds of in­dus­trial waste con­tain­ing poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyls, a prob­a­ble car­cino­gen, was dumped into the up­per Hudson River from the 1940s un­til 1977 by Gen­eral Elec­tric, which op­er­ated elec­tri­cal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing plants in Fort Ed­ward and Hudson Falls. Fire-re­sis­tant com­pounds con­tain­ing PCBs were widely used for decades in the pro­duc­tion of elec­tri­cal equip­ment.

The chem­i­cal dump­ing re­sulted in the river from Wash­ing­ton County to New York Har­bor be­com­ing the largest toxic Su­per­fund site in the U.S. The worst pol­lu­tion is in a 40-mile stretch north of the Fed­eral Dam in Troy, but PCBs are found in sed­i­ments, water, wildlife and hu­man be­ings all the way down to New York City.

In re­cent years, un­der fed­eral or­ders, Gen­eral Elec­tric dredged 2.75 mil­lion cu­bic yards of con­tam­i­nated ma­te­rial from the river.

Dredg­ing of river bot­tom sed­i­ments con­tain­ing PCBs be­gan in 2009 and was com­pleted in 2015. The EPA now says the source of pol­lu­tion is un­der con­trol. But the lev­els of PCBs in fish are the same as they were prior to dredg­ing, and peo­ple are still eat­ing tox­in­con­tam­i­nated fish taken from the river, con­trary to state Health De­part­ment ad­vi­sories.

PCBs have been linked to many ill­nesses, in­clud­ing cancer and birth de­fects. Eat­ing PCB-con­tam­i­nated fish car­ries a particularly high risk for chil­dren and preg­nant women.

GE fought dredg­ing for years, but a plan fi­nally was put in place in 2002. It was car­ried out suc­cess­fully, and the in­fra­struc­ture put in place for the dredg­ing is be­ing de­com­mis­sioned and could be sold for other in­dus­trial uses.

Still to be de­cided are whether fed­eral Hudson River Nat­u­ral Re­sources Trus­tee agen­cies will move to seek more dredg­ing, in­clud­ing ac­tion by the state to re­quire Gen­eral Elec­tric to dredge PCB sed­i­ments from the Cham­plain Canal to im­prove navigation.

The state De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion has asked the EPA for more sam­pling and in­for­ma­tion about ad­di­tional steps that can be taken to clean up the river.

FILE PHOTO BY TONY ADAMIS

The Hudson River, look­ing south from the house at the Olana State His­toric Site in Green­port, Columbia County.

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