Leading environmental groups were disappointed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency release of the first “Five-Year Review” of the Hudson River Superfund PCB remediation project this week, following a truncated process that bypassed the ordinary opportunities for input from other expert agencies.
EPA conducted the mandatory review of whether the project is fully meeting its original goals during April and May, and released it on Monday, June. In a series of letters to EPA, included as an appendix to EPA’s review, the groups – Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson – had urged the agency to fully consider concerns raised by other state and federal agencies that question whether a more thorough cleanup is necessary.
The groups are continuing to review new technical material presented for the first time in EPA’s Five-Year Review, but remain concerned that the review does not address the question of whether current dredging designs will remove enough toxic PCBs from the river bottom to achieve the health and restoration targets EPA established for the Hudson River a decade ago, or whether future dredging plans will need to be adjusted to ensure a healthy, economically vibrant river is finally restored to waterfront communities and citizens of New York State.
The Five-Year Review projects that, after implementation of the current cleanup plans, toxic PCB levels along the river bottom in a 5-mile stretch known as “River Section 2” (from the Thompson Island Dam to the Northumberland Dam) will be reduced only about half as much originally expected, because certain areas with elevated PCB levels have been excluded from cleanup plans. It concludes that the goals of the cleanup “could be achieved more quickly…if additional dredging…were to be carried out, particularly in River Section 2.” However, the review declines to propose further action by EPA, instead noting that other federal and state agencies have authorities that may be able to address this outstanding concern.
Lawrence Levine, a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “EPA’s review confirms that cleanup effort has been successfully and safely removing toxic PCBs from portions of the Hudson River nearest to Ft. Edward, the site of a GE manufacturing plant that dumped the poisons into the river decades ago. But it also recognizes that, under current plans for completing the project, higher pollution levels than expected will remain just downstream, delaying the recovery of the Hudson. G.E. should now step up and commit to removing these toxic hot spots, to ensure a fully successful restoration of this iconic river.”
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “Each season of dredging has demonstrated that the health of the river and the lands and communities along its shores depend upon getting a substantial mass of toxic PCBs out of the river bottom. And yet each year, in-the-water operations indicate just how much more contamination is expected to remain in the Hudson at the end of the cleanup than was originally believed. This five-year review was the first opportunity to evaluate the sufficiency of GE’s efforts to remove enough PCB contamination to ensure the remedy will restore the environmental and economic well-being of our river at long last.”
Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper added, “EPA acknowledges that a large stretch of the river will fail to meet cleanup targets by a wide margin, because of PCB contamination that the federal cleanup doesn’t address. Yet, no further federal action is proposed. That’s just not good enough. This finding needs to be a wake-up call for agencies at every level to fix the cleanup plan. Our river’s health and the viability of the Champlain Canal, an important shipping route, depend on it.”
“Leaving significant amounts of PCB-contaminated sediment just outside the areas presently proposed for dredging will significantly delay the time when the river is clean enough to support a healthy ecosystem, with fish that are safe to eat,” said Manna Jo Greene, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s Environmental Director. “It will also cost New York taxpayers a lot more for the NY State Canal Corporation to dredge the channel to restore full navigational use of the river if it is not done in tandem with GE’s environmental dredging, while equipment is mobilized and the dewatering facility is operational. If General Electric really wants to demonstrate ‘eco-magination,’ it would work with the Federal Trustees and the Canal Corp to address these issues constructively to assure a world class cleanup, rather than adding cost and delay to the full restoration of the Hudson River.”
About Clearwater: For over 40 years, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater has been at the forefront of the environmental movement as champion of the Hudson River, working to help pass landmark legislation like the Clean Water Act, providing innovative educational programs, environmental advocacy, and musical celebrations, including the renowned annual Clearwater Festival, to inspire, educate, and activate millions of people. Founded by music legend and environmental activist Pete Seeger, the organization began with the launch of the sloop Clearwater in 1969 —a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries. The organization’s strong connection to youth, environmental education, and its agenda to create the next generation of environmental leaders, are all part of building and strengthening a green economy and a more inclusive and diverse environmental movement. Utilizing the greatest natural resource in the region, the Hudson River, Clearwater has become the grassroots model for producing positive changes to protect our planet.
Today, , Clearwater continues Pete Seeger’s legacy as America’s environmental flagship organization. www.clearwater.org.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
Riverkeeper is a member-supported, watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. www.riverkeeper.org.
Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 50 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved more than 30,000 acres. www.scenichudson.org.
Julia Church, Clearwater, 845 265 8080, ext. 7112, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Slusark, Natural Resources Defense Council, 212 727 4592; email@example.com
Tina Posterli, Riverkeeper, 914 478 4501, Ext. 239; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jay Burgess, Scenic Hudson, 845 473 4440, Ext. 222, or email@example.com
Release Date: 6/6/2012