Company dumped into river for decades and plans to
leave millions of pounds of PCBs behind in partial cleanup
It’s now or never, municipalities and groups say:
GE must do more and compensate communities for damage
CAPITAL REGION/HUDSON VALLEY, April 14, 2015 — For more than 200 miles along the Hudson River—villages, towns, cities and counties from northern areas of the Capital Region to southerly parts of the Hudson Valley—are passing formal resolutions to pressure General Electric Co. (GE) to meet its responsibilities to remove toxic PCBs it dumped into the Hudson River for decades. As GE prepares for its final dredging season this spring, 56 municipalities and/or counties in the state have passed resolutions urging GE to accept obligations it has beyond the partial cleanup mandated by the EPA.
Rallying this growing movement of upriver and downriver communities and state and federal leaders to push GE to do the right thing is part of the new Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson, which is led by environmental groups that say it is now or never to get GE to meet its obligations to the Hudson and communities that depend upon it.
If GE abandons cleanup with millions of pounds of polluted sediments left behind—NYS taxpayers will pay
While GE is slated to finish an EPA-ordered cleanup as early as this summer, that effort will leave behind millions of pounds of health-threatening PCB-contaminated sediments in the Upper Hudson River. That significant pollution will block the river’s recovery and waterfront revitalization for generations. If GE won’t accept responsibility for its toxic legacy, New York State taxpayers will end up paying the bill for the crucial cleanup work, namely in the PCB-laden navigational channel of the Champlain Canal.
GE’s obligations extend beyond currently required cleanup
This summer or early fall—two years ahead of schedule—GE is expected to conclude its EPA-mandated cleanup. However, every Superfund site in the country requires the polluter to do two things: (1) clean up the mess they made and (2) compensate the public for the injury and loss of services from severely polluted natural resources. This second responsibility, called the Natural Resources Damages (NRD) Assessment, can be accomplished either after or at the same time as the cleanup. There are many benefits to voluntarily addressing NRD obligations during cleanup operations. Doing so is an emerging trend for polluters—and with the Hudson cleanup would also benefit New Yorkers by securing much-needed river restoration years, if not generations, sooner.
This is why riverfront communities from north of Albany to just north of New York City (see list of Municipalities That Passed Resolution), have joined leading environmental organizations—Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson—in the Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson.
The campaign’s goal is to persuade GE to conduct critically needed dredging in the Hudson’s PCB-laden navigational channel and address 136 additional acres of highly contaminated river sediments already identified as a cause of delay for the river’s full economic and environmental recovery. Both of these PCB cleanup needs have been identified by the agencies charged with calculating GE’s NRD liability as barriers to much-needed NRD restoration projects, so addressing additional dredging now would even likely help the company by getting a portion of this liability off its books.
The damage done by GE’s contamination of the Hudson is evident: its once-thriving commercial fishing industry has been defunct for 40 years; the Champlain Canal has been virtually closed to deep-draft navigation for the past 30 years; and tourism has been diminished by the stigma of PCB pollution. Scientists also say the longer the PCB pollution is left in the river, the longer it will take the river’s health to recover.
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “GE has the funds and time to remove this pollution. Further, the company still faces significant liability for the damages its pollution has caused. GE’s PCB legacy—and more important the future health and economy of the Hudson River Valley—are on the line.”
NRDC’s New York Urban Program Director Mark Izeman said, “This is a really simple case: for decades GE dumped toxic PCBs into the Hudson and they have plagued the river and the people living along it for generations. Although GE is finally cleaning up part of its mess now, it is simply not enough to give New Yorkers the safe and useable river they deserve. GE needs to do more to get PCBs out of the river and compensate New Yorkers for the years and years of damage the company’s pollution has wrought.”
“There is no question that GE is responsible for the PCB contamination of the Hudson River. Also, there is no question that the contamination and PCB accumulation continue to cause significant problems, including human-health risks (such as direct PCB exposure and the contamination of fish), economic damage to communities and businesses especially in the area of accumulation, blockage of deep-draft commercial shipping vessels and curtailment of local recreational uses of the river,” said Clearwater Executive Director Peter Gross. “We believe that as a company that claims to be a responsible corporate citizen caring about people and the environment, GE has the social and ethical responsibility to complete the cleanup without further delay. It appears that GE hopes that by dismantling its dredging operations at this point, it can push the inevitable costs of finishing the job years into the future, at which point it will be more costly to resume and the taxpayers of New York State may have to share more of the costs. The continuing environmental, health and economic consequences of continued PCB contamination caused by GE don’t seem to enter into its considerations. We and the other adopters of this resolution urge GE to do the right thing.”
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, “GE is reaching a milestone on one aspect of the cleanup, but will be packing up. Leaving 136 additional acres of contaminated river sediments unresolved will only prolong the agony for the Hudson and the surrounding communities. It’s been nearly 40 years. Let’s get this cleanup done—all of it.”
“At the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County we believe that it is in the best interests of GE and the many manufacturers in this region to work together to utilize all available means of transporting raw materials, finished goods and people across Tech Valley, the nation and the world,” said Pete Bardunias, president/CEO of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County. “The Chamber is eager to work with manufacturers large and small to not only rehabilitate the Hudson but to fully develop it along with the Mohawk as an effective 21st-century transportation resource and to lead the economic resurgence of the river towns which factor significantly into this nation’s manufacturing legacy.”
City of Mechanicville Supervisor and Historic Hudson & Hoosic Rivers Partnership Chairman Thomas J. Richardson said, “GE has been a good corporate neighbor. We hope that they will continue in the near future. It is vital to the communities along the Hudson River to have the canal dredged for tourism as well as manufacturing. If this isn’t done while the dewatering plant is available, then the future cost may make it impossible.”
Town of Saratoga Supervisor Thomas Wood III said, “Progress has been made in removing PCBs from the Hudson. Still, ‘hotspots’ remain that need to be cleaned up. Navigational dredging needs to be addressed before the dewatering facility is closed down. The time to do this is now, and all parties need to sit down, address issues and come up with a solution. This problem can be solved if the leadership of GE, and state and federal government, commits to doing the right thing.”
Leaders of three communities in Orange County offered comments on the new campaign. Town of Highlands Supervisor Bob Livsey said, “Cleaning up the Hudson River is a no-brainer! I’m 75 and have lived here all my life. I remember how dirty the river was, but at first we didn’t understand how dangerous the pollution was. Now we do. Although it’s somewhat cleaner now, it has a ways to go. General Electric should sit down with the state and federal agencies and create plan to finish the job—to ensure the river recovers sooner and can be fully used by commercial shipping vessels. And we need this additional work to be done before GE closes down their processing facilities.”
“While the quality of the water in the Hudson River has improved over the years, we still have a long way to go in getting the river to where it once was before PCBs and toxins were released into it. We owe it to future generations to continue the restoration of the Hudson River and the prevention of further contamination going forward!” said Village of Maybrook Mayor Dennis Leahy.
“Known for bringing ‘good things to life,’ GE must go beyond the 2015 mandated cleanup. GE must make right the millions of pounds of PCBs they dumped into our river over a 30-year span. Our children should not have to imagine a healthy river! They deserve the real thing,” stated City of Newburgh Councilwoman (Ward 1) Karen Mejia.
From Rockland County, two leaders of the county Legislature underscored the importance of downriver communities sounding their call for GE to do right by the Hudson. Rockland County Legislature Chair Alden Wolfe said “GE’s current cleanup plan does not come close to correcting the colossal ecological disaster it has caused by its discharge of PCBs into our treasured Hudson River. As federal agencies have found, this is outstanding ‘resource damage.’ I call on the EPA to demand that GE engage in a thorough remediation and not be permitted to get away with its anemic efforts, which don't come close to cleaning up this massive mess.”
Rockland County Legislator and Environmental Committee Chairwoman Harriet Cornell said, “The majestic Hudson River is a world symbol, renowned for its history and its beauty. We must ensure that it’s also known for its clean waters. For over 20 years I have joined with like-minded people in the Hudson Valley to fight for a cleanup of the man-made, persistent and dangerous pollutants known as PCBs, which were discharged into the river by GE between 1947 and 1977. Health of humans and wildlife has been harmed; fishing and shipping industries significantly damaged economically; and the use and enjoyment of the river curtailed by the presence of PCB-contaminated soils and sediments. Once again the Rockland County Legislature calls upon GE to address its legal responsibilities and finish the job to restore the Hudson to full health and value—before dismantling the existing dredging and dewatering infrastructure. Without continued work, there is a strong risk of recontamination of previously cleaned areas. That would be a tragedy!”
In Westchester County, leaders of three communities spoke about their residents’ needs for a cleaner Hudson River. Town of North Salem Supervisor and President of the Westchester Putnam Association of Town Supervisors Warren Lucas said, “The Hudson River is part of our heritage, from the earliest days of the Van Cortlandt Manor, and it continues to define our future today with the revitalization of our Hudson River towns and their waterfronts. It is critically important that the job of cleaning the still PCB-contaminated areas of the Hudson River be completed by General Electric. The economy of this region relies on a vibrant Hudson River.”
Town of Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick said, “Bedford proudly joins the many organizations and communities calling upon General Electric to complete the job of cleaning up PCBs from the Hudson River. Our physical and economic health depend upon it.”
“This effort, by so many local elected leaders and government bodies, highlights our resolve to insist on a clean Hudson River that will be enjoyed by New Yorkers for generations to come. I salute the Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson for the leadership they have provided on this important issue,” said Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner.
New Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson seeking more communities and residents to join the cause
Concerned residents, organizations and businesses are encouraged to visit the new campaign website—www.cleanerhudson.org—to stay informed and learn about ways to push GE to answer for its responsibilities to the Hudson River and communities along its shores. The website offers opportunities to sign a petition, volunteer and spread the word via social media. The Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson is organized by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, NRDC, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson.