Thursday, May 28, 2015
New evidence shows amount of PCBs remaining in the river will continue to poison fish and endanger health of New Yorkers
Public health advocates joined Hudson River fishers, boaters and municipal officials to urge GE to address its outstanding obligations — beyond the current EPA-mandated project — to do much more to clean up the Hudson River at an Albany news conference today.
The groups cited new scientific evidence — including a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — showing that significantly more PCB removal must be done before the Hudson’s fish can become safer for the public and commercial and recreational use of the river can recover.
“GE dumped the PCBs into the river, and if it doesn’t remove more of them, we’re left with a 200-mile long Superfund site which is a danger to the health of anyone who breathes the air along the Hudson or who boats on or fishes in the river,” said Dr. Kathleen Nolan of Physicians for Social Responsibility-New York and a longtime public health advocate.
Sponsored by the Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson’s lead groups — Clearwater, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson — the news conference is part of a Hudson River Advocacy Day in the Capital, which includes visits by Cleaner Hudson to key legislators who represent districts along the river.
Flanked by signs that warn fishers not to eat Hudson River fish and a large replica of a striped bass, speakers said state legislators should join their fight as they made the case for GE to fulfill its responsibilities to clean up the river after an EPA-mandated cleanup project ends later this year.
GE dumped millions of pounds of toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) into the Hudson starting in the 1940s, devastating fish and other wildlife and damaging fishing, other industry and air quality along the river. After a decades-long battle, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered GE to remove 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from the Hudson north of Albany—a number that it believed at the time would remove about 65% of the PCBs in that portion of the Upper Hudson.
The campaign’s goal is to persuade GE to conduct critically needed dredging in the Hudson’s PCB-laden navigational channel and remove additional acres of highly contaminated river sediments that have delayed the river’s full recovery. Both of these PCB cleanup needs have been documented as barriers to much-needed restoration projects, so addressing additional dredging now would even likely help the company by getting a portion of this liability off its books.
The EPA-mandated cleanup, which began in 2009, is scheduled to end this year. But with so much contaminated sediments slated to be left in the river, the advocates say that the job is far from done – and recent studies back them up.
Two recent studies documented the continued harm GE’s PCBs are causing, with one explicitly concluding that more removal work must proceed.
· NOAA’s study, released earlier this month, showed that the original models used in planning the Hudson River recovery “were overly optimistic.”
· In a reference to the work GE is doing in the Upper Hudson, NOAA also concluded that “additional removal of PCB-contaminated sediment in the [Upper Hudson River is] needed” to achieve the reductions targets in the Lower Hudson River’s PCB levels the EPA originally set for GE’s PCB-removal project.
· In April, the Hudson River Natural Resources Trustees released “Injuries to Hudson River Fishery Resources: Fishery Closures and Consumption Restriction,” <http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/restorationplans/hudsonriver/docs/Hudson_River_Fisheries_Consumption_Report_Final-April%202015.pdf> which documented the continued harm PCBs have caused to river fish and the fishing industry along the 200-mile stretch of the Hudson south of the former GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. (The Trustees are the NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of New York.)
Studies from the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany also have documented the danger to public health from the Hudson’s PCBs.
“Our research studies have clearly shown that the health of people living along the Hudson River is compromised because of PCBs coming off the river into the air and being inhaled by local residents,” said David Carpenter, the Institute’s Director. “The health of people living near the river will be adversely affected until and unless the remaining PCBs are removed,” Carpenter added.
“As it is, generations will know that GE polluted the Hudson,” said Gil Hawkins, President of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, which has led efforts to remove PCBs from the river for decades. “There is a direct correlation between the amount of PCBs in the river and the safety of eating its fish. Now, with further dredging, GE has the opportunity to be known as the company that cleaned it up.”
Strong support for a cleaner Hudson
The Campaign for a Cleaner Hudson includes individuals and civic, environmental, and business groups along the river who are advocating for GE to take responsibility for its massive toxic mess.
Sixty-five municipalities along the river have passed resolutions in support of the campaign’s goals, including the City of Albany and Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Ulster, Washington, and Westchester counties. (See full list on p. 4.)
“We’ve lived too long with a river that can’t be used the way it should. The navigational canal, the left-over acres of contaminated sediment and the floodplains remediation need to be addressed aggressively so river communities can continue the hard work to rebuild our economies and secure a healthier and safer future for all of us,” said Thomas Richardson, Supervisor in the Town of Mechanicville in Saratoga County. “We are here today to make sure our state representatives understand why GE’s work must not stop until the job is done.”
“As a boater who lives along the river and loves it, I’m angered that I and other boaters are at risk because of PCBs,” said Frank Bergman, former President of the Hudson River Boat & Yacht Club Association. “The only smart way to navigate out of this morass is for GE to take responsibility for the mess it made.”
“Every Superfund site in the country requires the polluter not only to clean up the mess they made – which GE hasn’t finished – but to compensate the public for the injury and loss of services from the pollution,” said Dan Raichel, Staff Attorney at NRDC. “GE is on the hook and must fulfill its obligation to all of us who live along the Hudson.”
“GE has the expertise and time to remove this pollution,” said Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson. “The company still faces significant liability for the damages its pollution has caused and as part of that obligation should do some targeted additional dredging for the health of the river and to clear a commercial shipping channel its pollution has hindered for decades. GE’s PCB legacy—and more important the future health and economy of the Hudson River Valley—are on the line. If GE doesn’t meet its responsibilities, then taxpayers of New York State will be left to pay to clean up the company’s mess.”
Cleaner Hudson said its main message today to Albany legislators is that they should “speak up now to make sure GE steps up and removes more of the PCBs it dumped. Otherwise, New Yorkers will either have to live with a poisoned river or foot the bill for the cleanup themselves – and that’s not right.”
Lower Hudson Municipalities which have passed PCB resolutions
Orange County Legislature
Putnam County Legislature
Westchester Putnam Association of Town Supervisors
Rockland County Legislature
Ulster County Legislature
Westchester County Legislature
Westchester Putnam Association of Town Supervisors
Upriver Municipalities which have passed resolutions calling for Navigational Dredging:
Rensselaer County Legislature
Saratoga County Board of Supervisors
Washington County Board of Supervisors