Dredging of the Hudson River Chronology

GE used polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the manufacture of electrical equipment at two plants on the Upper Hudson River. (What are PCBs?) When available, the company held valid permits to use and discharge the compound but discontinued its use in the mid-1970s when PCB use was phased out in the United States.

EPA classified the Upper Hudson River as a Superfund site in 1984. After assessing environmental conditions in the river, EPA issued a Record of Decision for the site rejecting dredging and recommending certain areas on land (known as remnant deposits) be covered with clean material. GE performed this work in the 1990s.

In 1989, EPA initiated a reassessment of environmental conditions in the Hudson, which resulted in its issuance of a second Record of Decision in 2002. This decision called for, among other things, the removal of sediment containing PCBs from the river. Immediately following EPA’s decision, GE committed to cooperate with EPA on the Hudson River PCB cleanup. GE entered into a number of agreements with EPA that set forth a process for determining which specific areas would be dredged, how the design of the project would be completed, and how dredging the Hudson River would be performed.

To determine what specific areas would be dredged, GE conducted an extensive sediment sampling program during which more than 60,000 samples of river bottom were collected and analyzed. The multi-year program was the largest sediment sampling effort ever performed.

GE then selected a team of experts to provide engineering services for dredging, railroad transport, water treatment and sediment processing. Months of research and detailed analyses followed. GE began construction of a sediment processing and water treatment facility in 2007. The first phase, or first year of dredging was performed by GE in 2009. Subsequent seasons of dredging were performed in 2011, 2012 and 2013. GE now is planning for the fifth season of dredging, scheduled to begin in May, weather permitting.

Below is a chronology of milestone events related to the dredging of PCBs from the Hudson River.

1940s — GE begins using PCBs as an insulating fluid in electrical capacitors manufactured at plants along the river at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, N.Y., about 50 miles north of Albany. When available, GE held valid permits to use and discharge the compound.

1977 — GE discontinues using PCBs, after their use was phased out in the United States.

1984 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies the Upper Hudson River as a Superfund Site. After assessing environmental conditions in the river, EPA issues a Record of Decision (ROD) for the site rejecting dredging because it was considered risky, ineffective and likely to inflict serious environmental damage to the river. EPA recommends that certain areas on land (known as “remnant deposits”) be capped or covered with clean material.

1989 — EPA is required under the Superfund law to re-assess its 1984 Record of Decision for the site. The goal of the reassessment, which will continue for 12 years, is to identify the source of PCBs affecting fish and to determine what, if any, remedial action might be effective in reducing PCB levels in fish.

1990s — As selected by EPA in its first decision for the Hudson, GE caps the remnant deposit areas. These areas are inspected and maintained by GE each year.

1990s — GE undertakes a comprehensive cleanup of its former capacitor plant in Hudson Falls, N.Y., installing a comprehensive network of nearly 300 groundwater collection and monitoring wells, including some wells drilled into the dried-out riverbed of nearby Baker’s Falls. These collection wells form a hydraulic barrier that allows extraction of PCBs and PCB-containing groundwater from the bedrock beneath the plant. The groundwater and PCBs are conveyed to a state-of-the-science water treatment facility that cleans the water and destroys the PCBs.

1991 — PCB levels in the river suddenly increase. GE. with EPA’s oversight, undertakes an immediate investigation to identify the source of the elevated levels.

1992 — GE converts an abandoned paper mill located on the riverbank near the Hudson Falls plant into a system of wells to recover PCBs before they reach the river. Before this part of the cleanup, the mill, which was never owned by GE, had been an unknown source of PCBs to the river. of PCBs and on associated research.

Feb. 1, 2002 — EPA issues a second Record of Decision that calls for dredging sediment that contains PCBs from a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River. EPA structured the project into two phases: the first phase or the first year of dredging and a second phase encompassing all future years of dredging. In between the two phases, EPA envisions a review of the project by an independent peer review panel.

April 9, 2002 — GE informs EPA that it will cooperate with the Agency to implement its selected remedy for the Hudson.

July 23, 2002 — GE and EPA sign an agreement whereby GE agrees to conduct the largest sediment sampling program ever undertaken. Ultimately, more than 60,000 sediment samples were collected during the program.

Dec. 2002 — EPA begins an evaluation of potential sites near the Hudson River that could support processing, treatment and transportation facilities needed for the project.

Aug. 13, 2003 — EPA and GE sign an agreement whereby GE will complete the engineering design work for the project.

June 23, 2005 — EPA finalizes its selection of 110 acres of vacant farmland in the Town and Village of Fort Edward in Washington County for a processing, treatment and transportation facility to support the project.

Oct. 6, 2005 — GE and EPA reach an agreement whereby GE will perform EPA’s dredging project. The agreement, embodied in a Consent Decree, is lodged in U.S. Federal Court.

2006-2007 — GE builds innovative tunnels equipped with collection devices beneath the Hudson River at its former manufacturing plant in Hudson Falls, N.Y. The tunnels are designed to capture the final drops of PCBs reaching the Hudson.

Feb. 14, 2006 — GE initiates its Hudsonworks program to identify local businesses interested in assisting GE’s contractors on the dredging project.

Nov. 2, 2006 — U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd approves the Consent Decree signed by GE and EPA whereby GE will perform the dredging project.

Feb. 14, 2007 — GE announces it has selected the D.A. Collins Construction Co. of Mechanicville (Saratoga County) to perform site preparation work at the processing facility site, and another New York State firm, RailWorks Track Services Inc., a subsidiary of RailWorks Corp. of New York City, to build a rail yard at the site.

March 6, 2007 — EPA approves a work plan that details how the site preparation work and construction of the rail yard will be performed, enabling construction to proceed.

April 2007 — GE selects contractors to install processing equipment at the sediment processing facility prior to dredging and to operate those facilities during the first phase of dredging.

April 23, 2007 — GE’s contractors begin construction of the processing, treatment and transportation facility.

May 15-October 27, 2009 — GE and its contractors perform the first phase, or first year, of the Hudson River PCB dredging project. Approximately 286,000 cubic yards of sediment are removed from the river, dewatered and shipped off-site for disposal.

September 10, 2010 – A panel of independent peer reviewers issues a report evaluating the first phase of dredging.

December 17, 2010 — EPA issues its plan for the second and final phase of the Hudson cleanup.

December 23, 2010 — GE informs EPA that it will perform and pay for the second, final phase of Hudson dredging.

June 6-November 18, 2011 — GE performs the second season of PCB dredging in the Upper Hudson. Approximately 363,000 cubic yards of sediment are removed from the river, dewatered and shipped off-site for disposal.

May 9-November 17, 2012 — GE performs the third season of PCB dredging in the Upper Hudson River. More than 663,000 cubic yards of sediment are removed from the river, dewatered and shipped off-site for disposal.

June 4, 2012 — A decade after selecting dredging for the Upper Hudson, EPA completes a formal review of its decision, including considering the need to expand the project, and reaffirmed that the project continues to meet the Agency’s clean-up objectives and protects human health and the environment.

August 27, 2012 — GE crews remove the one millionth cubic yard of sediment from the river.

April 29-November 6, 2013 — GE performs the fourth season of PCB dredging in the Upper Hudson River. More than 628,000 cubic yards of sediment are removed from the river, dewatered and shipped off-site for disposal. The project is now 70 percent complete.