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.
EPA spent 12 years evaluating all of the data on the Hudson River before deciding that dredging was the appropriate environmental remedy. The agency considered ordering an even larger dredging project at that time, but concluded that the negative environmental and community impacts from a larger project would outweigh any environmental benefits. EPA has reviewed and reaffirmed its decision on the scope of dredging as recently as 2012.
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 from 2011-2014. GE’s crews are now working on the sixth and final season of dredging.
Below is a chronology of milestone events related to the dredging of PCBs from the Hudson River.
1940s – 1970s
PCBs used in GE Manufacturing Processes
GE legally uses PCBs at two capacitor plants in Upstate New York. Whenever required, GE held valid permits to discharge PCBs to the Hudson River. The PCBs settled in river sediments behind a dam near Fort Edward.
Dam Removed in Fort Edward
A dam downstream of GE’s manufacturing plants is demolished by its owner, causing the sediment to wash downstream and settle in quiescent areas of the river. These areas later become known as “PCB hotspots.”
GE, New York Sign Historic Pact
GE signs a landmark agreement in which GE and New York State each agree to contribute $3 million to a fund for research and cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River. GE agrees to perform an additional $1 million in environmental research, and New York State accepts full responsibility for cleaning up the river.
Major Clean-up Begin at Plants
GE discontinues its use of PCBs and works with regulatory agencies to begin a major cleanup program at its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward plants. GE assembles the best scientific talent in the world to expand what is known about PCBs and how they behave in the environment.
EPA Adds Hudson to National Priorities List
Stymied in two attempts to conduct dredging projects, New York State asks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate the Hudson River as a federal Superfund site. EPA becomes the lead regulatory agency evaluating Hudson River environmental conditions.
EPA Rejects Dredging for Hudson
EPA’s rejects dredging as a cleanup strategy for the Hudson, saying it “could be environmentally devastating to the river ecosystem and cannot be considered to adequately protect the environment.” The decision recommends capping of shoreline areas upstream of the former Fort Edward dam that were exposed when the water level dropped after the demolition of the dam.
EPA Begins Reassessment of 1984 Decision
As required by law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins a reassessment of environmental conditions in the Hudson River. The Hudson reassessment will continue for 12 years. Meanwhile, GE continues major clean-up projects, with the approval and oversight of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, at its former manufacturing plants.
Keeping PCBs out of the River
In GE’s first major clean-up project in the river itself, GE caps 60 acres along the Upper Hudson shoreline near Fort Edward to prevent PCBs from reaching the river. These deposits are called “remnants” because they remained after the dam at Fort Edward was demolished.
GE Finds, Stops PCB Source to Hudson
After identifying a sudden and surprising increase in PCB levels in water, GE traces the increased levels to a dilapidated, abandoned, 19th-century paper mill located on the river, about 60 feet below the bank on which GE’s Hudson Falls plant is located. Despite enormous physical obstacles, including the deterioration of the mill, high water, winter storms and the immediate proximity of raging falls, GE converts the mill, which was never owned by GE, into a system of wells to recover PCBs before they reach the river.
GE Takes to Air in Hudson Cleanup
To expand the network of wells that capture PCB seeping from the bedrock beneath the Hudson Falls plant, GE brought in air support — a large helicopter to lift a 5,000-pound drill rig into place on the dried-out riverbed near a hydroelectric dam. The work at the plant, which is undertaken with the approval and oversight of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, enables the recovery of more than 133 tons of PCBs.
EPA Selects Dredging for the Upper Hudson
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues a Record of Decision on February 1, calling for dredging 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-containing sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson north of Albany.
GE Agrees to Perform and Fund EPA’s Dredging Project
Two months after EPA selects dredging in the Upper Hudson, GE proposes to EPA a comprehensive framework for implementing the project. GE’s proposal, known as a “Good Faith Offer,” addresses all aspects of EPA’s dredging decision, including a comprehensive sediment sampling program and development of the project’s engineering design. In addition, GE agrees to reimburse past costs incurred by EPA in carrying out its 12-year assessment of the Hudson River project and to reimburse EPA’s future oversight costs for the project.
GE Starts River-Bottom Mapping
GE agrees to perform a $30-million sediment sampling program in the Upper Hudson. The program, the largest to be undertaken in the United States, will help determine the depth and location of PCBs in the sediment. More than 30,000 sediment samples will be collected.
Design of Hudson Dredging Project Begins
GE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reach an agreement under which GE will design the environmental dredging project for the Upper Hudson. The project will involve reviewing field data to plan where and how dredging should take place; what type of equipment should be used; how to move the dredged sediment from the river to dewatering facilities; and how to dispose of the dewatered sediment, among other issues. GE also will reimburse EPA an additional $15 million for past costs associated with EPA’s reassessment and provide the agency with up to $13 million more to cover future costs related to this agreement. This brings to $20 million the amount GE has reimbursed EPA for past costs and to $15.6 million the amount GE has provided to EPA for future costs associated with the dredging project.
Potential Support Sites Identified
The Environmental Protection Agency selects properties in Fort Edward and Bethlehem, N.Y., for the potential siting of dewatering and transportation facilities to support the Hudson River Dredging Project. Only the Fort Edward property, located between the Champlain Canal and a rail line owned by Canadian Pacific Railway, ultimately would be used to support dredging activities.
Processing Facility Site Selected
EPA finalizes its selection of property in the Town and Village of Fort Edward in Washington County for processing, treatment and transportation facilities to support the project.
GE Awards First Two Contracts for Dredging Project
GE awards the first two construction contracts for development of the Fort Edward site where the Dredging Project’s sediment processing, water treatment and transportation facility will be located. D.A. Collins Construction Company, Inc., was selected to perform civil construction work, including building roads, bridges, culverts and other projects on the 110-acre vacant site selected by EPA for the facility. The contract also calls for D.A. Collins to widen the Champlain Canal and build a wharf for barges that will transport sediment to the site. RailWorks Track Services, Inc., a subsidiary of RailWorks Corp., was selected to construct a rail yard, five miles of track and related facilities on the site for the staging and loading of rail cars that will transport the sediment from Fort Edward to a disposal facility outside of New York State.
GE’s Crews Begin Construction of Dredging Support Facility
Work begins on 110 acres of vacant farmland identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for support facilities for the Hudson River Dredging Project. Ultimately, the site will include a barge terminal where sediments will be delivered; several huge presses that will dewater the sediments; a plant to remove PCBs from water; and large railroad facilities for the rail cars that will transport the dewatered sediment to final disposal out of state.
Innovative Tunnels Under River Stop Last PCB Seeps from Reaching River
GE completes building state-of-the-science tunnels equipped with collection devices beneath the Hudson River designed to capture the final drops of PCBs reaching the Hudson. The tunnels, about the size of a railroad car, are outfitted with equipment to drain PCBs out of the bedrock above, collect the PCBs and pump them to a water treatment facility on the property.
Processing Facility Operator Selected by GE
GE awards a contract to CB&I Environment and Infrastructure (formerly The Shaw Group) to operate the sediment processing, treatment and transportation facility in Fort Edward. The facilities include a barge wharf where sediments will be delivered and unloaded; a dewatering building where water will be pressed from dredged sediments; a water treatment plant larger than most municipal water treatment plants; and a large railroad loading and staging area.
GE Selects Dredging Contractor for First Phase of Dredging
GE awards a contract to Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting Co. LLC, to perform the first year of dredging.
GE Performs First Phase of Dredging Project
GE conducts the first phase of the environmental dredging project EPA selected for the Upper Hudson. GE’s contractors worked 24 hours a day, six days a week, for six months, to complete the work. Ultimately, 288,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed, surpassing EPA’s target for sediment removal.
Independent Scientists Evaluate Hudson Dredging
A peer review panel of independent scientists who evaluated the first phase of the dredging project concludes unanimously that changes in the requirements for the project are needed because EPA’s performance standards were not met in the first year, and could not be met in subsequent years of dredging.
EPA Modifies Requirements for Phase 2 Dredging
Based on the findings and recommendations of an independent peer review panel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency modified standards for the project.
GE Agrees to Perform Rest of Hudson Dredging
GE advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will perform and pay for the second and final phase of Hudson dredging. GE’s goal is to resume dredging in last Spring 2011. GE’s dredging team already has begun refining the engineering design for Phase 2, based on technical discussions with EPA and the recommendations of the panel of independent scientists who evaluated the first phase of dredging.
Second Phase of Hudson Dredging Begins
GE’s crews resume dredging in the Hudson River, transporting sediments by barge to a Fort Edward processing facility, and shipping dewatered sediments by rail to disposal facilities located outside of New York State. EPA anticipates this phase of the project will take five years to complete.
Major Progress in Third Season
From May 9 through Nov. 16, GE’s crews perform dredging in the Upper Hudson River. Crews work 24 hours a day, six days a week. More than 663,000 cubic yards of sediment are removed during the season, far surpassing EPA’s annual target of 350,000 cubic yards.
EPA Concludes Hudson Dredging Project Should Not Be Expanded
With all of the most recent data in hand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews the scope of the dredging project as well as the massive amount of data collected on PCB levels in sediments, water and fish since its original decision in 2000. EPA reaffirms that the project, as originally designed, continues to meet the agency’s clean-up objectives and protects human health and the environment. EPA determines that no additional dredging is warranted.
More than 70% of Dredging Completed
From April 29 through Nov. 6, GE’s crews remove more than 628,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Upper Hudson River, again surpassing EPA’s annual goal for removal. The project is now 70% completed.
GE Successfully Completes 5th Season of Dredging
GE and its contractors performed the fifth season of dredging from May 7 through Nov. 4, 2014. Good weather and low river flows allowed GE’s contractors to remove approximately 583,000 cubic yards of sediment during the season, exceeding the 350,000-cubic-yard goal established by EPA. The project is 90% completed by the end of the season.
The 6th and Final Dredging Season Begins in May
GE’s crews began dredging for the final season of the project on May 7, 2015. EPA’s goal this year is to remove approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sediment during the season. Once this final season of dredging is performed, 100 percent of the PCB-containing sediments EPA targeted for removal during the Upper Hudson Dredging Project will have been addressed.