Hudson River Dredging: Historic Cleanup, Successful Completion
BY ANN R. KLEE
July 24, 2015 â€“ This fall, GE will finish removing the majority of PCBs from the Upper Hudson River in one of the largest and most successful environmental cleanup projects ever undertaken in the United States.
Thirteen years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency selected dredging, many environmental groups praised the decision. Now, as this historic cleanup draws to a successful conclusion, some say this unprecedented project was not sufficient. They want significantly more dredging â€“ beyond what EPA ordered.
EPA has rejected the request three times. EPA has said no further dredging is necessary because the dredging project is achieving its goals of protecting public health and the environment. In the words of EPA Region II Administrator Judith Enck, this project has been â€śenormously successful.â€ť
For 12 years, EPA studied the Hudson before issuing its final decision in 2002. The agency considered requiring an even larger dredging project, but ultimately determined that a carefully balanced approach â€” bank-to-bank dredging in some areas, targeted dredging in others â€” would reduce PCB levels in fish and protect public health and the environment while minimizing the risk of unnecessary harm to natural resources and disruption for local communities.
EPA revisited its decision in 2010 and 2012 and reaffirmed it.
EPA did not reach its decisions in isolation. It considered the views of scientists and technical experts, the public, elected officials, federal and state agencies, and environmental groups, including those who now speculate that more dredging â€” beyond what EPA ordered â€” could accelerate the recovery of the river.
There is no need to speculate.
Under GEâ€™s agreement with EPA, for the foreseeable future, GE will collect water, sediment and fish data on the Hudson. That data will be provided to EPA and New York State and used to determine whether the goals were achieved â€” whether PCB levels in fish have declined as quickly as forecast.
To expand the project before substantial data are collected and analyzed runs counter to the careful, data-based approach that EPA has followed thus far.
Though dredging is coming to a close, GEâ€™s work on the Hudson will continue. In conjunction with EPA, we will continue a comprehensive evaluation of the floodplains to determine whether PCBs are present and how best to address them. We will continue the cleanups of our Hudson Falls and Fort Edward plant sites â€” cleanups that the Department of Environmental Conservation says have eliminated both sites as significant sources of PCBs to the river. And we will collect the data on which EPA and others will assess the effectiveness of the dredging project.
Some have questioned the plan to decommission the sediment processing facility when dredging ends. This facility is far larger than would be required by future cleanups. Moreover, decommissioning it is required by GEâ€™s agreement with EPA and is consistent with commitments made years ago to local residents.
The debate over how best to address PCBs in the Hudson has always been heated, but EPA brought a dispassionate, science-based discipline to the issue. While we have not always agreed, GE and EPA have worked successfully together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to conduct a dredging project that has been hailed as a national model.
Weâ€™re proud of what we as a company have accomplished on the Hudson. Our world-class team of environmental engineers applied next-generation technology to ensure this project was performed safely and effectively. Our crews have worked around the clock for six months of the year for six years. We look forward to bringing the same standard of excellence to the next phase of this cleanup.
Ann R. Klee is GEâ€™s Vice President, Global Operations â€“ Environment, Health and Safety