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Earth Matters: Deadline Looms for PCB Dredging Comment

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.
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by Susan Hellauer

In a report that brought joy to General Electric and anguish to Hudson River advocates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that GE is not required to do any further dredging of the river to remove carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  The toxin turned all 200 miles of the Hudson into a superfund site in 1983 and triggered government advisories to severely restrict consumption of its fish.

The opinion in GE’s favor is contained in EPA’s draft Five-Year report, released last May, on dredging done by GE between 2009-2015. The American multinational corporation was ordered by the EPA to remove sediment contaminated by PCB-laden waste dumped from manufacturing sites in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward from the 1940s to the 1970s. When dredging ended in 2015, the EPA called the project “ . . . a historic achievement for the recovery of the Hudson River.”

Workers used excavators with environmental clamshell buckets to dredge the river. The PCB-contaminated sediment was emptied onto barges.
Rail cars were loaded with dredged and processed materials for delivery to permitted, off-site disposal facilities. Photo courtesy EPA

Environmental advocates disagree. They are fuming about the conclusions of the draft review report as well as the original dredging order, which targeted only certain upriver PCB “hot spots,” ignoring vast stretches of contaminated riverbed downstream, making bleak the prospects of consuming Hudson River fish in the decades to come.

The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association is disappointed to hear that the EPA is not acting on the findings of the five year review of GE’s cleanup actions. The tests of the downstream sections of the Hudson River have not been encouraging. Science and common sense prove that pollution flows downhill. The Record of Decision mandates the whole river, as a Superfund site, must be cleaned. The public demands that the EPA fulfills its contract with the American people.

Hudson River Fishermen’s Association Vice President Gil Hawkins

The politics of fishing and clean water

For most of us, a “Do Not Eat” order is just another outward sign of damage done by just another business that treated the river like a free sewer—helping, as well, to put an end to the Hudson’s commercial fishing industry. But the Do Not Eat order removes, or makes dangerous, a source of supplemental food on which low-income families have long depended. There’s a strong streak of environmental injustice in all this, as well as a matter of clean water and corporate accountability.

And it appears that clean water accountability will have to start at home. EPA head Scott Pruitt is campaigning hard to get the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Clean Water Rule repealed, going as far as starring in a video urging western ranchers and farmers to submit comments to the EPA in favor of killing the rule.

Pruitt’s EPA cannot ignore science in favor of ‘alternative facts’ in GE’s alleged cleanup of the Hudson River. It is still the truth that the river remains significantly contaminated with PCBs and thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom represent immigrant, low income and minority communities, regularly eat the fish they catch from the Hudson for sustenance. EPA’s callousness to the life-threatening illnesses directly stemming from their lax cleanup policies is shocking. Committing to a full cleanup of the Hudson River is the kind of justice these communities deserve.

Roger Downs, conservation director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter

Needed: your two cents

The EPA is accepting comments until September 1 on the five-year review, with its proposed end to GE’s dredging requirement. It may seem futile in the current “corporations über alles” climate in Washington to spit into the wind on this one. But local advocacy groups, like The Rockland Sierra Club, Riverkeer, Scenic Hudson, and many others, warn emphatically against silence and inaction. And they’ve made it easy for you to send your one-click comment to Scott Pruitt & Co. online. (See Box)

Scenic Hudson: How to comment on the EPA’s Five-Year Review of PCB dredging in the Hudson:

The voice of the people must sound loudly NOW—Submit comments on the Five Year Review to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Director, Gary Klawinski (518) 407-0400 (or and tell him that more dredging is needed for the Hudson.

Or submit a comment with Scenic Hudson’s one-step online form.

Hudson River PCBs

Hudson River PCB protest. Photo courtesy Scenic Hudson

Learn more:

It’s simple. DEC is calling on the EPA to finish the job and hold GE accountable for cleaning up the Hudson River. If EPA won’t do the job and protect New Yorkers and the environment, DEC is ready to step in and lead.

N.Y. State Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos

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Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

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