View Full Version : Hudson River De-Contamination / Clean-Up

October 7th, 2005, 01:02 AM
G.E. Commits to Dredging 43 Miles of Hudson River

October 7, 2005


Nearly three decades after PCB's were discovered in the upper Hudson River, General Electric made a binding agreement yesterday to dredge them from the river in one of the largest and most expensive industrial cleanups in history.

The agreement appears to end years of resistance by G.E. and initiates a process in which the company could eventually spend hundreds of millions of dollars to remove PCB's from 43 miles of river bottom stretching from Hudson Falls to Troy.

Work will start in the spring of 2007 and could be completed in six years, if there are no interruptions.

But there are no guarantees that the $700 million project will go smoothly, because the consent decree splits the cleanup into two phases. While General Electric has agreed to Phase 1, it will not make a decision about the second phase until the first is completed. The company also agreed to pay $78 million to cover government costs associated with the cleanup, on top of $37 million it has already paid.

General Electric used PCB's, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the manufacture of transformers. PCB's were banned in 1976, but the large amount of the chemicals that G.E. had discharged into the Hudson had settled into the bottom of the river, where they posed a continuing threat to the environment and to people who ate fish caught in the Hudson.

For years the company argued that dredging the river mud would cause more problems than leaving the PCB's undisturbed. Environmental groups and community organizations along the river claimed yesterday that the consent decree did not ensure that the entire river would ever be decontaminated.
Under the terms of the agreement, G.E. will dredge the heaviest deposits of PCB's, at a cost of $100 million to $150 million. That work, which is expected to take about a year, will remove about 10 percent of the 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment.

The remaining mud, in which the contamination is lighter but spread over a much larger area, would be dredged in the second phase, a project that would last five years and cost about $500 million.

Federal officials said that if G.E. decided not to cooperate in the second phase, the government would use legal means to force the company to do the work, or would undertake the cleanup itself and bill G.E.

"We have made a commitment to all parties that this cleanup is going to get done, and we are unequivocal about this," said Alan J. Steinberg, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, which filed the consent decree with G.E. in federal court in Albany.

Community organizations like Scenic Hudson, which has been fighting for years to get G.E. to remove the PCB's, were disappointed with the consent decree.

"Unfortunately, this is exactly what we would expect from G.E.: a lack of commitment to cleaning up their mess," said Rich Schiafo, Scenic Hudson's environmental project manager. "G.E. has fought a cleanup tooth and nail, and they're still not making a full commitment."

Robert Goldstein, a lawyer with the environmental group Riverkeeper, said he was skeptical that the agreement would lead to the removal of all the PCB's. Because the company will be operating the dredges and monitoring the work, Mr. Goldstein said, it could make a case that dredging does not work, justifying a decision to drop Phase 2.

George Pavlou, the environmental agency's Superfund director for the New York region, said dredging had been conceived as a two-phase process since at least 2002. Doing so, he said, allows the work in Phase 1 to be evaluated by an independent panel "to determine whether engineering and quality of life standards will be achieved in such a way that they do not do more harm than good."

G.E. will have until August 2008 to decide whether to go forward with Phase 2. Gary Sheffer, a spokesman, said the company had already shown its willingness to cooperate with the cleanup. G.E. has spent more than $100 million taking samples from the river bottom and designing a dredging plan. It has agreed to build a processing plant in Fort Edward, about 45 miles north of Troy, that will be large enough to handle all 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment over the life of the project.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

October 7th, 2005, 06:20 AM


October 7th, 2005, 06:08 PM
^ If you've got an extra $700,000,000 sitting around I've got some good ideas...

November 4th, 2005, 08:52 AM
Clean Enough To Swim In Again?

by Pat Arnow
04 Nov 2005

If you happen to fall in to the New York Harbor, the Hudson, the East River, or Jamaica Bay, you need not fear bacterial infections or diseases from industrial pollution, according to a draft of a yearly report from the city's Department of Environmental Protection. Unless you fall in after a storm.

In fact, despite their sullied reputation, the quality of most of the waters around New York City has been pretty good in recent years. Since passage of the nation's Clean Water Act of 1972 and improvements in the city's handling of sewage in the '80s, city waterways have improved. Perfection is a long way off. But for a city that disposes of 1.9 billion gallons per day from wastewater treatment plants in New York waters (in 2003) and lives with the effects of pollution from years gone by (such as PCBs dumped upriver in the Hudson), the waters are relatively clean.

"During the last two decades, water quality in New York Harbor has improved to the point that the waters are now commonly utilized for recreation and commerce throughout the year," says the Department of Environmental Protection’s draft report. Charles Strucken of the department says they are still working on the final report about New York water quality (not drinking water).

One problem that continues to plague the waterways stems from storm water and sewage being combined. When it rains, the pipes and water treatment facilities can't handle all of the waste. Sewage is sometimes discharged directly into the waters.

The storm runoff also brings pollutants from the land and streets, such as motor oil, pet waste and pesticides, says Maureen Dolan of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (http://www.citizenscampaign.org/index.html).

In anticipation of the sewage discharges, the city closes beaches even before storms. In the summer of 2004, she reports, 12 beaches were closed, for a total of more than 400 days. The Bronx experienced the most with 289 beach closure days for eight beaches. Dolan expects similar figures for 2005 (results have not yet been tallied). The technology is there to keep the sewage out of the waterways. "In 2005 we should not have sewage flowing into the beaches," says Dolan.


"Right now looking out my window, I can see down a depth of eight feet," says Dan Mundy, founder of Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers. He became active in the mid-1990s, when he saw conditions in the bay where he lives deteriorating. Since then, the waters have improved. Though 300 million gallons a day of treated sewage water comes into the closed estuary adjacent to JFK Airport, Jamaica Bay is holding its own, says Mundy. "The bay is swimmable. Fishing is great."

Swimming and fishing are all right in the Hudson and East Rivers, too. "The water is cleaner now than it was ten years ago -- and by some estimates 100 years ago. It is perfectly safe and sanitary to swim in it," says the Manhattan Island Foundation, which sponsors an annual swim around Manhattan (http://www.swimnyc.org/).

Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society (http://www.alsnyc.org/), which looks after shorelines , says eating fish such as striped bass, bluefish and other game species from the waterways is generally safe. Because of pollutants that rest on the bottom, he recommends staying away from bottom feeders. "Things like American eels that live in the bottom of the bay you don't want to eat. You don't want to eat shellfish. Everything else, use common sense. Don't eat a lot, and make sure it's cleaned properly." He recommends taking off the skin and fat layer because that's where "pesticides and heavy metal accumulate."

"Floatables" (Litter And Debris)

Waterways around New York generally look better this year, reports Barbara Cohen, New York Beach Cleanup Coordinator for the American Littoral Society, which sponsors a statewide beach cleanup day each September. Volunteers collected 73,408 pounds of debris around Manhattan alone last year. Though figures haven't been compiled yet for the 2005 cleanup, Cohen says that this year "beaches seem to be cleaner than in the past."

The debris, what those in waste treatment call "floatables," contributes to the look and to the physical well-being of waterways. "The main source of floatables is street litter, which ends up in the city's storm drains (catch basins) and sewers," reports the city's environmental department Web site. Plastic accounts for 42 percent, paper and polystyrene for some 26 percent apiece.

"In New York, cigarettes, caps and lids, and food wrappers accounted for nearly half of all the debris items collected," reports the American Littoral Society about their 2004 cleanup.

Debris is a problem for the small waterways, too. In the cleanup this year, Cohen says, "Coney Island Creek is a bad area in terms of litter and other debris."

Debris is one of the Harlem River's problems as well, but as a tributary of the Hudson, it also suffers from the same PCB contamination that the Hudson does, reports the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (http://www.icisnyu.org/WaterQuality_009.html) at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.


The worst problem for the tributaries and "small embayments" are bacteria from the storm runoffs, says the Department of Environmental Protection's draft report. "Some of these tributaries are the only remaining areas where bacterial counts exceed standards on a regular basis."

The report details pollution from industry and storm water discharge in Newton Creek, which marks the border between Queens and Brooklyn and flows into the East River. Improvements to the creek are scheduled for completion in 2007.

The infamous Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn remains polluted and even smelly at times for the same reason, reports Crain's New York Business. Developers who want to build housing along the canal are reportedly daunted by the city's recent postponement of the canal's cleanup.

The Bronx River also faces storm runoff that pollutes other New York City waterways. That's a problem for Jamaica Bay, too. There are still algae blooms on occasion, caused by an excess of nitrogen from the runoffs. When the algae die, it sucks oxygen out of the water, and fish leave or die. "The bay is also losing 50 acres of marshland a year, and no one has figured out why so far," Mundy says. Shell fishing is still prohibited.

Still, Mundy says in the past four years, he has become optimistic. The Department of Environmental Protection is building huge holding tanks to handle the overflow. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on capital projects.

Mundy and others who have watched the water for a long time are convinced that the beauty of New York's rivers and harbors is not just on the surface.

This website is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation (http://www.citizensunionfoundation.org/).

November 21st, 2005, 07:17 AM
November 21, 2005

Internal Federal Memo Casts Doubts on Hudson Cleanup


A federal conservation official has raised serious doubts about the recently approved plan to scrape hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of hazardous chemicals from the bottom of the Hudson River, and raised the possibility that the long-delayed cleanup may never be completed.

The official, a coastal resources expert in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a confidential memo that General Electric intends to leave substantial amounts of contaminants in the river, capping them with additional material rather than removing them. But the cap could be washed away in a storm, releasing the remaining PCB's beneath, the memo said.

The official also said G.E.'s plan - one of the largest industrial cleanups ever attempted - would not do enough to rebuild the natural habitat destroyed by the cleanup, but would leave nature to take its course, an approach that would reduce the chances that the river bottom would ever recover.

The memo questioned the plan's chance of success, saying that the "long-term recovery of the system may be delayed, projected time frame to achieve reduction in PCB's may be extended and residual injury to natural resources may increase."

G.E., which has not yet seen the memo, reached a binding agreement last month with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to go ahead with the cleanup. Strong opposition from another federal agency is itself not enough to derail the project, but it is likely to intensify the opposition of community groups and environmental organizations that have fought for decades to force G.E. to accept responsibility for cleaning up the environmental mess created by its factories on the Hudson.

The memo was sent to the E.P.A. in October, but it has not been made public. A copy was given to The New York Times by Riverkeeper, an environmental organization that has questioned the effectiveness of G.E.'s cleanup plan.

The apparent rift within the federal government suggests that an issue that had been simmering for years - and seemed to be resolved last month - may yet have more chapters to play out.

The binding agreement requires G.E. to dredge 43 miles of the Hudson River stretching from Hudson Falls to Troy, N.Y., a $700 million project that could be undertaken in two phases over six years, if there are no interruptions.

G.E. resisted the cleanup for nearly three decades after PCB's, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were discovered in the river, contending that dredging them would do more harm than simply leaving them in place. Last month it agreed to drop its opposition as part of a consent decree with the E.P.A. and the United States Department of Justice, though opponents questioned the company's commitment.

PCB's were once widely used in the production of electrical transformers. By the time the chemicals were banned in 1976, large amounts had been discharged into the Hudson and had settled into the mud on the river bottom. They are believed to pose a continuing threat to the environment and to people who eat fish caught in the river.

The E.P.A. tentatively approved G.E.'s plan as part of last month's agreement, subject to a review and final adjustments.

The agency has rejected the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's suggestion that problems in carrying out the first phase of the project, a compact area of 80 acres that is scheduled to be cleaned starting in 2007, would reduce the likelihood of proceeding to the second, larger phase, which would extend over many miles of the river.

"We don't believe that the design of the plan will have a deleterious effect on Phase 2 of the project," said Mary Mears, a spokeswoman in E.P.A.'s New York office. "It is and it remains our intention to see this project through to its end and to make sure it is successful."

But for those who oppose G.E.'s handling of the Hudson's restoration, the memo is yet another sign that the E.P.A. is not being firm enough with the corporation.

"Regardless of what this document is, why is the E.P.A. ignoring its well-reasoned conclusions?" said Robert Goldstein, a lawyer with Riverkeeper. "And what does this say about the ability of the E.P.A. to compel G.E. to do anything?"

A G.E. spokesman said he was unaware of the existence of the confidential memo. He said the cleanup has long been considered a two-part project, and he insisted that the corporation was not trying to avoid the second phase.

"We've designed the project to meet the standards set by the E.P.A., and therefore it is designed to succeed based on E.P.A.'s criteria," said the G.E. spokesman, Gary Sheffer. "This will be one of the most watched environmental cleanups in history."

The comments of a number of community groups, individuals and state agencies that raised concerns about the plan are included in the public file. But the critical memo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is not. Ms. Mears of the E.P.A. said it is an interagency document that was never intended to be made public.

Rather, she said, the agency solicits independent opinions from experts in other departments to help it as it proceeds with the cleanup of major Superfund sites like the Hudson River.

Those experts form what is called a Biological Technical Assistance Group, which reviews draft documents and offers advice on how the agency should proceed.

"The staff uses the information to inform their opinions," Ms. Mears said. The agency is not obligated to follow suggestions made by the experts, and in this case, she said, the writer of the comment "may be a little outside her area of expertise."

The author of the memo, Lisa Rosman, is a coastal resources expert with the oceanic and atmospheric administration, which is concerned principally with the recovery of the river's natural habitats and has been involved in negotiations over the Hudson cleanup for decades. She did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Late last month, the E.P.A. issued a 72-page response to the G.E. plan, commenting on 228 separate points raised by the community and by the agency itself.

Some of the confidential memo's criticisms are also raised, including what appears to be G.E.'s overreliance on capping the river bottom rather than trying to remove all or nearly all of the contaminated mud.

But the E.P.A. does not address the memo's broader concerns about the possible cancellation of the second phase, which would lead to the failure of the whole project.

That omission from the agency's response is already providing ammunition to those who believe that the government is allowing G.E. too much leeway.

"The project is designed to fail," said Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of Clearwater, a Hudson River environmental organization. "The E.P.A. now has to listen to the counsel of its sister agencies and the community at large."

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

January 30th, 2006, 09:01 AM
Hudson May Teem With Oysters Again Under State Plan

BY MICHAEL HILL - Associated Press
January 30, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/26694

ALBANY- Oysters once thrived in the lower Hudson River. Millions of pounds a year were pulled from the water for food and oyster reefs lined New York Harbor.

"The harbor used to be paved with oysters, basically," a participant in River Project in Manhattan, Cathy Drew, said. "The whole bottom was oyster beds."

Oysters virtually disappeared from the river in the last century, most likely victims of pollution.

Now they might be poised for a comeback. With the river on a rebound, state officials want to determine whether conditions are right to reintroduce oysters in large numbers. A feasibility study will begin this year and, depending on results, a two-year pilot reseeding program could begin in 2007, the of head of marine resources for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Gordon Colvin, said.

The oyster program is a small part of a broader plan by New York to revitalize the Hudson River. A recently released four-year "action agenda" for the Hudson River Estuary also includes plans to increase river populations of striped bass and American eels, create more swimming spots and conserve riverside scenery.

Mr. Colvin said that long ago, oysters were found as far north as Westchester County. They were likely a food source for ancient hunter-gatherers. Recent high-tech mapping of the river bottom shows evidence of reefs going back thousands of years. Henry Hudson, who explored the river in 1609, reported oysters as big as dinner plates, according to Ms. Drew.

By the 19th century, oyster farming was a brisk business around the mouth of the Hudson. The state offered 15-year underwater leases for businessmen and oyster barges floated off the Manhattan shore. Almost 25 million pounds of oysters were pulled from the Hudson and New York waters in 1911.

Then the decline started. More water pollution, more people and overfarming are likely culprits. Typhoid cases linked to tainted shellfish led to the condemnation and abandonment of some shellfish beds. Oyster populations dwindled to a ghost of their former glory by the '60s.

Ms. Drew said there are still some oysters around New York Harbor and their numbers are growing modestly. But conditions are rough for them - Ms. Drew suspects wakes kicked up by ferries endanger the oysters - and the mature specimens she has seen top out at about four centimeters.

Still, state officials are heartened enough by the overall condition of the river to fund a study of the extent of the historic oyster habitat and the reasons for its decline. Researchers will then check the feasibility of restoring oysters. A modest pilot project could start by 2007. The entire project will cost $266,675, most of it paid by a federal grant.

Advocates say an oyster reintroduction would not only restore a native species, but would create reefs that would provide a habitat for other species ranging from fish to anemone.

One oyster filters over 50 gallons of water a day.

February 26th, 2006, 12:17 PM
Related ...

EPA OK’d plan to dump nerve agent into Delaware

Bucks County Courier Times
Feb. 26, 2006


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't oppose the U.S. Department of Defense and DuPont Co.'s plan to dump a wastewater byproduct of a deadly nerve agent into the Delaware River.

The agency said it's assured of a safe treatment for up to 4 million gallons of caustic wastewater created in the treatment for VX, a chemical weapon with a pinhead-size potency to kill a human. DuPont is treating VX for disposal at its Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.

The agent, once neutralized, would be shipped to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for discharge into the river.

"EPA believes that all of our previously identified ecological concerns have been resolved," said Walter Mugdan, director of the agency's Environmental Planning and Protection division in New York, in a letter released Friday to CNN and obtained by The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.

The agency's position angers opponents of the disposal plan. They're concerned the wastewater would harm the Delaware, which supplies drinking water to millions. Furthermore, opponents say the EPA's opinion is premature and raises more questions about the wastewater's effects on river health.

The EPA forwarded its findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where analysts are considering health risks posed by the Army and DuPont's plan. A final report from the CDC is expected to go to the region's congressional delegations in April. An earlier study by the agency was inconclusive as to the health effects of the discharge.

Tracy Carluccio, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Riverkeeper based in Washington Crossing, criticized the EPA for its action.

"This report [by the EPA] is not conclusive in any way," she said Saturday.

Leaking the report "interrupted the normal procedures," and injected the EPA's bias into what was supposed to be an independent review of the data.

She's concerned the EPA's publicized opinion in favor of the disposal plan would unduly prejudice any independent review of the data for the CDC.

"It's important from a scientific point of view is that the cumulative impact of all of these chemicals is known before you start discharging," she said.

Maya van Rossum, who heads Delaware Riverkeeper, also was critical. "Its premature release smacks of strong-arm politics to push the Army's and the present [Bush] Administration's biased agenda."

Delaware Riverkeeper bills itself as "vigilant protectors and defenders of the river."

Delaware and New Jersey opposed an earlier version of the plan, which involved the discharge of treated waste into the Delaware from DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J.

Government officials in both states have said they're concerned that traces of VX and other toxic byproducts would reach the river even after treatment.

Although the EPA found DuPont had proven the discharge would meet federal limits on toxic pollutants, the agency recommended additional work, including studies of fish and other aquatic life before treatment begins. The EPA, New Jersey, DuPont and the Delaware River Basin Commission would collaborate in those studies.

More than 250,000 gallons of VX stored at Indiana are being chemically neutralized. The process creates a wastewater called hydrolysate. About 11 percent of the government's VX stockpile has been neutralized.

The hydrolysate, which the Army has compared to liquid drain cleaner, is being stored in mobile containers until the government decides how to dispose of it.

John A. Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said he wasn't shocked by the agency's decision, but needs to review the evidence behind it.

"We did say early on that it's going to take new technology to make the VX treatment acceptable. The treatment level of the original plan was much too low," Hughes said.

The Delaware agency raised questions about DuPont's original proposal, eventually prompting the company to develop a new treatment step that would prevent toxic leftovers in the wastewater from escaping into the river.

Also of concern in Bucks County was the Army's plan to possibly ship the chemical by train through the Morrisville rail yard en route to DuPont's Deepwater plant.

Anthony Farina, a spokesman for DuPont, said the company was aware of the EPA's opinion and has yet to review details.

"Certainly we've been working very closely with the EPA in addressing their concerns," Farina said. "We look forward to seeing the final report when it's completed and released."

DuPont in mid-2004 said the company could make $13.5 million annually during the two- to three-year treatment process. Details of the contract or government payments to DuPont during preparations for the work were unavailable.

Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for New Jersey's governor, said Jon S. Corzine remains concerned about the proposal.

"We're still very interested in seeing the result of the CDC's study of the human impact," Gilfillan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

May 1st, 2007, 07:03 AM
May 1, 2007

G.E. Moves Ahead on Removal of PCBs From 2 Rivers, but Frustration Remains

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
A sign posted on a tree at Woods Pond in Pittsfield warns of the contamination of
fish, waterfowl, frogs and turtles by PCBs, banned synthetic compounds that are
considered neurotoxins and probable carcinogens.


PITTSFIELD, Mass. — More than 30 years have passed since Congress banned a broad range of synthetic compounds called PCBs. Yet 2.65 million cubic yards of mud on the bottom of the Hudson River remain contaminated with the chemicals, which are considered neurotoxins and probable human carcinogens.

Since 2002, General Electric has been under federal order to clean approximately 40 miles of the Hudson where its factories discharged PCBs. Preliminary site clearing for the huge project began last week, but actual dredging will not start until 2009 at the earliest.

Here, on another PCB-contaminated river about 60 miles to the southeast in Massachusetts, G.E. has made more progress, albeit haltingly.

Working with the federal government, the company completed the cleanup of a two-mile stretch of the Housatonic River late last year, scooping out the heaviest concentrations of the industrial chemicals. While much remains to be done along the remaining 100 miles or more of the Housatonic, its most heavily contaminated section is now cleaner than it has been in a long time.

The two projects differ in scale and expense as much as the two rivers differ in depth and breadth, and each presents unique engineering challenges.

The Hudson project covers 40 miles of the broad river from which the 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment will have to be dredged, at an estimated cost of $700 million.

By contrast, the first phase of the cleanup of the Housatonic, a far gentler river, had a price tag of $250 million and involved 110,000 cubic yards of mud.

Still, the Housatonic cleanup dragged on for more than six years, twice the expected time. And there is no timetable or cost estimate yet for decontaminating the river’s lower reaches.

Based on their experience on the Housatonic, scientists, G.E. officials, government authorities and people who live in the local communities affected by PCBs all agree that work on the Hudson, whenever it starts, is likely to take far longer than expected and will run into more technological obstacles than anyone anticipates.

Almost certainly, the level of public suspicion and mistrust surrounding these projects will not soon subside. Peter L. deFur, an environmental consultant who advises local groups concerned about the Housatonic cleanup, said that although the company had belatedly been doing a “pretty good” job on the river, the people who live along the Hudson should be warned that “G.E. has been absolutely the opposite of a responsible party.”

Stephen D. Ramsey, G.E.’s vice president for corporate environmental programs, who is overseeing both cleanups, said the company had proved its good faith by spending more than a billion dollars studying and cleaning up PCBs, mostly in these two rivers.

But he said there is little that G.E. can do to change perceptions “except to be very clear with the public about what is the status of the project, what people can expect to see and what are the issues we are encountering as we go along.”

In the last century, G.E. discovered many profitable ways of using PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a slippery yellowish goo as thick as motor oil that can resist heat without catching fire. G.E. used vast quantities at its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward factories on the Hudson to build electrical capacitors. At its sprawling plant here on the Housatonic, G.E. used them in transformers.

After the chemicals were banned in 1976, the company agreed to clean up its properties. But it argued that the vast quantities of PCBs that had been discharged into the rivers would break down on their own or be harmlessly buried under a protective layer of silt. At first the federal Environmental Protection Agency agreed.

As scientific understanding advanced, however, the agency decided to take a second look. Even nestled in the river mud, the chemicals were being ingested by worms and other invertebrates, which were in turn eaten by small fish, and those were eaten by larger ones, which eventually were consumed by people.

The only ways to solve the problem, the E.P.A. decided in the late 1980s, were to remove or cap the PCBs.

G.E. spent millions of dollars on advertising trying to convince local residents that dredging was worse than doing nothing, but the company eventually accepted a plan to clean more than 40 miles of the Hudson, from Fort Edward to the Troy dam, in two phases.

The first phase, a kind of trial run to last one year, was originally set to begin in 2006 but is now set for 2009. The final phase is scheduled to last five years.

The Housatonic cleanup has a more compact history. The 254-acre G.E. plant in Pittsfield used PCBs from 1932 until they were banned. Storm water runoff from the plant carried the chemicals into the Housatonic, where they spread downstream, contaminating more than 100 miles of river in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In 1999, G.E. agreed to a $250 million settlement to clean a highly contaminated half-mile portion of the river that ran through the company’s property in Pittsfield. Because the Housatonic in that area is only a few feet deep and a few yards wide, G.E. could, in essence, dry-clean the river.

At the end of 1999, it started work on a temporary dam across half the river, and when that half-mile section of the riverbed dried out, front-end loaders scraped off two feet of mud and dumped it onto trucks to be buried at G.E.’s Pittsfield property. The temporary dam was then moved to the other side of the river, where the process was repeated.

The E.P.A. cleaned the next 1.5 miles of river itself, billing G.E. for half the cost. The agency chose to divert the Housatonic through a large pipe and then bring in heavy equipment to scrape the river bottom.

G.E. had other PCB problems in Pittsfield. Over the years, the company had given away PCB-soaked dirt and other material that property owners used as fill in their backyards. In the late 1990s, G.E. performed tests at more than 300 homes and ended up excavating the soil around more than 175 of them, as well as at one Pittsfield public school.

A resident and former G.E. employee, David Gibbs, 56, found that several chemical drums had been buried in his backyard near the river. In a recent interview, Mr. Gibbs said that he caught G.E.’s contractors trying to cut corners as they cleaned up his property and that he developed a lasting mistrust of the company.

“My family’s lived in this neighborhood for over 60 years,” Mr. Gibbs said. “G.E. owes it to us to clean our river.”

Another resident, Tim Gray, 54, is executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, which acts as a watchdog on G.E.’s activities. Mr. Gray pushed to have Pittsfield added to the national list of Superfund sites, but local officials objected, saying they believed it would stigmatize the city, causing economic harm.

In March, G.E. held public hearings in Massachusetts and Connecticut to discuss options for cleaning the 135 miles of river from Pittsfield south to the Long Island Sound. They range from dredging long stretches to doing nothing at all.

At a hearing in Kent, Conn., G.E. presented data indicating that PCB concentrations in fish and invertebrates had declined substantially before leveling off in recent years. When the company suggested that the river was cleaning itself, Mr. Gray objected, as did Mr. deFur, the environmental consultant.

“I think they’re trying to put something over on people,” Mr. deFur said. If the river was cleaning itself, he said, concentrations would continue to decline. He said the chemicals were degraded in water but not destroyed. Continued leakage from the plant and an incomplete cleanup mean the river remains polluted, he said.

At the Hudson Falls plant, a few ounces of PCBs continue to leak into the river each day, according to G.E. Local environmental advocates express fears that the chemicals have also contaminated the soil beneath homes in the area, but G.E. has not agreed to a residential cleanup, as it did in Pittsfield.

“Pittsfield is a precedent that G.E. did not want to set,” said Robert Goldstein, a lawyer for Riverkeeper, an environmental group on the Hudson. “They did not want to advertise to the folks in Fort Edward that there was an upland cleanup.”

Since it would be impossible to reroute the Hudson the way the engineers diverted the Housatonic, Mr. Ramsey, the G.E. official, said the company would use old-fashioned mechanical dredging. A “yellow iron Tonka Toy look-alike clamshell dredge” will scoop up contaminated river mud and dump it on barges, he said. The dried sediment will then be shipped by rail to a licensed landfill outside the Hudson Valley, he said.

Mr. Ramsey said the Housatonic project had taught him that even with advanced engineering, “things take longer than everyone thinks.”

The biggest challenge on the Hudson will be ensuring that the dredged material is not set adrift, Mr. Ramsey said. He said the affected communities needed to understand that if monitoring shows that too much material is escaping, the operation could be slowed down or suspended.

“If there are starts and stops,” Mr. Ramsey said, “it won’t be because anyone is trying to pull a fast one.”


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

May 16th, 2009, 06:31 AM
Dredging of Pollutants Begins in Hudson

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/05/16/nyregion/16dredge.xlarge1.jpg Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
After long battle, E.P.A. and G.E. begin a cleanup of PCB hot spots on the Hudson River. Hot spots of PCBS are mapped by GPS, and a dredge barge scoops up chunks of river mud putting it into a hopper barge, to be sent on to nearby processing facility and then, eventually, transported 2,000 mile on a train ride to a Texas hazardous waste dump.

By ANDREW C. REVKIN (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/andrew_c_revkin/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
Published: May 15, 2009

MOREAU, N.Y. — Twenty-five years after the federal government declared a long stretch of the Hudson River to be a contaminated Superfund (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/s/superfund/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) site, the cleanup (http://www.epa.gov/hudson/) of its chief remaining source of pollution began here Friday with a single scoop of mud extracted by a computer-guided dredge.


http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/05/16/nyregion/16dredge.map.jpgGraphic (http://javascript<b></b>:pop_me_up2('http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2009/05/16/nyregion/16dredge.map.html', '520_1196', 'width=520,height=1196,location=no,scrollbars=yes, toolbars=no,resizable=yes'))HERE (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/science/earth/16dredge.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=nyregion)

Twelve dredges are to work round the clock, six days a week, into October, removing sediment laced with the chemicals known as PCBs. Mile-long freight trains running every several days will carry the dried mud to a hazardous-waste landfill in Texas.

An estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, flowed into the upper Hudson from two General Electric factories for three decades before they were banned, in 1977, as a health threat to people and wildlife. In high doses, they have been shown to cause cancer in animals and are listed by federal agencies as a probable human carcinogen.

“Today, the healing of the Hudson begins,” George Pavlou, the Environmental Protection Agency (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/e/environmental_protection_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org)’s acting regional administrator, said under bright skies in a riverbank ceremony here as federal, state and local officials, G.E. representatives and environmental campaigners looked on.

Those gathered scrambled from a white tent to get a good view as a blue clamshell bucket rose slowly from the riverbed holding the first five cubic yards of mud. A lone duck paddled downriver along the far bank.

The dredging operation is the first phase of an operation that, if it continues as projected through 2015, could largely eliminate the Hudson’s last significant toxic legacy from an era of unfettered industrial activity and dumping.

While the Superfund site itself is 197 miles long, stretching from Hudson Falls, N.Y., to the southern tip of Manhattan, the initial phase involves spots along a six-mile segment south of Fort Edward, the hamlet across the river from this industrial site.

G.E. (http://www.hudsondredging.com) is supervising and paying for the cleanup, which federal officials have estimated could cost more than $750 million. Industry experts say the ultimate cost could be many times than that, however. (G.E. declines to give an estimate.)

While most of the chemicals were dumped when such practices were legal, the Superfund law requires the responsible polluting party, when one can be pinpointed, to foot the cleanup bill.

Yet G.E has reserved the right, after a review of the operation in 2010, to reject the project’s much larger second phase. Federal environmental officials have said that if it did that, they would most likely order the cleanup to proceed and levy enormous penalties against the company.

The first phase is projected to remove 22 tons of PCBs from the riverbed; the second phase would remove 102 tons, the E.P.A. said.Even as it embarks on the cleanup, G.E. has a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law working its way through federal court. (The company is a responsible party in 52 active Superfund sites across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Yet spokesmen for G.E. are quick to defend the record of the company, which these days, with its Ecomagination line of products, is casting itself as a good environmental citizen.

Mark Behan, a longtime spokesman for the company on PCBs, said that the challenge to the Superfund law “has no bearing on the Hudson project.”

He said G.E. had acted in good faith for many years and that in 2002, its chairman, Jeffrey R. Immelt (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/i/jeffrey_r_immelt/index.html?inline=nyt-per), made a public pledge to cooperate and implement the dredging plan, drafted and approved by the E.P.A. Three related accords have since been signed, he said, and the company has met every commitment so far.

In organizing the ceremony near the first dredging spot, the agency cast the moment as a milestone in the history of the river and of environmental governance in the United States.

Yet environmental officials and groups that spent years fighting General Electric’s efforts to challenge the need to remove the mud were more critical.

Edward O. Sullivan, who from 1987 to 1995 wrestled with General Electric lawyers and scientists as New York State’s deputy commissioner of environmental conservation and ran the state’s hazardous-waste cleanup program, said that by pursuing the court challenge to the Superfund law and reserving the right to reject the second phase of the cleanup, General Electric had constructed two potential “escape hatches.”

“Clearly, G.E. has the capability to do it right,” said Mr. Sullivan, who now runs the private group Scenic Hudson (http://www.scenichudson.org) and witnessed the start of the dredging on Friday. “But the question remains, is the commitment there?

So far, the company has been masterful at instigating delay.”

The decision by the E.P. A. in 2002 to require dredging was a mix of politics and science, with a variety of expert panels split on the efficacy of dredging, but also on the perils of leaving so much contamination in sediments that might be disturbed by powerful floods or other factors.

In the 400 years since the first Europeans probed its waters, the Hudson has seen grand phases of development, with oyster, sturgeon and shad fisheries replaced by factories spewing everything from paint and dye to adhesives and toxic chemicals into the waters.

From the 1970s onward, the nascent American environmental movement grew partly out of efforts to restore the Hudson. The battle over PCBs dominated that phase.

After other cleanups, communities that avoided their riverbanks for two generations because of sewage or chemicals have reclaimed them. Still, from Fort Edward south to the dam at Troy, residents cannot keep any fish hooked in the river because of the chemicals that accumulate in them.

The hope now, environmental officials say, is that dredging 98 percent of the PCBs out of hot spots in the river like the Thompson Island Pool will greatly speed what has been a slow natural decline in levels of the chemicals in striped bass and other fish species.

After the PCB-tainted sediment is extracted, it will be replaced by clean fill, along with plants native to the river. Barges holding the contaminated mud will pass through locks into the Champlain Canal (http://www.champlaincanal.net) to a nearby $100 million treatment plant and transport hub built by General Electric for that purpose.

As work crews in an aluminum boat passed back and forth Friday along the waterfront in Fort Edward, some local residents at Jim’s Broadway Cafe reflected on how the river might benefit from the dredging operation.
Mary Cunningham, a former Chamber of Commerce president and self-described “river bug” whose house sits on one of the banks, said raw sewage was the main concern when she was young, and later, the chemical contamination.

She and Jim Rosch, the cafe’s owner, said that while the community has been divided over whether to dredge, for them it was never a question.

Mr. Rosch, 62, said he looked forward to taking a swim in the river without concern, and someday, to seeing people catch fish and keep them.

“For the plant life, the fish life, the human life, it just has to be done,” he said. “The scientists made one thing clear: It’s not going to clean itself.”


Copyright 2009 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

May 17th, 2009, 11:25 AM
Yet G.E has reserved the right, after a review of the operation in 2010, to reject the project’s much larger second phase. Federal environmental officials have said that if it did that, they would most likely order the cleanup to proceed and levy enormous penalties against the company.

Or not. Now that the big phony Obama has appointed a former lawyer for GE to the DOJ environmental division, GE might have an easier time of it. I'm hugely disappointed in our new President.