Environmental Leaders Blast EPA’s Hudson River Report on PCB Cleanup

Thursday, June 1, 2017 -- Scenic Hudson
Contact: 

Manna Jo Greene, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, 835 265 8080, Ext. 7113, or mannajo@clearwater.org
Gil Hawkins, Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, 201 446 2652, or gilhawkins@verizon.net
Kate Kiely, Natural Resources Defense Council, 212 727 4592, or kkiely@nrdc.org
Cliff Weathers, Riverkeeper, 845 445 8257, or cweathers@riverkeeper.org
Ned Sullivan, Scenic Hudson, 914 489 4630, or nsullivan@scenichudson.org
Roger Downs, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, 518 426 9144, or roger.downs@albany.twcbs.com

Review ignores contamination’s impacts on people, environment, economy

Capital Region/Hudson Valley— A technical report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 Office released today on the Hudson River PCB dredging project discounts scientific data presented by New York State, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The review ignores the fact that PCBs remain widespread and pervasive throughout the river and that there will be thousands more pounds of contamination left behind than originally estimated, according to leading environmental groups.

While acknowledging the need for more investigation in the Lower Hudson River, the conclusion of the report (the “Second Five Year Review” of the project) ignores the failure of the cleanup to meet health and safety targets established by the EPA when it selected the dredging project for the Upper Hudson. The EPA’s assumption that the completed upriver remediation “will be protective” at some unknown time in the future abandons the most important goals of the cleanup—reducing high levels of toxic PCBs in fish so they are safe to eat, and reducing PCBs in water and river-bottom sediment to safe levels.

A February 2016 peer-reviewed, scientific analysis by the EPA’s sister federal agency—NOAA—determined that without more dredging, the Hudson will take generations longer to recover from the millions of pounds of toxic PCBs that GE dumped in the river. Similar concerns and recommendations were raised by New York State in its December 2016 review of the cleanup, in which it concluded that “the remedy is not protective of human health and the environment.” By coming to the opposite conclusion, EPA dismisses the state’s expertise and important interest as the natural resource manager for the Hudson River.

The simple fact is that the Hudson River remains contaminated with unsafe levels of PCBs, and at present trajectory residents of riverfront communities will continue to face significant health and economic impacts well into the 22nd century. Advisories against eating fish—including a warning that women of childbearing age and children eat no fish at all—will remain in place indefinitely.

Statements from environmental leaders

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “The EPA has squandered an excellent opportunity to achieve Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stated goal to complete a successful cleanup of the Hudson River, one that would achieve environmental and economic restoration of the region. By ignoring solid scientific evidence from New York State and its sister agencies and concluding that the Hudson River Superfund project will be protective, EPA is washing its hands of responsibility for properly completing cleanup of the largest Superfund site in the country and betraying its own mission to protect public health and the environment. Fortunately, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Environmental Commissioner Basil Seggos have stated they will take the steps necessary to achieve a comprehensive cleanup. Scenic Hudson is committed to working with them to achieve this vital goal.”

Andy Bicking, Scenic Hudson Public Policy director, added, “It has been a decades-long battle getting to this point in the cleanup’s history, and there have been many champions along the way. At the federal level, Scenic Hudson would like to thank those members of Congress who recently advocated for a cleaner Hudson River and provided vocal, public leadership on this issue: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney, Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel and Paul Tonko. We also would like to thank Representatives outside of the Hudson Valley region who took up this cause as a statewide issue: Yvette Clarke, Joe Crowley, Steve Israel, Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler, Kathleen Rice, Jose Serrano, Louise Slaughter and Nydia Velazquez. In addition, the region’s county executives have been in the forefront of this issue, and we would like to recognize the work of Dutchess County Executive Mark Molinaro, Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. Finally, many members of the state Legislature have taken a keen interest in this issue. A show of force of this magnitude is always hard-won yet underscores the importance of continuing the fight for a cleaner Hudson River and the many benefits it would bring to the people who live, work and play in riverfront communities.”

“We have been calling for a more robust cleanup of the Upper Hudson for almost a decade now. The river deserves a thorough five-year review, which takes all the evidence into consideration to ensure the best results. EPA’s rushed determination of ‘protectiveness’ does not bode well for the Hudson. It will cause significant delays in the river’s recovery, as well as impacting human health and economic development,” said Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Environmental Action Director Manna Jo Greene.

Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, “This decision flies in the face of the evidence. Higher than expected levels of contaminants have been found in the river that are not being addressed. Rather than rubber stamping an inadequate cleanup, EPA should have mandated additional remediation. In the lower Hudson where no dredging has occurred, even EPA has acknowledged that goals will not be met. EPA should require action to meet the goals, not move the goalposts.”

“EPA’s cleanup isn’t working as expected,” said Daniel Raichel, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Hudson River and its fish are going to stay contaminated with dangerous chemicals for the next several generations. That isn’t success, it’s an unfinished problem.”

"Pruitt’s EPA cannot ignore science in favor of ‘alternative facts’ in GE’s alleged cleanup of the Hudson River,” said Roger Downs, conservation director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “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.”

Hudson River Fishermen’s Association Vice President Gil Hawkins said, “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 Sloop Clearwater is a nonprofit, grassroots environmental organization whose mission is to inspire, educate, and activate the next generation of environmental leaders. Founded by music legend and activist Pete Seeger, the organization set sail in 1969 with the launch of the sloop Clearwater, a 106-foot heritage vessel created to carry the environmental message up and down the Hudson River. Today, with diverse scientific and educational programs, environmental action, green job-building and sustainable river cities initiatives, Clearwater continues Pete Seeger’s legacy as America’s environmental flagship organization.

The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association is a group of recreational fishermen who make active use of the N.Y. Bight and the surrounding water system and are concerned with the present and future state of these fisheries. Our objectives are to encourage the responsible use of aquatic resources and protection of habitat. We assist where possible in efforts to abate pollution and promote sportfishing and the management of that recreation. We are an IRS recognized nonprofit 501c3 organization.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, Montana, and Beijing.

Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. Riverkeeper has helped to establish globally recognized standards for waterway and watershed protection and serves as the model for the growing Waterkeeper movement that includes more than 300 Keeper programs around the globe.

Scenic Hudson preserves land and farms and creates parks that connect people with the inspirational power of the Hudson River, while fighting threats to the river and natural resources that are the foundation of the valley’s prosperity. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 65 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved more than 40,000 acres. www.scenichudson.org

Sierra Club, founded by legendary conservationist John Muir in 1892, is now one of the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization—with three million members and supporters. Our successes range from protecting millions of acres of wilderness to helping pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter is a volunteer-led environmental organization of 48,000 members statewide dedicated to protecting New York’s air, water and remaining wild places.

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