“Hotspots” that received no dredging also pose major health threat to humans, wildlife
HUDSON VALLEY—Areas dredged during the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s six-year Superfund cleanup in the Upper Hudson River have been recontaminated by General Electric’s toxic PCBs. In addition, unremediated “hotspots” continue to pose a health risk to humans and wildlife. Those are the major findings of an expert analysis of 1,800 sediment samples gathered to gauge the cleanup’s effectiveness.
Governor Cuomo authorized the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to conduct a robust sediment sampling program in 2017, when the EPA refused to gather comprehensive data. Scenic Hudson commissioned Dr. Remy Hennet of S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc.—a leading expert in analyzing contaminated sites—to review the samples. Dr. Hennet notes that dredged areas should not have appreciable PCB concentrations because clean material was backfilled into them. However, PCB levels in samples from these dredged locations are “significantly elevated.”
“The only reasonable conclusion is that the dredged areas have been recontaminated by PCB-laden sediment from non-dredged areas located nearby,” Dr. Hennet states.
The EPA most commonly uses 1 part per million (ppm) as its cleanup goal for PCBs at contaminated sites in the states of New York and New Jersey. Analysis of the DEC’s 2017 sediment data shows that “a large proportion” of the soil samples from both dredged and non-dredged areas contain levels of PCB contamination well above this threshold. In fact, in portions of the river near the City of Mechanicville, in Saratoga County, approximately 80 percent of samples from areas previously dredged were over 1ppm, and more than 90 percent of samples from non-dredged areas exceeded 1ppm.
In addition, the analysis indicates the presence of “highly contaminated ‘hotspot’ areas that have total PCB concentrations that are much higher than the river’s average total PCB concentrations.” Averaging PCB levels over long stretches of the river misrepresents the actual risks of exposure, which are based on local concentrations. These highly contaminated hotspots, some of which are located near relatively large population centers—including the Village of Schuylerville (Saratoga County) and Mechanicville—“pose a greater risk for ecological and human exposure,” says Dr. Hennet.
This new sediment data is consistent with findings regarding PCB levels in Hudson River fish. Data from 2016 showed that fish tissue concentrations of PCBs were 300 to 600 percent higher than the EPA anticipated post-dredging. This new data makes it abundantly clear that the job is not done, and additional cleanup is needed to ensure that human health and the environment are protected from toxic PCBs in the Hudson. In the face of overwhelming information showing more remediation is needed, the EPA cannot issue General Electric a Certificate of Completion, which could relieve the company of liability for cleanup.
“This independent, expert analysis makes clear that the mandated goals of the EPA’s Hudson River Superfund cleanup will not be achieved unless it compels polluter General Electric to undertake a more comprehensive cleanup. Unless—and until—that occurs, these carcinogens will continue to pose a health threat to people and wildlife who come into contact with the Hudson, and economic revitalization along a 40-mile stretch of the river will remain at a standstill,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “It would be outrageous if the EPA ignored these findings and issued General Electric a Certificate of Completion, effectively closing the door on further cleanup of the Upper Hudson.”
“Dr. Hennet’s most recent analysis adds to the ever-growing mountain of scientific evidence that the cleanup work that has been done is not protective of human health and the environment. GE must remain on the hook for the rest of the highly contaminated sediment that remains in the Hudson River, and for that reason, we urge EPA to refrain from issuing a Certificate of Completion,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “Instead of allowing GE to walk away, EPA needs to order additional remediation in the Upper Hudson and a full remedial investigation of the Lower Hudson—the health of our river, our wildlife and our communities depend on it.”
The review was prepared by S.S. Papadopulos Principal Dr. Remy J-C Hennet, who has over 20 years of research and field experience in investigating the origin and transport of organic and inorganic chemicals—including PCBs—in natural and man-made environments. Author and co-author of numerous publications on both inorganic and organic geochemistry, Dr. Hennet received his MA and PhD in geochemistry from Princeton University.
For more on S.S. Papadopulos and Associates, Inc.: www.sspa.com
Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending and restoring the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. Riverkeeper patrols the Hudson River Estuary from the Upper Hudson and Mohawk rivers to New York Harbor and the Upper East River, logging over 5,000 nautical miles per year, conducting enforcement, educating the public and assisting science research. Since its beginnings more than 50 years ago, Riverkeeper has helped to establish globally recognized standards for waterway and watershed protection and serves as the model and mentor for the growing Waterkeeper movement that includes more than 300 Keeper programs around the globe. Visit us at www.riverkeeper.org and follow us @Riverkeeper.
About Scenic Hudson
Scenic Hudson helps citizens and communities preserve land and farms and create parks where people experience the outdoors and enjoy the Hudson River. We also bring together people, businesses and government to protect the river and natural resources that are the engines of the valley’s local economies. Started in 1963 by a handful of citizens who cherished the simple pleasures of the outdoors along the Hudson, Scenic Hudson is credited with launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today, in the face of new challenges and the effects of climate change, we are dedicated to making the Hudson Valley a great place to live, work and play. Our focus is on strengthening and maximizing benefits all can enjoy from the region’s great assets—beautiful open spaces, working farms, and vibrant cities and town centers.