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EPA Fails to Disclose GE Request for Certificate of Completion of Hudson PCB Cleanup, Raising New Questions about Transparency, Integrity of its Oversight of Project

Andy Bicking, Scenic Hudson Director of Public Policy & Special Projects 914 489 1568
Roger Downs, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director 518 426 9144

New data supports Department of Health finding that anglers are consuming contaminated fish above safe levels—low-income minorities at greatest risk

HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y.—Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to release its Five Year Review determining the effectiveness of the Hudson River PCB cleanup, polluter General Electric (GE) has requested that the agency formally declare the project complete—which, if granted, would dramatically diminish the EPA’s ability to require the company to undertake additional cleanup actions. GE’s request, made in a December 23, 2016 letter to the EPA—which the agency has not disclosed—comes despite data clearly showing that the Superfund remediation has failed to achieve its goals to be “protective of human health and the environment.”

The persistent risk people face from PCB contamination is highlighted in the results of a New York State Department of Health (DOH) survey released last year that concluded large numbers of people continue to consume Hudson River fish—despite scientific data from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and two federal agencies that the river’s fish contain PCB levels 600 percent higher than amounts targeted to be reached by 2016 in the EPA’s cleanup plan and consent agreement with GE. The DOH survey results are supported by a “snapshot” study of anglers conducted by Scenic Hudson and the Sierra Club, which indicates that low-income minority communities face the greatest health threat from the contaminated fish.

Fish consumption significantly higher than recommended

The “snapshot” study is based on surveys of anglers conducted over a 90-day period last summer at 15 riverfront locations between Peekskill (Westchester County) and Troy (Rensselaer County). Among its most important findings, 28 percent of survey participants reported consuming fish. Of these, 32 percent reported eating fish in amounts and portion size above DOH guidelines. The DOH recommends that adult males consume no more than one meal per month, with a portion size of eight ounces. Women under age 50 and children under 15 are advised to eat no fish at all from the Hudson.

Survey results indicated that the typical consumer of fish from the Hudson is a male of color with an annual household income of $25,000 to $50,000. Of those surveyed, Latino anglers reported the highest rate of fish consumption (64 percent), followed by African-Americans (41 percent). The survey also intended to characterize how many anglers shared their catch with children and women of childbearing age, but most adult anglers were reluctant to discuss and/or answer questions about this. However, surveyors did observe women who were not fishing receive excess fish caught by the anglers.

Significantly, both surveyors and anglers noted difficulty in locating posted signage about fish- consumption guidelines at many locations. At some regularly visited fishing spots there was no signage at all warning anglers of the dangers of consuming fish from the river.

Survey demonstrates need for full angler/creek survey

While the Scenic Hudson-Sierra Club survey was not statistically large, it indicates that people are still being exposed to toxic PCBs through fish consumption. It also demonstrates the need—and supports the call issued by the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—for a full angler/creel survey. Additionally, the “snapshot” survey follows a report issued by the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state DEC) confirming that the public’s use of the Hudson River fishery continues to be severely curtailed because of GE’s PCB contamination.

“Everyone should be concerned that GE is hoping the EPA will rubber-stamp its cleanup and issue the Certificate of Completion despite the clear scientific data indicating the job is not done and human health and the environment remain at risk. It’s clear from the Department of Health data and snapshot angler survey that current fish consumption in the lower Hudson River is significantly higher than recommended, and a more comprehensive PCB cleanup is needed to address the health threat, especially to those who depend on Hudson River fish for subsistence,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan continued: “In the final days of his administration, President Obama should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to issue its Five Year Review of the Hudson River Superfund site with a finding that the remedy is not protective of the environment and public health, consistent with New York State’s recent review. The EPA should exert its authority and compel GE to do more work.”

“Communities of color have a strong cultural connection with eating fish from the Hudson, and fish advisories can only go so far to warn people about contamination dangers. We will be facing continued decades of this persistent public health crisis if we do not do more to abate the contamination itself. We are not advocating that we stop the fish advisories—but advisories do not represent the kind of justice these communities need. GE must be held responsible for fully cleaning up the Hudson, so that thousands of New York fishermen can return to safe fish-consumption practices,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs.

“The facts could not be any clearer—GE’s cleanup has not gone far enough to protect our communities and our environment from the toxic PCBs. EPA seems content to be in GE’s corner, attempting to do everything it can to call this cleanup a success. But we know, New York State knows, other federal agencies know: the Hudson River Superfund cleanup is a failure. Scenic Hudson’s and Sierra Club’s angler survey is yet more proof of this. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that the EPA protects our Hudson River and our communities from GE’s mess,” said Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Abigail Jones.

“It is distressing, but not surprising, to see that so many people are still eating PCB-contaminated fish from the Hudson River. This finding was true in 1993 when Clearwater undertook the first Angler Survey, in subsequent surveys by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and by Department of Health, and again in 2010, when we revisited this in the Peekskill Environmental Justice Inventory. People need this source of protein for subsistence and they simply have to gamble with the health risks. It means that EPA’s so-called ‘institutional controls’ to protect human health are not working. Protecting people is why we need a more robust cleanup of Hudson River PCBs,” said Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene.

“GE wants to declare ‘mission accomplished’ when fish from the Hudson remain unsafe to eat. Unless EPA can somehow now miraculously demonstrate otherwise, then the cleanup is incomplete by Superfund standards. The people of New York who rely on this river for food, recreation and jobs deserve more from this corporation,” said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Dan Raichel.

On December 20, the DEC issued its own independent analysis of the Superfund cleanup. Basing its results on the same criteria the EPA uses to conduct reviews, the DEC concluded that work conducted to date has not been sufficient to meet public health and environmental goals to protect state residents, restore wildlife in and along the river, and secure the state’s future economic potential. Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper have repeatedly called upon the EPA to issue its own review determining that the cleanup has not achieved its goals and additional remediation is necessary.

To view the Scenic Hudson-Sierra Club angler survey:

For GE’s letter:…

For the DOH study:…

About Scenic Hudson

Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. 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 nearly 40,000 acres.