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Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper Respond to EPA’s Rejection of Expanded Sediment Sampling

Ned Sullivan, Scenic Hudson President 914 489 4630
Andy Bicking, Scenic Hudson Director of Public Policy & Special Projects 914 489 1568
Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper President 914 478 4501

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued its dismissal of the very valid concerns raised by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos regarding the health and future of the Hudson River. In a letter to Commissioner Seggos, EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck rejects the DEC’s call for more sediment sampling to determine if the Hudson River PCB cleanup has achieved its goals of being protective of human health and the environment.

In her letter to Commissioner Seggos, Ms. Enck states that “We strongly disagree with your assertion that ‘EPA has failed to recognize the importance of supporting environmental decisions with sound science.’ This baseless accusation ignores the detailed reasoning that EPA presented to you most recently in my letter of December 16 explaining why EPA disagrees with the sediment sampling program suggested by NYSDEC.” She goes on to suggest the DEC “is free to pursue that sampling itself if it so chooses.”

Ms. Enck’s letter is a response to communications written by Commissioner Seggos to the EPA on November 14 and December 20. In the former, he urged the EPA to expand the analysis of sediments by over 1,400 samples, including areas previously and not yet dredged. Without these expanded samplings, this letter noted, it will be impossible to gauge whether the project has met remediation goals identified in the 2002 Record of Decision (ROD).

Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper strongly support New York State’s position in this ongoing dispute, citing that the EPA has not recognized science conducted by New York State and the EPA’s sister agencies—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This data clearly indicates the presence of more PCBs than expected in the Hudson River, and the need for additional sampling and action to address contamination three to five times greater than assumed when the cleanup was designed.

The organizations agree that the EPA’s response to the DEC is misguided. Rather than an objective, data-driven analysis of how the project may or may not have achieved its objectives, the EPA has engineered a plan that will only gather information to support a predetermined position taken publicly by the EPA a year ago, before the Five Year Review process began. The EPA is basing its position on a piecemeal bag of misleading figures, confusing statistics, unconnected data and creative facts to paint a rosy picture of the health of the Hudson River—a picture unsupported by the data, as the DEC’s December 20 letter makes clear. This is unacceptable.

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “The EPA must base its review on scientific data, conduct additional sampling consistent with the state’s request, and acknowledge the cleanup is a failure and that additional actions are needed to protect the public health and environment.”

Riverkeeper President and Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay said, “EPA simply cannot continue to dismiss the rational and scientific analysis of the DEC, nor that of ​the other Natural Resource Damages Trustees, NOAA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. EPA’s duty is to review the data and do all that is necessary to ensure the remedy is actually​ protective of the Hudson River and its communities, not to cling uncritically to its prior conclusion that GE’s work in the Hudson River is a success.”

The two leading environmental groups cited the following flaws in the EPA’s Dec. 16 and 22 letters:

  • The EPA states it is collecting enough sediment samples to fulfill its obligations, yet the number of samples it proposes to collect would only allow a conclusion to be made about whether the cleanup has been protective of human health and the environment 10 to 20 years from now. In the meantime, Hudson Valley residents and wildlife populations will continue being exposed to carcinogenic PCBs.
  • The current sampling design proposed by the EPA will make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine how effective the dredging project has been in reducing PCBs in fish and will under-represent the continued risks from contamination.
  • The EPA is relying on a proposed work plan that ignores the agency’s responsibility to adapt and address the current condition of the river. By refusing to adapt their plan, as the DEC suggests, the EPA clearly does not intend to conduct an objective scientific study designed to answer the most important question—whether the remedy has been protective of human health and the environment. In other words, it would seem the EPA has designed this program to fail.

Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper are members of the EPA’s Five Year Review team and share the concerns of the state and other federal agencies. The letter they sent to the EPA is available here.