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NYSNYS NEWS: EPA cleanup of Hudson PCBs criticized at workshop looking at past 5 years of General Electric dredging of toxics.
NYSNYS NEWS: EPA cleanup of Hudson PCBs criticized at workshop looking at past 5 years of General Electric dredging of toxics.

By Kyle Hughes

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (May 5) -- Just minutes into a workshop Thursday reviewing the cleanup of PCBs dumped by General Electric Co. into the Hudson River, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials found themselves on the defensive.

"You're not looking at people or biological (impacts)," said Andrew Squire, a representative of the town of Easton, Washington County. He termed "weak" the regulatory agency's approach to the nation's largest toxic waste Superfund site.

General Electric spent about $1 billion to clean up the river and has shut down its dredging operations. But the river and its shoreline remain polluted by PCBs and the fish in it are unsafe for human consumption. Environmental groups told EPA representatives that they must do all they can to avoid ending up being legally unable to sue or otherwise seek additional cleanup of the remaining toxics.

Dismay over how the cleanup has turned out bubbled up nonstop during the 3 hour meeting of the Community Advisory Group in the Spa State Park. The panel includes representatives of citizens groups, environmental organizations, local governments and GE, which dumped 1.3 million pounds of the toxic chemical into the river until the late 1970s.

"We have a year basically to do all these studies and all the things that we just talked about in terms of telling the people up and down this state, New Jersey and the world how GE cleaned up the Hudson River," said Gil Hawkins of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association. "GE knows GE owns the pollution in the Hudson River. But we also know there is more work to be done."

"I hope that this meeting today and the meetings that follow will not become an excuse for letting GE off the hook," he said, thumping the table for emphasis. "This river belongs to you and to me and to every citizen of this country. But more importantly it belongs to my grandson and his grandson and I'm here to make sure that my grandson at least has a chance, maybe a chance, to eat the fish out of the Hudson River."

David Mathis, a former town justice in Saratoga who lives on the river, challenged General Electric representative Joan Gerhardt to mount an advertising campaign touting the safety of the river.

"Joan, not to put you on the spot, but it says General Electric under your name," he said. "GE spent a tremendous amount of money scaring people away from the river and now that the dredging is pretty much over it would be so nice to have GE spend a like amount of money and I don't care if its a PSA and they put GE logos all over it, to bring them back and tell them how nice the river is. Tell them it's great. Tell them to come back and visit us ... it would help out the economics of the area."

"GE invested a great deal in this project and by all accounts EPA has said it was a successful project," she replied. "We'll learn more as we collect more data."

"The boaters are really concerned about, how safe is this?" Mathis said later. "What are you going to do to get the word out that it is really, really safe and it is cleaned up and we want the boaters to come back and it is safe for them. Because if the boaters don't come back the marinas can't open and the marinas really can't open if there's no business for them."

Hawkins said that the agency has not done enough to discourage people living along the lower portion of the river from eating PCB tainted fish. PCBs are linked to a wide range of health ailments, including cancer, skin illnesses and endocrine disruption in children.

If EPA is doing a thorough review of the past five years of the cleanup, "that review has to review those people and if it doesn't include those people that's not a review and I don't care how you come out at the end," he said.

Moreau Town Supervisor Gardner Congdon said the pollution of the river, both by GE and other sources, amounted to vandalism. He chided the EPA for not doing enough to clean up the waterway.

The panel is looking at the last five years of work on the river, which saw the dredging of some of the most polluted sections and the encapsulation of other areas that could not be efficiently dredged. They are scheduled to release a report on what more may need to be done by April 23, 2017.

As part of the process they are holding public meetings and gathering data about pollution levels. The next meeting will be held July 21.

The most heavily polluted section of the river is a 40 mile stretch from a now closed General Electric plant in Fort Edward to the Federal Dam in Troy. But 200 miles of the river is a designated a Superfund site because of pollution, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean at the Battery in New York City.