Over several decades General Electric (GE) dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River between 1947 and 1977. GE completed a $1.7 billion PCB dredging project in 2014 and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the midst of a five-year review to determine whether or not GE’s cleanup initiatives have been effective.
However, the state and several environmental groups, including Riverkeeper, believe that too many PCBs were left behind in the cleanup and will continue to contaminate the river for years to come.
“The job is far from done. The study released today is further evidence of GE’s failure to complete the cleanup and EPA’s years of failed oversight,” according to a statement from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.“New York will continue to use all legal tools to vigorously challenge the EPA and hold GE accountable for the costs of a full cleanup.”
Riverkeeper is an environmental organization committed to the protection of the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries. Senior Attorney Erin Doran said that the long-term consequences of PCB pollution can be devastating to the Hudson River.
She said that, although projects like dredging can take a significant portion of contaminated sediments out of the food chain, it is not a perfect solution. PCBs are spread through the food chain when consumed by fish who are eaten by predators like otter and mink. Evenutally these chemicals are consumed by humans in the consumer market.
“For people, the effects of PCB pollution can be different types of cancer through reproductive impact,” Doran said. “Those kinds of things can be obviously really negative health impacts.”
A recent joint state and federal study revealed that the mink population in the Hudson River is about 40 percent lower than that of the ecologically similar Mohawk River with PCB contamination in the minks’ diet being the suspected cause of the disparity.
The dredging project occurred at different levels in the upper portion of the Hudson River along a 40-mile stretch above the federal dam located in Troy, NY. According to Doran, the EPA hosted a public comment period in the summer of 2017 as part of their five-year review and many of the approximately 2,000 comments received called for a full investigation of the lower portion of the river in order to determine which steps should be taken so that this portion also can begin to recover from the effects of PCB pollution.
Doran said that it is important to note whether or not the fish in the Hudson River are responding to the cleanup measures, because fish consumption is usually the pathway to PCB exposure to humans.
“You have people that are subsistence fishers or even recreational fishers who fish along the river,” she said. “The EPA should be measuring…whether the fish are dropping to levels of PCB contamination, where it’s becoming safer to consume the fish and right now we’re not seeing the fish drop to those levels.”
There are advisories along the Hudson River to warn people about the effects of exposure to PCBs and the negative health impacts that these toxic chemicals can cause.