Epa Urged To Hold Ge Accountable For Complete Cleanup Of Hudson River Pcbs

Attorney General Spitzer today recommended major changes to a proposed agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the General Electric Company (GE) that will govern when and how PCBs will be removed from the Upper Hudson River.

The Attorney General submitted the comments of his office to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of the public review process of the proposed decree that would resolve a lawsuit by EPA against GE seeking the PCB cleanup.

"We have been waiting for over 20 years for GE to clean up the PCBs that were dumped in the Hudson River," Spitzer said. "At long last, there is an agreement, but it does not require GE to complete the job. Instead, it gives GE more opportunities to procrastinate. The agreement must ensure that all New Yorkers soon enjoy a clean and healthy Hudson River."

Under the proposed agreement, the removal of PCBs will take six years and cover a 40-mile section of the river from Fort Edward south to the Troy Dam. While acknowledging the importance of the agreement as a step toward cleaning the river, the Attorney General also expressed serious concerns about the agreement’s departure from federal policy and practices. The proposed agreement:

  • Fails to require GE to complete removal of PCBs from the upper Hudson River by allowing the company to opt out of the PCB cleanup after the first year, during which time only about ten percent of the PCBs slated for removal would be dredged. This is a sharp departure from EPA policy requiring the polluter to agree to a complete cleanup;
  • Creates opportunities for further delay of cleanup during a review process of the first year of dredging that provides unusual advantages to GE;
  • Allows GE to cap PCBs near the banks of the river, leaving excessive PCB concentrations on the river bottom, contrary to EPA’s 2002 decision that rejected proposals to cap PCB-contaminated sediments in favor of requiring their permanent removal by dredging;
  • Fails to require that GE pay for testing of fish – necessary to formulate or modify warnings not to consume contaminated fish – for the entire time that required public health advisories are in place; and,
  • Fails to ensure that adequate backfill will be placed in dredged areas to allow the regrowth of vegetation necessary for wildlife and fish habitat.

Separately, Attorney General Spitzer has urged GE and state agencies to address another major harm caused by GE’s PCBs: the long delay in dredging the navigational channel in the Champlain Canal. Due to the presence of PCBs on the river bottom, the state has been unable to maintain the Canal at a proper depth for many years, restricting boat traffic and thus limiting commercial opportunities throughout the region. GE must contribute to the increased canal maintenance dredging costs, Spitzer stated.

GE is also responsible for compensating the public for all injuries to wildlife, fish, and birds caused by the PCBs, including the limitations on the Hudson River fishery, and for restoring other natural resources that have been injured by PCBs. These issues will be addressed as part of a separate natural resource damage legal claim against GE. That claim is not being resolved by the proposed EPA order.

For over 30 years, GE dumped PCBs – highly toxic chemicals used in electrical components – into the Hudson River from factories in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. The PCBs do not degrade and continue to contaminate fish and other wildlife. PCBs are neurotoxic and have been linked to several types of cancer and immune system problems. As a result of GE’s dumping of PCBs, the upper Hudson River was closed to fishing in 1976 and health advisories still warn people not to eat most fish caught in the river.

The Attorney General’s comments are available at his website at www.ag.ny.gov