New Hudson River PCB Contamination Report Confirms Need for Thorough Cleanup

For more than five decades, high levels of highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have polluted the lands, waters and native species of the Hudson River Valley. And for generations, this contamination has threatened the health of New York residents, burdened the commercial fishing industry, reduced the river’s navigability, and harmed New York’s outdoor recreation.

This week, the federal and state agencies that serve as trustees of the Hudson River have released a report on recent levels of PCB contamination in the Hudson River ecosystem. The report details just how “extensively contaminated” the Hudson is as a result of General Electric’s decades of PCB dumping, and how the presence of PCBs “present[s] a serious and long-term threat to the health of the entire Hudson River ecosystem.” The contamination reaches “surface waters, sediments, floodplain soils, fish, birds, wildlife, and other biota” – to say nothing of its impact on the people who swim and play in the water or eat certain types of fish from the river.

GE’s cleanup effort—as initially drawn up—has been quite successful thus far, and much of the Upper Hudson is already cleaner than it’s been in decades. But, as I’ve blogged before, as the dredging barges move downriver, the current cleanup plan would leave large hot spots of contamination that can still present serious health and ecological risks—hot spots that went unrecognized until after the current plan was drafted.

Given this new information, it’s critical that GE commits to an expanded cleanup effort now, before dredging begins again this spring. The importance of that expanded cleanup is confirmed by the recent trustee report, which presents a grim litany of the many ways in which the Hudson’s water, sediment and wildlife exceed regulatory thresholds for PCB content (often by 10 or 100 times). To knowingly leave behind all of this additional contamination, after GE has come so far, would be a giant step backwards, letting New Yorkers down yet again.

Earlier this week, a coalition of environmental organizations (Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Hudson Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and NRDC) who have been fighting for a thorough Hudson River cleanup for many years, hosted a public forum in Poughkeepsie to update residents on the cleanup status. As part of the event, representatives from federal and state health and environmental agencies present reported on the contamination, the project’s progress and the lessons learned during the first three years of dredging in the Upper Hudson. Turnout was strong, and the presentations and the highly engaged Mid-Hudson crowd, along with the recent government contamination report, all served to highlight the importance of making sure that this cleanup is done right.

It’s time for GE to do whatever is required to undo ALL of its toxic damage to the Hudson River. Half measures just won’t cut it.

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