EPA Restarts Project that Contaminated Hudson River
August 14, 2009 - 5:56 PMA dredging project to remove pollutants from the bottom of the Hudson River was resumed Tuesday, five days after it was halted due to the contamination it was causing in the river.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) project, which is being carried out by General Electric (GE), aims to remove chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the river floor.
PCBs were used in transformers and capacitors from the 1940s until they were banned in 1977 and dumped into the Hudson by two plants located in the upstate New York towns of Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.
The project was temporarily shut down by the EPA on Aug. 7 after PCB levels in the river water exceeded the EPA’s limit of 500 parts per trillion. However, the EPA ordered the project restarted on Tuesday, as PCB levels had returned to a level well below the legal limit.
Critics of the program had used the shutdown as a chance to accuse the EPA of overzealous and counterproductive activity. Author and blogger Steve Milloy, proprietor of the popular JunkScience.com, wrote on his Green Hell Blog that, “The green-forced ‘clean-up’ by General Electric of PCBs in Hudson River sediments has — to no one’s surprise — backfired.”
Milloy went on to assert that, “As predicted by everyone with an ounce of common sense, GE’s dredging stirred up the formerly entombed PCBs.”
However, an EPA official familiar with the project cast the shutdown as a routine part of the project rather than a reaction to the project “backfiring.”
“Our process is, if it gets to 500 (parts per trillion), we shut the dredging down, we give it a couple days to make sure that the numbers have gotten well below 500,” said David King, director of the EPA’s Hudson River Field Office.
“We go back and look at the operations and look at what we need to do to identify the area that really (caused) the increase,” King said, “So we did that. A week ago, that happened. So, we went from a little over 500 down to about 120, so it dropped down very quickly. So, what we did is we started up again on Tuesday.”
As for why the project is necessary, King said that, “PCBs are a probable carcinogen, in humans. It has impacts to things like birth weight,” adding that there were also, “other neurological impacts.”
“One of the biggest exposures from the PCBs in the river is actually through fish,” he claimed.
Hence, he said, “The purpose of the dredging is to get the source material out of the river so that the levels in the fish will go down to edible level.”
Angela Logomasini, director of Risk and Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, contends that the project is unnecessary.
“It’s an example of an overly – just overly ambitious program that sort of ignores the costs and benefits,” she said. “If they had just left that stuff there, it probably would be safer and less of a problem.
“There’s the suggestion that PCBs are a terrible carcinogen,” said Logomasini, “but the science just isn’t very strong, you know, that having it there at the bottom of the water, that it’s that big of an issue.
“There is not a very strong, compelling body of research showing that, you know, low level exposures to these chemicals in the environment are causing any cancers,” she said. “There’s nothing measurable or detectable in that sense.”
Logomasini did caution that, if “they start mixing it up and trying to dredge it out, it can become a problem.”
King said that the project is currently in its first year and is expected to go on for a total of six years. He also noted that similar PCB dredging projects are also underway in other areas of the country, including Massachusetts and Wisconsin.