EPA to Wrap Up First Phase of Controversial Hudson River Toxic Dredging Project in November

October 12, 2009 - 6:00 PM
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and General Electric (GE) are preparing to shut down for the winter their controversial project to dredge contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Hudson River.
Hudson River, PCBs, dredging

Hudson River cleanup: General Electric plants in Fort Edward and neighboring Hudson Falls discharged wastewater containing PCBs for decades before the popular lubricant was banned in 1977. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

(CNSNews.com) – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and General Electric (GE) are preparing to shut down for the winter their controversial project to dredge contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Hudson River. 

The EPA is putting the finishing touches on the first phase of the project, which as CNSNews.com reported  in August, is intended to remove deposits of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were dumped into the Hudson by GE before the chemicals were banned in 1977. 

GE is conducting the dredging, which generated outrage after it stirred up PCBs that it was meant to remove, and again when dredgers ripped away part of an important colonial-era archaeological site.  

However, the EPA claims the project is a success, and the panel charged with reviewing the operation before it moves into its next phase will not consider canceling the dredging.
 
Dave King, director of the EPA Hudson River field office, told CNSNews.com that work on phase one is slated to wrap up on Nov 15.
 
“We’re wrapping up all the areas that we had dredged and we’re backfilling,” King said. “We put a foot of backfill down in any areas that we dredge, so we’re in the process of mostly doing backfilling right now.”
 
When asked whether he considered the project a success, King replied: “Oh yes. I think it’s actually gone very well. As anything of this size, you’re going to have issues that come up that you have to deal with, but generally speaking, we’ll get close to 265,000 -- if not over 265,000 -- cubic yards of sediment removed and processed. Things have been working pretty well all along.”
 
The EPA will send reports on the project to a panel charged with suggesting improvements before the scheduled launch of phase two next Spring.
 
“There’s a peer review panel that will look at the reports we prepare after phase one,” King said, “and then we’ll get input from them and there’ll be a public review of those reports also, and then we’ll see what kind of changes we need to make for phase two, and then hopefully the actual dredging in phase two will realistically start in 2011, in the spring.”
 
But King noted that the peer review panel is not actually empowered to recommend a halt to further dredging -- or to take any action. 
 
“The charge to the peer review is to look at the engineering performance standards to see how well they were met and if there were any things that they would recommend to change or adjust so that it becomes more efficient,” King explained, “but their charge was not to say yes or no to continuing dredging.”
 
That lack of power to stop or alter the project raises the hackles of dredging skeptics like Dr. Bob Michaels, president of the RAM TRAC Corporation, a toxicology and health-risk consulting firm based in Schenectady, N.Y.
 
“The context of the evaluation is, I think, too narrow,” Michaels said in an interview with CNSNews.com. “(The EPA doesn’t) seem to be open to the possibility that maybe this project should come to an end.”
 
One specific concern Michaels has for phase two is that it will target PCB “hot spots” surrounded by clean areas, rather than heavily contaminated portions of the river. Hence, PCBs stirred up in phase two could settle in previously clean areas that are not scheduled to be dredged.
 
“When you lift material and you cause it to billow up in the water column, it falls down, to some extent, downstream of the place where the dredge bucket hit the bottom,” said Michaels.
 
During phase one of the project, Michaels told CNSNews.com, the material fell back into contaminated areas -- “dredging prisms” – that were going to be dredged.
 
“In phase two, that won’t be the case. So, they’ll be lifting dredging material up, and when it falls down it will fall outside of these dredging prisms.”
 
The EPA’s King, however, brushed off concerns about the amount of PCBs being “resuspended” by dredging.
 
“To do something of this size and not think you’re going to get some resuspension just is not realistic,” he said.