On May 15, 2009, General Electric (GE) began the dredging of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the upper Hudson River after many years of delays, litigation, studies, hearings, and public debate over the $700 million project. The EPA marked the start of the project with state officials in a ceremony at the river’s edge in Fort Edward, New York, about 50 miles north of Albany.
In all, 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment and 113,000 kilograms of PCBs will be removed from the river in two phases over a six-year period. Under the first phase, which will last until October 2009, 265,000 cubic yards of sediment and 20,300 kilograms of PCBs will be removed from a six-mile stretch of the river in Fort Edward. The results of the first phase will then be reviewed before the second phase begins. The project will involve removing sediment from the river and then transporting it by barge to a nearby de-watering facility. The water will be treated at the plant and the PCBs will be removed and then transported by train to a facility in Andrews, Texas.
GE, which released about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river from two manufacturing plants, is responsible for the dredging under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Under the consent decree outlining GE’s role in the cleanup, the company is not explicitly required to undertake the second phase of the project. The consent decree was modified earlier this year to require GE to pay most of the costs for constructing water lines for three upstate towns that use water from the river.
The company once vigorously opposed the project, but has been working with EPA for a number of years. The dredging project, which is believed to be the largest of its kind, has been delayed numerous times since former EPA Administrator Christine Whitman signed a final record of decision on Feb. 1, 2002.
The history of the project dates to the Reagan administration. A 200-mile portion of the river was declared a superfund site by EPA in 1983 because of widespread contamination from PCBs. One year later, EPA decided to take no remedial action to clean up the river. EPA began a process of reassessing that decision in 1990. While the superfund site stretches from New York City to Hudson Falls, New York, the dredging will take place in a 40-mile stretch of the river north of Troy, New York.