DEC Declares Hudson River PCB Cleanup Not Complete. State Study Finds Significant PCB Contamination

On November 22, 2017, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos called on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny General Electric’s request to certify that the cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the upper Hudson River is complete.

“The Hudson River is a national historic treasure and we cannot let the PCB contamination persist any longer,” said Commissioner Seggos. “It’s clear from the state’s ongoing research that EPA’s job is not done and they cannot declare that this remediation is complete. If the federal government fails New York, we will explore all legal options to challenge the EPA’s decision and ensure this river is not left to suffer the consequences of pollution for generations to come.”

In a letter to EPA, DEC identifies several significant issues that indicate a certificate of completion should not be issued for this project, namely that the goals of the remediation remain unachieved. Results of recent data collected by DEC confirm that there are significantly greater amounts of PCBs in the Hudson River than EPA anticipated there would be at the end of the dredging project. If allowed to remain, these highly contaminated sediments will delay the long-term reduction of fish PCB concentrations prolonging risks to human health and the environment.

“Based on all of the existing evidence, it would be wholly inappropriate for EPA to certify this cleanup is complete,” added Commissioner Seggos. “Until this remedy can be credibly found to be protective of human health and the environment, EPA must do more to reevaluate the effectiveness of this remedy and require additional actions to restore the health of this important ecosystem.”

Specifically, the state is calling on EPA to further evaluate the need for additional removal of contaminated sediment to ensure the targeted PCB reductions in fish are met. Currently, EPA’s own analysis indicates that fish species will not reach the levels envisioned in the cleanup plan for more than fifty years if present PCB levels remain.

The state is also concerned about the lack of progress on required habitat restoration projects along the River. A key component of the federal remediation plan was reconstruction of wetlands and other critical habitats, and without these finished, the state finds that the cleanup is incomplete.

The state is also calling on EPA to start its investigation of the Lower Hudson River and fully evaluate PCB impacts of contamination from the Troy Dam south to New York City. This 150-mile reach of river was never fully investigated by EPA, even though EPA has identified human health and ecological risks associated with GE’s PCBs in fish at levels well above EPA’s acceptable risk range.

Mark Izeman, New York Regional Director and Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “An incomplete cleanup by GE will leave the Hudson teeming with PCBs. GE made the mess, now they need to clean it up, completely. New York State has a key role in making sure that happens. And the State is totally in the right to call on the EPA to deny GE’s request.”

Ned Sullivan, President if Scenic Hudson said, “The Hudson PCB cleanup has not met the fundamental legal standard of the Superfund program – to protect the environment and public health of the river, its wildlife and the people who live along its banks. We thank DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Governor Andrew Cuomo for their leadership in bringing to bear important new information in this context. EPA has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set the river and the region's economy on the course for recovery and revitalization – by acknowledging that the cleanup to-date is “not protective” and by eliminating the meaningless and unsupported claim that it “will be protective” some five or more decades in the future. Finally, the EPA must refrain from certifying that the cleanup is complete – an action that is unsupported by the data and the law.”