G.E. Begins to Dredge Hudson for PCBs

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

After long battle, E.P.A. and G.E. begin a cleanup of PCB hot spots on the Hudson River. Hot spots of PCBS are mapped by GPS, and a dredge barge scoops up chunks of river mud putting it into a hopper barge, to be sent on to nearby processing facility and then, eventually, transported 2,000 mile on a train ride to a Texas hazardous waste dump.

Published: May 15, 2009

The Dredging of the HudsonMOREAU, N.Y. — Twenty-five years after the federal government declared a long stretch of the Hudson River to be a contaminated Superfund site, the cleanup of its chief remaining source of pollution began here Friday with a single scoop of mud extracted by a computer-guided dredge.  

Twelve dredges are to work round the clock, six days a week, into October, removing sediment laced with the chemicals known as PCBs. Mile-long freight trains running every several days will carry the dried mud to a hazardous-waste landfill in Texas. 

An estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, flowed into the upper Hudson from two General Electric factories for three decades before they were banned, in 1977, as a health threat to people and wildlife. In high doses, they have been shown to cause cancer in animals and are listed by federal agencies as a probable human carcinogen.

“Today, the healing of the Hudson begins,” George Pavlou, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting regional administrator, said under bright skies in a riverbank ceremony here as federal, state and local officials, G.E. representatives and environmental campaigners looked on.

Those gathered scrambled from a white tent to get a good view as a blue clamshell bucket rose slowly from the riverbed holding the first five cubic yards of mud. A lone duck paddled downriver along the far bank.

The dredging operation is the first phase of an operation that, if it continues as projected through 2015, could largely eliminate the Hudson’s last significant toxic legacy from an era of unfettered industrial activity and dumping.

While the Superfund site itself is 197 miles long, stretching from Hudson Falls, N.Y., to the southern tip of Manhattan, the initial phase involves spots along a six-mile segment south of Fort Edward, the hamlet across the river from this industrial site.

G.E. is supervising and paying for the cleanup, which federal officials have estimated could cost more than $750 million. Industry experts say the ultimate cost could be many times than that, however. (G.E. declines to give an estimate.)

While most of the chemicals were dumped when such practices were legal, the Superfund law requires the responsible polluting party, when one can be pinpointed, to foot the cleanup bill.

Yet G.E has reserved the right, after a review of the operation in 2010, to reject the project’s much larger second phase. Federal environmental officials have said that if it did that, they would most likely order the cleanup to proceed and levy enormous penalties against the company.

The first phase is projected to remove 22 tons of PCBs from the riverbed; the second phase would remove 102 tons, the E.P.A. said.Even as it embarks on the cleanup, G.E. has a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law working its way through federal court. (The company is a responsible party in 52 active Superfund sites across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Please read the rest at the NY Times website.
Source: NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/science/earth/16dredge.html