At a press conference I participated in August 22 on the shore of the Hudson River in Albany, New York State came out with guns blazing regarding General Electric's PCB contamination of the river. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, the state's chief environmental officer, announced that New York is officially challenging the effectiveness of GE's cleanup, completed last fall and declared a success by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Commissioner Seggos called on the EPA, which is overseeing the cleanup, to ensure its ongoing review of the project will be objective and take into account the latest data, rather than rely on models. Scientific sampling of the river's fish, water and sediment indicate more cleanup is needed to achieve goals for this project set by the EPA and agreed to by GE -- a clean river whose fish are safe to eat.
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney played a key role with Scenic Hudson in encouraging the state to challenge the adequacy of the cleanup and also spoke at the press conference.
In declaring "I think it's absolutely clear the job is not yet done," Commissioner Seggos decisively allied the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo with its two fellow trustees tasked with restoring the Hudson's natural resources once the EPA-mandated cleanup is officially deemed complete. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have previously cited significant volumes of PCBs still contaminating river sediment and flaws in General Electric's analysis of fish tissue that make the cleanup appear more successful than it actually has been.
All the trustees now agree that without further remediation, at least 136 acres of PCB-contaminated sediment pose a continued threat to the health of the river, its fish, wildlife and people living along it. Peer-reviewed studies by Dr. David Carpenter, a respected M.D. and public health scientist, document a range of illnesses -- including cancer, diabetes and cardiac disease -- experienced by residents of Hudson Valley communities chronically exposed to airborne PCBs from the river.
Without more dredging, the Hudson will remain the nation's largest Superfund site for the indefinite future, delaying restoration of the river and stifling economic development along it. The good news is that it would probably take only two more years of dredging to address this problem.
Commissioner Seggos boldly asserted that because the expected reduction in risks to human health and the environment have not occurred and so much contaminated sediment remains, the state will consider rescinding its concurrence with the agency's original remedy.
In another major victory, Commissioner Seggos explicitly said that New York is committed to dredging the Champlain Canal once permits are approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This once-profitable waterway, a major shipping link between New York Harbor and Lake Champlain (and eventually the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes), has been off-limits to deep-draft vessels for decades because GE's PCB contamination prevents the state Canal Corporation from undertaking navigational dredging. Dredging the canal -- including portions of its channel within the Hudson -- will make the river healthier and greatly enhance economic opportunity for communities along it. Offering potential relief for state taxpayers, Commissioner Seggos added that "all of our legal options are on the table" concerning who will pay for this project.
In challenging the EPA's conclusion that the PCB cleanup has been a success, Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes up the torch carried by his father and predecessor. During his administration, Gov. Mario Cuomo laid the groundwork for GE's Superfund cleanup.
Andrew Cuomo now stands proudly alongside his father as a champion for a healthy, prosperous Hudson River. The leadership he and Congressman Maloney provide will be critical as we seek to persuade the EPA and General Electric to finish the job all New Yorkers -- indeed, all Americans -- deserve.