General Electric Not Required To Complete Cleanup of PCBs from Hudson River, Says New York Official
ALBANY, N.Y. A federal plan requiring General Electric Co. to dredge PCB-contaminated sediment from the Hudson River will allow further delays and doesn't require the company to finish the cleanup, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Wednesday.
"At long last there is an agreement, but it does not require GE to complete the job," Spitzer said Wednesday.
In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency struck a deal with GE to dredge the suspected carcinogen over six years from the Hudson River as part of a Superfund cleanup estimated to cost $500 million (euro427 million) to $700 million (euro598 million). Under the proposal now receiving public comment, dredging would begin in the spring of 2007 along 40 miles (65 kilometers) of the historic river north of Albany, New York.
GE dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kilograms) of PCBs -- a liquid coolant used in transformers -- into the river from its plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, New York, before the federal government banned the substance in 1977.
While the EPA and GE praised the proposal and some environmental groups at the time supported the concept, Spitzer's analysis contends it would allow GE to stop dredging after the first year and after only 10 percent of the job is done.
Spitzer, as the state's attorney, also claims the agreement would allow further delays of the project first proposed 20 years ago, and let GE cap PCBs near the river banks, leaving river bottom sediment filled with the suspected carcinogen. He added the deal fails to require GE to pay for testing of fish, and does not ensure enough soil would be added to the river to allow regrowth.
"I think it's important that someone from New York state has weighed in and the big issue here is the more we know about this clean up the less we like it," said Christian Ballantine of the environmental organization Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "We need to fix this thing before they agree to move forward. Otherwise, you're ramping up a pretty major project for 10 percent of the capacity."
GE officials in a statement called the claims "patently false."
EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said the EPA is considering Spitzer comments, made during a required public-comment period that could affect whether the proposed cleanup is accepted by the federal government and GE. She said the proposal would remove more PCBs than initially projected.
"This consent agreement is a truly historic one that gets GE into the river in 2007 and brings us much closer to a healthy Hudson," Mears said. "We have and will continue to hold GE accountable for the cleanup of this river and we won't rest until the job is done."
GE spokesman Mark Behan said that although the company could opt out of the clean up after a "test phase" of one year in which 10 percent of the work is done, the EPA could sue to force the company back to the job. Behan emphasized that an independent panel will evaluate the work done in that first year -- called Phase I. The EPA will decide if modifications are needed. After that, GE "has the opportunity to tell the EPA whether it will conduct Phase II," Behan said.
He also said besides paying for dredging equipment, facilities and rail operations, GE will pay for testing fish for years. He said the agreement shouldn't be a surprise to Spitzer, a candidate for governor in 2006, because he had representatives "at the table" monitoring negotiations.
The proposal to end a lawsuit by the EPA against GE calls on GE to pay the government up to $78 million (euro66.6 million) for the agency's past and future oversight costs. The company has already paid some $37 million (euro31.6 million) of EPA costs. The company said it has paid some $100 million (euro85.4 million) in preparation work for the dredging, and the new deal commits it to another $100 million to $150 million (euro85.4 million to euro128.1 million) of work.
GE would build a sediment processing facility in Fort Edward, New York, and perform one "season" of dredging from spring to fall of 2007. It would move up to 250 rail cars full of sediment per week.
Source: Associated Press