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For Release: Tuesday, December 20, 2016

DEC's Independent Analysis Finds EPA's Hudson River Cleanup Fails to Protect Human Health and the Environment

New Report Challenges Effectiveness of EPA's Remedy for PCB Cleanup

DEC calls on EPA to expand PCB investigation to Lower Hudson, renews call for additional sampling to ensure legitimate Hudson River PCB cleanup

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today released an independent report on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) review of the cleanup of Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the Hudson River(PDF, 221 KB). Using EPA's guidance, DEC finds the cleanup is not protective of the public or the environment. In an effort to improve the cleanup, New York State sent a letter with the report to EPA (PDF, 248 KB)prior to EPA's anticipated release of its Five Year Review in 2017.

Using EPA criteria for the agency's five year Superfund reviews, DEC determined that high concentrations of PCBs remain in fish in portions of the Hudson River resulting in human health and ecological risks in excess of EPA's acceptable risk range. DEC also found that, as highlighted in a previous Five Year Review, higher than anticipated sediment concentrations will remain after dredging, indicating that the targeted reductions in fish PCB concentrations will not be achieved in the time frames EPA relied upon when choosing the remedial plan for the Hudson River.

"It's simple. DEC is calling on the EPA to finish the job and hold GE accountable for cleaning up the Hudson River," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "If EPA won't do the job and protect New Yorkers and the environment, DEC is ready to step in and lead."

DEC developed the report using EPA's basis for selecting the remedy and the data and information gathered during the dredging project, which reveal cancer and non-cancer health risks well above the acceptable risk range for people who ate fish from both the Upper Hudson River (between Hudson Falls and Troy) and the Lower Hudson River (from Troy south to Manhattan). Risks to ecological receptors such as fish-eating animals were also above EPA's acceptable range.

In addition, DEC considered EPA's rationale for selecting the dredging remedy. EPA chose the dredging remedy, under which significant amounts of PCBs would be removed from the sediments of the Upper Hudson, primarily because of the time estimated to achieve targeted fish PCB concentrations. Specifically, EPA stated that a delay of 10 years in reaching target fish concentrations of 0.4 mg/kg within 5 years of the completion of dredging and 0.2 mg/kg within 16 years of the completion of dredging was unacceptable. This delay formed the basis for EPA's rejection of alternative remediation methods. Based on data collected to date, it is clear that the dredging performed will not meet these targeted fish PCB concentrations, and EPA will not be able to deliver on the projected benefits to public health and the environment from this cleanup unless additional actions are undertaken.

EPA's current five year review must thoroughly quantify the rates of decline in PCB concentrations based on all available fish, water, and sediment data, and make reasonable and conservative assumptions regarding future trends. Recent analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others illustrates that recovery rates for fish in the Lower Hudson may be far longer than EPA anticipated. With the significant amount of contamination left behind, New York State cannot find the remedy effective.

DEC recently called on EPA to perform additional sampling in order to complete a detailed evaluation of the dredging, including increasing the sampling of sediment and fish tissue to the scale and frequency necessary to optimize the remedy through further remedial work in order to achieve the targeted fish PCB reductions originally identified.

DEC also recommends that EPA expand the investigation of remedial efficacy to include the portion of the site between the Federal Dam at Troy and the Battery in New York City. This work is necessary to determine the nature and extent of PCB contamination in the sediments, water, and biota of the Lower Hudson, and to evaluate remedial alternatives to address the currently uncontrolled and unacceptable risks to human health and the environment. Until these recommendations are acted upon, EPA must not conclude that the remedy is protective of human health and the environment.

In a November 14 letter to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck (PDF, 266 KB), DEC identified the need to expand the analysis of sediments by more than 1,400 samples in the Upper Hudson River in order to determine the effectiveness of the dredging. The expanded sampling is critical to gauge whether the project will meet its goals. EPA recently responded to DEC's request indicating that it has no intent to conduct additional sampling. DEC will conduct the additional sampling as it is clear that EPA does not intend to base critical environmental decisions on sound science.

EPA currently plans to collect only 375 samples, or fewer than 10 samples for every mile of river. DEC has concluded that at least 1,800 samples are needed to have the statistical power to draw timely, science-based conclusions from the sampling results.

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Contingency Plan (NCP), EPA is required to monitor effectiveness of the remedy to affirm that it is meeting the goals set by the Record of Decision (ROD). In March, EPA committed to perform a five year review of the remedy, which it expects to issue in the spring of 2017. EPA must take additional remedial action if the remedy fails to meet the goals required by the ROD, including reducing PCB levels in fish within the timeframe EPA originally anticipated.

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