Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


New York Times
11 March 2003

PCB Cleanup in Upper Hudson Is Delayed for Another Year

The dredging of the upper Hudson River to remove the toxic residue of its industrial past — already stalled many times by squabbles over science and culpability — has been delayed again.

Federal environmental officials said yesterday that an additional year would be needed for planning and design beyond the three years already allotted. That means that the first scoop of polluted mud would not be removed until spring 2006 at the earliest and that the projected completion date would be six years later.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator for New York, Jane M. Kenny, said in an interview that the complexity of the project — and the need for good relations with anxious upstate residents whose communities will be affected — were the main causes of what she called a "slipping" of the schedule. The government, she stressed, remains committed to the project, which will be one of the largest environmental restoration efforts in United States history at a cost of nearly $500 million.

"Our eyes are on the prize; we're going to be dredging this river," she said. "But we want to make sure it's done safely and done right."

Environmentalists expressed dismay that the slow pattern of the past was continuing. "It's discouraging to see so early in the process a one-year delay, and raises concern about what kind of delays we'll see later," said Ned Sullivan, the president of Scenic Hudson, a conservation group based in Poughkeepsie.

Most environmentalists, including Mr. Sullivan, said they feared that the General Electric Company, which polluted the river with PCB's from its plants north of Albany, then battled the government for years over how and whether to clean up the mud, was behind the delay.

The company used PCB's, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for about three decades in its factories in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls. By the time Congress banned PCB's in 1976, as much as one million pounds or more of the oily yellow insulating chemical — a probable human carcinogen, according to the government — had leaked or been spilled into the river, where much of it settled to the bottom.

A company spokesman, Mark L. Behan, stressed that the request for more time had not come from G.E. Mr. Behan said the company had met every deadline set by the government since the final decision to dredge was announced in the summer of 2001. The first core samples to pinpoint where the dredging should be concentrated began last fall, and the first lab results, he said, were recently delivered, right on schedule.

Ms. Kenny at the E.P.A. agreed that the government had made the decision. She said making sure that local residents, many of whom are skeptical about the project, have ample opportunity to participate in the planning process is all by itself a major undertaking.

Before the dredging starts, one or two huge plants must also be built to remove water from the dredged mud, as well as an extensive system to haul the mud away by rail or barge, since the government has promised local communities not to use trucks for transport because of concerns about traffic volume and air pollution.

In a related development, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled yesterday that documents related to the negotiations between G.E. and the government over the Hudson cleanup were subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act and should be released to the public. The New York Public Interest Research Group had sued the E.P.A. and the federal Office of Management and Budget seeking the papers, but government lawyers said the documents were confidential.

The judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, held that the exemptions cited by the government did not apply.





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