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Hudson River: Frequently Asked Questions News and Highlights

Frequently Asked Questions
Correcting Misinformation

 

Find Frequently Asked Questions addressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Learn more about Natural Resource Damage Assessments

 

Does the Hudson River "clean itself" of PCBs?

No. The river is constantly moving sediments around, but cannot rid itself of contaminated sediments. Water flow forces in the river constantly move sediment along the river's bottom. This uncovers PCB-contaminated sediment previously buried by river action, placing that sediment into the water column to move it downstream. This is one of the ways that PCBs from GE's two former manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward have moved south into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the river is not permanently burying, and therefore permanently isolating, the PCB-contaminated sediments.

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Will the river be PCB-free once the dredging is complete?

The river will not be PCB-free after dredging is complete. The agreement between GE and the EPA calls for dredging of only certain areas of river bottom in the Upper Hudson River (from Hudson Falls to the Federal Dam at Troy). Dredging occurs in locations with PCB concentrations high enough to "trigger" cleanup. Many areas of the river that will not be dredged have PCB contamination at levels of ecological concern to the trustees, including at least 136 acres of river bottom where PCB concentrations exceed 10 ppm.

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How is the dredging affecting the Hudson River's natural resources?

River Depth: Dredging is leaving a deeper river, leaving fewer vegetated habitats.
Habitat: Many desirable habitats like weed beds and shoreline wetlands exist throughout the upper river between Troy and Fort Edward. The remedy includes removing PCBs by digging up these habitats, but it does not include adequate replacement of all of these weed beds or wetlands.
Residual contamination: PCBs left behind may negatively impact the restoration and recovery of the river.

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Will residual contamination affect the restoration of the Hudson River?

High surface concentrations and large amounts of PCB being left behind will limit the possible types and amount of restoration projects in areas of the upper river. We are not prepared to say where and what restoration can be done at this time, but we anticipate problems in restoring portions of the upper Hudson River. Ideally, potential restoration projects could go forward in this area, where the losses are great and the greatest environmental impact has occurred. As part of our evaluation we will need to take into account residual contamination in specific areas of the upper river where we propose to perform restoration projects.

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Did GE discharge PCBs legally under a permit?

GE's records show that the company began discharging PCBs from its Fort Edward plant in 1947, and from its Hudson Falls plant in 1951. While some information suggests that GE has always lawfully discharged PCBs into the Hudson River from its Fort Edward and Hudson Falls facilities GE discharged the vast majority of the PCB's released into the Hudson before obtaining any permit. The company had no permits to discharge PCBs between 1947 and 1975.

  • When GE submitted a permit application to the federal government in 1973 to allow it to discharge a limited amount of PCBs into the River, it reported that it did not have any permits for these discharges. The first permit GE obtained was in 1975.
  • Since 1977, GE has had a permit for discharges containing PCBs from its wastewater treatment facility. However, GE's discharges have exceeded the permit limits on numerous occasions.
  • At no time has GE obtained permits for the seepage of PCBs into the River from the bedrock and soil beneath its Hudson Falls plant. These discharges date back decades and continue to this day, although today to a much lesser extent as compared to past quantities.

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How are restoration project proposals selected?

All restoration projects must have a connection to a natural resource that was harmed by the PCB contamination. Trustees will use certain criteria to assess the list of proposed restoration projects and select those that best match the injury to the resource. The Trustees will continue to collect information and project suggestions from the public, to vet and to consider information on all restoration projects in a decision-making process that is going to continue for some time. As these preparations continue and the time for restoration decisions is near, the public will be increasingly included in the steps where public input is necessary such as the application of prioritization criteria and selection of specific projects. The restoration phase requires funds from the settlement or litigation of the NRDAR claim, which has not yet occurred.

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What are the Trustees working on now?

The Trustees are currently engaged in scientific studies that measure natural resource injuries caused by PCBs in the Hudson River. They are working on four studies related to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment- two are examining the effect of PCBs on birds, one on fish and one on mink. Some of these results will be published in scientific journals. We also hope to release some results on the fish health study sometime in 2012. Our next study will examine mink populations in the Hudson River valley, comparing Hudson River mink population data to population data from an un-contaminated river to determine whether PCBs have negatively affected mink reproduction and survival.

We're always considering the scientific literature and using this information to guide our own research on injuries caused by PCBs. We may propose more injury studies on the floodplains and on river sediments in the future.

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Hudson River Home

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Injuries and Effects of PCBs

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FAQ/Correcting Misinformation

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For More Information

The Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees have established a listserv to provide updates on the ongoing natural resource damage assessment and restoration efforts for the Hudson River. The public is invited to join the listserv for periodic updates on this effort.

To join the Hudson-NRDA listserv:

1. Send a message to:
requests@willamette.nos.noaa.gov

2. Write in the subject:
Subscribe hudsonnrda

3. You will receive a confirmation e-mail to which you MUST reply within 24 hours.


CONTACT HUDSON RIVER TRUSTEES

Kathryn Jahn
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
3817 Luker Road
Cortland, NY 13045
607-753-9334
Kathryn_Jahn@fws.gov

Tom Brosnan
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1305 East West Highway SSMC4, Room 10219
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3038 x186
Tom.Brosnan@noaa.gov

Sean Madden
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, 5th Floor
Albany, NY 12233
518-402-8977
ssmadden@gw.dec.state.ny.us


Last updated: May 22, 2013