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GE Halts Clean Up Amid Rising PCBs In Hudson River

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 11:18 AM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Environmental Health, Children's Health. Public Health, PCBs

The Hudson River cleanup by General Electric has churned up silt containing dangerous levels of PCBs.
Hudson River GE plant, Image: EPA

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IMAGE SOURCE: EPA images Web site / of GE Hudson River plant

GE Cleanup Halted

Dredging on the Hudson River has been halted over concerns that the probable carcinogen, PCB, is being measured at unsafe levels.

Dredging of the river has been underway since May. It’s all part of a cleanup undertaken by the General Electric Company (GE) that dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river until the likely carcinogen was banned in 1977.

PCBs are linked to immune, nervous system, and reproductive disorders.

GE which owns the Capacitor Products Division plant used them as coolants and lubricants, until they were banned in 1977. The plant discharged wastewater directly into the Hudson River along with the disposal of chlorinated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC). They have since migrated from the plant site into the surrounding area, including the Hudson River.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation says the hazardous waste has increased the risk to public health. Aquifers beneath the site had been used in the past for drinkable water but are now not unusable without treatment.

GE, which also owns the NBC Television network, is paying the cost of the $750 million cleanup stretching 45 miles north of Albany at Ford Edward.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified Friday as PCB levels in the water exceeded safety limits, likely due to the dredging of PCB-laced silt and the higher water levels from excessive rains.

Residents living downstream have complained about the possibility of exposure so special curtains are being used to contain the silt, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It’s also possible that a monitoring equipment may have malfunctioned measuring the level of contaminant. Ongoing monitoring is underway and the dredging is expected to continue soon.

The General Electric Plant, along with another downstream at Fort Edward, has been called the “largest Superfund Site in the Nation” because of the contaminants in the sediment that washed downstream. GE took over the former paper mill plant to build parts for bombers in WWII. After the war, the plants produced capacitors and transformers that use PCBs as an insulation.

Until 1976, GE reportedly discharged more than a million pounds of PCBs directly into the river. As a result, fishing from Hudson Falls to Troy was outlawed in 1976.

The underwater sediments are one of the most heated environmental debates in New York State. The plants no longer produce electrical products and for the most part are shut down, according to the EPA.

GE Fights Cleanup

A May ceremony near Fort Edward marked the start of the GE cleanup, after a quarer century of pressure forced the cleanup. GE had spent $60 million in public relations and lobbyists to stall it, reports The Daily Green. Ge has commit to the first hase of cleanup only removing 22 tons of PCBs from hot spots around Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.

As environmental author, Peter Montague says about the Precautionary Principle, “We must (a) shift the burden of proof and start assuming that all activities, large and small, that impact the Earth are likely to be harmful and (b) therefore always search for (and adopt) the least-harmful way to proceed; and (c) constantly examine the consequences of our actions and be prepared to alter course, which means we should (d) favor decisions and courses of action that are reversible, avoiding irretrievable commitments.

A citizens group, Clean Up GE has a web site monitoring the progress and controversy over the Hudson River contamination. #


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