A $1.7 billion cleanup of the Hudson River is working so far and while PCB levels in fish remain high, more dredging doesn't seem necessary for now, federal regulators said Thursday in a review that drew harsh criticism from New York officials and environmental groups.
Boston-based General Electric has removed 2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson through 2015. Until the mid-1970s, GE factories discharged more than 1 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls into the river. The probable carcinogen, used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, was banned in 1977.
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On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the river's rebound appears on track after six years of dredging by GE — a stance at odds with elected officials and environmentalists who claim the cleanup is incomplete and want the EPA to order barges back in the river.
EPA acting regional administrator Catherine McCabe told news reporters that data collected from the river's fish, water and sediment so far do not support calls for yet more dredging.
"At this time, we do not believe that the data, the science or the law support the EPA imposing a requirement on GE to do more dredging," she said.
McCabe said it could take more than 55 years before all species of fish in the river are clean enough to eat once a week. She said additional dredging would shave only a few years off the river's recovery time at a significant cost.
The agency's second "five-year" review did little to quell calls for more dredging of PCBs still left on the river bottom. Environmentalists said the review ignored evidence that the PCB contamination was worse than originally projected.
"We strongly disagree with their conclusions and maintain that the significant amount of contamination left in the river threatens both public health and the environment," New York's environmental commissioner, Basil Seggos, said.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand encouraged New York residents to "demand that the EPA finish the job" during a 30-day comment period on the review.
"I am disappointed that the EPA couldn't muster up the courage to do the job they set out to do and clean up the Hudson," the New York Democrat said.
"This (EPA) decision flies in the face of the evidence," said Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay.
General Electric said the review makes clear that "no additional dredging in the Upper or Lower Hudson is recommended" and said it would continue to work closely with the EPA, the state, and local communities for a cleaner river.