Columbia County Supporting Lawsuit Against EPA Over Hudson Clean-up

In Brief – The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to support a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its certification of GE’s clean-up of the Hudson River.

Columbia County joins three other counties – Dutchess, Ulster and Greene – that have already signed onto the lawsuit, which was filed by New York state in August.

New York is arguing GE, which dumped more than 1.2 million pounds of carcinogenic PCBs into the Hudson River from the 1940s until the 1970s, has not sufficiently cleansed the river through its dredging program.

The dredging was ordered by the EPA, which issued a certificate of completion for the project in April. However, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is contesting this, saying the dredging did not meet its goal.

City of Hudson Third Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides, who introduced the resolution supporting the lawsuit, said PCBs have harmed Columbia County.

“Our tourism economy, our recreational (economy) – if people could enjoy the full benefits of a non-carcinogenic river, it would be huge for our community,” he said.

Fish in the Hudson still have elevated levels of PCBs, according to the DEC, and are dangerous to consume with any regularity, but anglers still catch for striped bass and other fish, some for subsistence.

It was hard to know exactly what Columbia County would look like if not for the PCBs, Chameides said, since the river’s contamination has been known since the late 1970s and the river has been dealt with as a toxic site since then.

The Hudson River below the two GE plants that spewed the PCBs was declared an EPA Superfund site in 1983.

The four counties are not directly suing the EPA. Instead, they are filing amicus curiae briefs, which allows them to support the New York suit as impacted parties and file their own evidence and arguments with the court.

Erin Doran, a senior attorney for Riverkeeper, a Hudson Valley environmental group, said the certificate of completion was issued because GE “ticked all the boxes” in the dredging project, but the river remains polluted.

“The issue is that the dredging project, as laid out and conducted by GE, did not produce the results that it was expected to produce, and [the dredged river] continues to pose a danger to human health and the environment,” she said.

A study commissioned by the DEC released in December 2018 found PCBs were still found at dangerous levels in the river’s sediment.

New York is arguing the issuing of the certificate of completion was “inappropriate because of the requirements in the Superfund law saying that clean-ups must be protective of human health and the environment,” Doran said.

The case has pending motions from GE and the EPA, and the amicus briefs will be filed at an unknown date at the court’s discretion.

The Hudson River still has hotspots of PCB contamination near the two former GE plants, and the lower portion of the river, below the Troy Dam, still tests positive for PCBs, with contaminated fish found as far south as Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, Doran said. Riverkeeper wants a study completed in lower portion of the river to see what can be done for this to be remediated.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of the Riverkeeper senior attorney’s name. It is Erin Doran, not Erin Dolan. The article has also been updated to reflect contaminated fish, not sediment, is found as far south as Poughkeepsie/Newburgh. Contaminated sediment is found farther south still.

 

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