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Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site

Hudson River Cleanup

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Why is the cleanup of the upper Hudson River needed?

The 315-mile Hudson River is steeped in American history. It guided Henry Hudson in search of a northwest passage and served commerce as a transportation route during the Industrial Revolution. Industry provided jobs, created communities, and brought economic growth to the region. However, an era of industrial pollution left its mark on the treasured river. Today, 200 miles of the Hudson River is classified by EPA as a Superfund site – one of the largest in the country.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were widely used as a fire preventive and insulator in the manufacture of electrical devices, like transformers and capacitors, because of their ability to withstand exceptionally high temperatures. During a 30-year period ending in 1977, when EPA banned the production of PCBs, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were discharged into the Hudson River from two General Electric (GE) capacitor manufacturing plants located in the towns of Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, New York. In 1984, 200 miles of river, between Hudson Falls and the Battery in New York City, was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List of the country’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.

Today the Hudson River exists as one of the most extensively studied rivers in the country, having been monitored almost continuously for a period of more than 25 years. Ongoing evaluations of water quality, sediment, air quality, fish, and wildlife by the Federal Government and the State of New York have demonstrated that the river is not cleaning itself and PCBs in the sediment pose a serious risk to human health and the environment. Studies conducted to evaluate the extent of the problem in the (years) revealed that most of the contaminated sediments were in “hot spots” situated in a 40-mile stretch of the river between the town of Fort Edward and the Troy Dam.

PCBs build up in the environment (bioaccumulate), increasing in concentration as you move up the food chain. The primary health risk associated with the site is the accumulation of PCBs in the human body through eating contaminated fish. Since 1976, high levels of PCBs in fish have led New York State to close various recreational and commercial fisheries and to issue advisories restricting the consumption of fish caught in the Hudson River. PCBs are considered probable human carcinogens and are linked to other adverse health effects such as low birth weight, thyroid disease, and learning, memory, and immune system disorders. PCBs in the river sediment also affect fish and wildlife.

What’s being done to address the contamination?

In February 2002, EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site that calls for targeted environmental dredging of approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from a 40-mile section of the Upper Hudson River. Events between the 2002 ROD and the 2009 cleanup can be seen in the Roadmap: Sequence of Key Events Since the 2002 Record of Decision [PDF 1.1 MB, 1 pg]

The cleanup of the Hudson River will occur in two phases. Phase 1 of the project was conducted by GE with oversight by EPA from May to November 2009. During this phase, approximately 283,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment was removed from a six-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson River near Fort Edward, NY. After an extensive evaluation by an independent panel of scientists and input from a broad range of stakeholders, EPA developed plans for the second part of the cleanup.

Phase 2 began in June 2011, and is being conducted at full production to remove the remainder of the contaminated river sediment targeted for dredging; Phase 2 targets the removal of approximately 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment. Dredging occurs between May and October, when the Champlain Canal is open for the season. It is estimated that the second phase of the cleanup will take five to seven years to complete.

Read more about the cleanup and view project documents.

EPA is the lead agency for cleanup of the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Exit EPA disclaimer is the support agency for this project. The NYSDEC, The United States Department of Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service) Exit EPA disclaimerand the United States Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Exit EPA disclaimerare federal trustees of natural resources.

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