Trustees stress damage of prolonged pollution on NY river

AP News
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Posted: Apr 23, 2015 1:01 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Government trustees assessing damage to the Hudson River from prolonged PCB contamination on Thursday stressed the widespread harm to its fish as a final season of dredging looms.

The updated fisheries report released by the Hudson River Natural Resources Trustees will be used as they determine the broader damages from polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in the river as part of a $2 billion Superfund project. While the toll of pollution on the river's fish has been known for decades, the report figures to be a crucial document as the trustees assess General Electric's liability for discharging PCBs into the river.

"(T)he public's use of the Hudson River fishery, whether for a livelihood, a source of recreational enjoyment, or for nutrition, has been and continues to be severely curtailed," according to the trustees. The report noted that there have been restrictions on fish consumption along the river since 1975.

GE discharged about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs from its upriver capacitor plants until 1977. PCBs, which were used as coolants in electrical equipment, are potentially cancer-causing chemicals that can build up in fish over time, posing a risk to those who eat them.

The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company is scheduled to begin its sixth and expected final season of PCB dredging along the upper river next month.

Under Superfund rules, the trustees will make an assessment of the harm done to the river's resources, either through a settlement with GE over the company's liability or through litigation. The assessment will look at harm to birds, reptiles, mink and other natural resources.

Fishing limits have been most stringent on a 40-mile stretch of the upper river north of Albany, where recreational fishing was prohibited from 1976 until 1995. But a number of commercial fisheries between Albany and New York City have been closed or severely restricted for nearly 40 years, according to the report.

GE said Thursday that it's "not news that there are fish advisories on the Hudson River" and that the company is meeting the PCB-reduction goals set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"GE is fully engaged in one of the largest and most comprehensive environmental dredging and restoration projects in U.S. history, the explicit goal of which is to reduce the PCB levels in fish," spokesman Mark Behan said in an email.

The trustees include representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.