ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to speed up its study of whether General Electric's massive $2 billion six-year dredging project on the Hudson River was effective in cleaning up PCB contamination.
In a Dec. 18 letter to groups that met with him in Washington, D.C., this month, Mathy Stanislaus, who oversees the EPA's Superfund cleanup programs, agreed to begin the review early in 2016 instead of 2017. But he said the EPA won't stop GE from dismantling the plant it used to process sediment dredged from a 40-mile stretch of the river north of Albany, saying a processing plant could be reassembled if it's determined that more dredging is needed.
"This is a major breakthrough in our long campaign to achieve a clean and healthy Hudson River," said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson. "Finally, the EPA has agreed to expeditiously evaluate whether the cleanup has achieved its goals."
GE has said it has successfully completed removing PCB it released into the river before 1977, and the EPA agreed in October to allow the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company to dismantle its riverside processing plant, saying it didn't foresee a need for additional dredging.
"This conforms to the schedule we understood EPA planned to follow," GE spokesman Mark Behan said Tuesday. "We are confident that the Hudson dredging project has achieved EPA's goals of protecting human health and the environment."
Environmental groups contend contamination remains at unsafe levels. Two other federal agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also say cleanup is not over. They're calling for about 130 acres of dredging beyond the original 500 acres.
Five environmental groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and the Sierra Club — met with top EPA brass in Washington this month to make a case for more dredging. They later petitioned the EPA to review the cleanup's effectiveness before ruling formally on its completion.
In its letter to the environmental groups, the EPA said the review to be conducted early in 2016 will include enhanced public participation and an assessment of current river conditions, including post-dredging sediment, water and fish data to be collected by GE.