EPA GE Hudson River, Hudson River Superfund site

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EPA GE Hudson River, Hudson River Superfund site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had mixed messages Thursday about the cleanup of the Hudson River Superfund site.

It issued the General Electric Co. a certificate of completion of the remedial action for the dredging, capping and habitat restoration of the Upper Hudson River.

But, separately, its five-year review was also released, which said EPA is not sure about whether parts of the 40 miles of Upper Hudson River are clean enough to protect human health and the environment, and more fish tissue data will be collected. The federal agency has decided “to defer a determination of the protectiveness of the remedy,” according to a news release.

The EPA said the two actions are separate, and the issuance of GE’s certificate of completion is not related to the five-year review. GE also has one more certificate to get, the “certificate of completion of the work.”

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The state and many others do not agree, however, that the two actions are separate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state will sue the EPA.

In a phone press conference Thursday, EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez said the federal agency’s determination does not mean GE is “off the hook,” and it will be decades before GE is issued the final certificate.

“It’s effectively a legal receipt that confirms GE did what it was directed to in terms of the construction work required in the (2006) consent decree,” Lopez said of the certificate of completion. “The consent decree explicitly contains re-opener provisions, which allow EPA, under specified circumstances, to seek additional work.”

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In an emailed statement, GE said the EPA’s decision confirms that it “successfully completed the Hudson River dredging project.”

“GE will continue to collect environmental data to assess ongoing improvements in river conditions and to work closely with EPA, New York state, and local communities on other Hudson environmental projects,” the statement continued. “During six seasons of dredging, GE removed twice the volume of PCBs from the river than EPA expected. As a result, as EPA reported, more than 99 percent of sediment samples taken by New York state in the Upper Hudson met the standard EPA set for the project. GE invested $1.7 billion in the project and, as EPA confirmed, has met all of its commitments.”

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From the 1940s to 1970s, GE released about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River at its former plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. PCBs were used as a fire preventive and insulator for manufactured devices, but in 1977, the EPA banned their production.

PCBs are probable human carcinogens and can cause health problems like learning, memory and immune disorders, according to the EPA’s Hudson River Superfund website.

It has been 16 years since the EPA issued a record of decision, requiring the General Electric Co. to dredge about 2.65 million cubic yards of sediment from Troy to Fort Edward. Dredging was completed in the fall of 2015.

Lopez said there’s been calls for more dredging, and he understands that desire.

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