200 miles of the Hudson River were classified as a Superfund site in 1984. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) established the Superfund program to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites. The Hudson River was contaminated by two General Electric (GE) capacitor production plants. From 1947-1977, “between 209,000 and 1.3 million pounds of PCBs were released into the Hudson River”. The Superfund clean up of the Hudson River was halted on August 7, 2009 due to dangerous levels of PCBs downriver from the clean up sites but resumed on August 11.
Water samples taken near the Thompson Island Dam contained “excess PCBs” causing river clean up to be halted. This is the second time this summer dredging has been stopped, although the Environmental Protection Agency claims the “the project is not a threat to public health”. According to the Times Union:
The levels Friday exceeded federal drinking water safety standard, which are 500 parts per trillion…Longtime dredging opponents say work should stop, but a project supporter believes elevated PCBs, while a concern, don’t warrant a shutdown…At the dam, more than two miles south of the nearest dredging, more than 280 pounds of PCBs have been “resuspended” in the river. That measurement — known technically as loading — is beyond the 257-pound limit that EPA has set for the project’s first year.
Ironically, the EPA has touted the clean up of the Hudson River as a Superfund success story, and when the project is entirely complete, it just may be. In the meantime, the EPA is being accused of “underestimating” the effects of resuspended PCBs on downriver water quality; however, if the project is not completed, PCBs will remain in the Hudson River indefinitely. The total cost of the project is $500 million, including GE contributions.
The largest contaminated sites in the US include the Hudson River and the Great Lakes; however, PCBs have been detected throughout the world, even the Arctic Circle. The harmful effects of PCBs on humans has been known for a long time, and accumulation has been found in human tissues, such as the placenta and uterus, as well as breastmilk.
Towns downriver from the Hudson River Superfund dredging project have opted for purchasing drinking water via pipeline rather than risk taking river water, despite EPA assurances the water is safe. Daily PCB monitor results can be viewed at HudsonDredgingData.com.