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Senator Gillibrand urges EPA to continue PCB cleanup in the Hudson River

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Albany on Thursday discussing renewed calls on the EPA to continue the cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River
Madeleine Reynolds
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Albany on Thursday discussing her renewed calls on the EPA to continue the cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to readdress the cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River.

The New York Democrat wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan ahead of the agency’s release of its third five-year review of the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site.

Gillibrand says efforts to remove the chemical have been inadequate. Between 1947 and 1977 General Electric discharged more than a million pounds of PCBs into the river, causing contamination to water, soil, and wildlife. PCBs are known to cause skin conditions like rashes and acne, gastrointestinal discomfort and fatigue.

Under an agreement with the EPA, GE wrapped up dredging of contaminated sediment in a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson in 2015.

Speaking in Albany Thursday, Gillibrand says it fell short in restoring the waterway.

“The commercial fishing industry in the area, which once generated $40 million annually has been shut down. And the communities that depend on the Hudson River for drinking water have been forced to spend millions of dollars a year to make the water safe to drink,” Gillibrand said.

In a statement, GE says the EPA “hailed its Hudson River dredging project as a ‘historic achievement.’” The company added that “99% of sediment samples in the Upper Hudson show PCB levels below EPA's dredging criteria, and the project is on track to deliver further improvements reducing other levels.”

Joined by state and local officials and advocates, Gillibrand says New Yorkers continue to suffer from the elevated levels of PCBs. She says while cleanup efforts removed a significant amount of contamination, the EPA’s cleanup goals have not yet been met. Gillibrand is calling on the agency to recognize that dredging doesn’t protect human health or the environment.

“Additional remedial action must be taken to bring the Hudson River back to its full health,” Gillibrand said.

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan says the failure to adequately remedy one of the country’s largest Superfund sites hurts the economy, industry, and livelihoods.

“This is a problem for anyone living along the Hudson, from New York City all the way up to the upper Hudson,” Sullivan said. “But particularly for our most vulnerable people, the people of color, people in lower economic standing, many of whom actually depend on the Hudson River fish and subsist on it.”

Sullivan adds the EPA underestimated the amount of PCBs in the river. Sullivan says a2023 study by The Friends of a Clean Hudson shows increasing levels of contamination.

“The levels of PCBs in fish that they made an initial drop after the cleanup, but then they've leveled off and are even showing a slight increase,” Sullivan said.

Assemblymember Pat Fahy the 109 District, who is running for state Senate, says additional remedial actions would support her vision to reimagine Interstate 787 and reconnect the community with the Hudson River.

“In addition to healing the Hudson, we absolutely need to reconnect to it,” Fahy said. “And that's why we have spent years seeking the funding to do the feasibility study on reimagining it, reconnecting with that and as a part of that study. It includes the canal to help unearth the original Lock One of the Erie Canal so it is a multi-pronged approach.”

The Democrat says she expects an I-787 feasibility study to be finished this year.

Advocates calling for further river cleanup efforts say corporations like GE have skirted responsibility, shifting the burden to individuals.

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.