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Toxic Hudson river sediment could poison Texas aquifer

FORT EDWARD, New York, May 19, 2009 (ENS) – The long awaited dredging of the Upper Hudson River to remove sediment contaminated by PCBs from a General Electric factory began Friday near Roger’s Island in Fort Edward.

The six-year dredging project will be conducted by General Electric under the terms of a November 2006 consent decree. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will oversee all aspects of the work; dredging will continue through October 2009, weather permitting.

This first phase of the dredging project will be conducted 24 hours a day, six days a week and aims to remove 265,000 cubic yards of sediment and 20,300 kilograms of PCBs from a six-mile stretch of the river between Roger’s Island and Thompson Island.

PCBs leaked from the GE Hudson Falls Plant site into the Hudson River (Photo courtesy U.S. EPA)  

The entire project will remove an estimated 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment and 113,000 kg of PCBs.

Sediment removed from the river will be carried by barge to a dewatering facility located on the Champlain Canal in Fort Edward. There water will be squeezed from the sediment and treated to drinking water standards before being returned to the canal.

The remaining PCB-laden dirt will be loaded onto railcars for disposal at a permitted landfill facility in Andrews County, Texas.

The 1,338 acre treatment, storage and disposal facility operated by Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County is licensed for the processing, storage and disposal of a broad range of hazardous and toxic waste as well as low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste.

But environmentalists in Texas are demanding an Environmental Impact Statement, saying that disposing of the PCBs at the Waste Control Specialists site could the poison the Ogallala aquifer. The vast underground water table underlies parts of eight states, including Texas, acting as a natural groundwater storage reservoir.

Dr. Neil Carman, a chemist with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said Saturday, “This is like a shell game, moving hazardous toxic PCBs from one sensitive location to another.”

“The Waste Control Specialist dump site is already controversial because it is located over vulnerable aquifers,” Carman said. “We are concerned about contamination of the Ogallala Aquifers and other aquifers in this dry region of Texas that needs to protect and conserve water for drinking and agricultural uses.”

“We are also concerned both about public health and environmental disasters along the train route, said Carman.

“GE plans to ship 81 carloads in a mile long train every four to five days for six months beginning around July 1st. The train cars will have plastic covers that would do nothing to hold the toxic waste in the event of a derailment. These train cars should be properly capped with a steel cover that would contain and minimize any spill of PCBs.”

“Communities along the route must be informed and first responders warned so they can be prepared to handle a potential disaster,” Carman demanded.

From approximately 1947 to 1977, the General Electric Company discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, from its capacitor manufacturing plants at the Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities into the Hudson River.

PCBs are a mixture of individual chemicals which are no longer produced in the United States, but are still found in the environment. Health effects include acne-like skin conditions in adults and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children. PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals.

The primary health risk associated with the Hudson River site is the accumulation of PCBs in the human body through eating contaminated fish from the river, according to the EPA.

“The start of Hudson River dredging is a symbol of victory for the environment and for its river communities,” said George Pavlou, acting EPA regional administrator. “Dredging will help restore the health of the river, and will one day allow people to eat fish that are caught between Fort Edward and Albany. This is an historic day for an historic river.”

“This is another chapter in the story of a river coming back from the brink,” Governor David Paterson said. “Forty years ago, the Hudson River was a poster child for pollution, mocked as an open sewer. But through the Clean Water Act, the upgrade of wastewater treatment plants and increased public vigilance fostered by the growing public interest in environmental protection, the Hudson has steadily improved and it is cleaner than it has been in decades.

At the conclusion of this first phase of the dredging project, an independent panel of experts will review the results of the dredging and may make recommendations for changes that may be incorporated throughout the remainder of the dredging, which is targeted for completion in 2015.

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