PCB UPDATE / ACTION ALERT

This update is to inform you of the latest happenings with regard to the Superfund reassessment and the Hudson Falls Plant site. As you know, the federal EPA is studying a possible Superfund cleanup of PCB contaminated river bottom sediments, contamination which stems from past discharges of PCBs from GE plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. GE is now acknowledging the fact that substantial amounts of PCBs from their Hudson Falls Plant continue to flow into the Hudson River in the form of contaminated groundwater. As a result the DEC has stepped in and forced GE to plan and start cleanup procedures for the Hudson Falls Plant. The next step now is for the EPA to incorporate information about the Hudson Falls site to the ongoing Superfund reassessment.

SITE DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY

The General Electric Hudson Falls Plant is an 8 acre site that sits on a bluff along the east bank of the Hudson River in the Village of Hudson Falls. GE used PCBs in the manufacture of capacitors at the Hudson Falls plant from 1952 through 1977. All waste products containing PCBs were stored on the site.

The northern end of the plant site is adjacent to the Bakers Falls Dam which was built in the early 1900's to facilitate the operation of hydroelectric facilities. Along the eastern shore of the river, adjacent to and below the GE property is the abandoned Allens Mill structure. Within the old mill structure there are several different channels through which water flowed: the upper and lower raceways (which each powered turbines in the mill) and the tailrace tunnel (through which water was discharged back to the river).

WHAT'S HAPPENING AT HUDSON FALLS

Under the terms of a DEC consent order, GE will have to excavate 3,000 cubic yards of PCB contaminated soil and debris from depths of up to 11 feet. This material is to be disposed of in an approved hazardous waste facility in western New York. The first phase of this project is scheduled to start in mid-October and scheduled be completed in 1994. While this is important, it pertains only to one small contaminated area on the Hudson Falls site. Therefore there is still much more that needs to be cleaned up.

Test wells have found significant levels of PCB contamination in the groundwater beneath the Hudson Falls Plant site. The ground water contamination of the site ranges from trace amounts to 90% PCBs!

It is known that large amounts of GE's PCBs are seeping through fissures in the bedrock and into the old Allens Mill structure. Some of the seeps have also tested as high as 90% PCBs. Because a significant flow of water still exists in the raceways of the old mill, the mill is acting as a gateway for the continuous flow of PCBs into the river.

Accordingly, there are now 4 main areas of contaminated sediments found adjacent to the Hudson Falls site, which can all be attributed to the site. The first area of contamination is the river itself. The PCB contamination of sediments in the river at this site was found to range from 100 - 20,000 ppm. Also, PCB levels in fish in the Upper Hudson River were found to have increased by 300% in one year, due to the releases from the Hudson Falls Plant site.

The other areas of sediment contamination were found in the raceways of the old mill. Their respective levels of contamination are as follows:

The Tailrace Tunnel alone is estimated to contain an astonishing 8 tons of PCBs!

WHAT IS BEING DONE

Due to the significant levels of PCB contamination at the Hudson Falls site, the DEC and GE signed a consent order which specifies the actions that are to be taken in order to investigate contamination at the site and to evaluate possible cleanup measures.

GE (under orders from the state) is trying to identify and characterize areas of contamination beneath the plant. GE is also looking for possible pathways for migration of the contamination through the site and into the Hudson River. As for the old Allens Mill site the main emphasis is for GE to evaluate the amount of PCB contaminated material in the structure.

Interim cleanup measures now planned include the digging of sump trenches in the old mill structure to drain liquids from sediments, and removal of contaminated sediments from two of the three mill raceways (the Eastern Raceway and Tailrace Tunnel). The Lower Raceway will not be cleaned at this time due to the difficulty of removing the sediments from this area.

HOW IT FITS INTO THE BIG PICTURE

GE's argument is that the ongoing flow of PCBs from the Hudson Falls site, and not the PCBs which contaminate river bottom sediments, are causing the high levels of PCBs seen in fish throughout the river. Therefore GE contends that the contaminated sediments do not need to be cleaned up, and that the EPA should stop the Superfund study altogether.

GE's argument is a gross oversimplification of a complicated problem. It is clear that the top priority must be to stop the flow of additional PCBs into the river. Objective scientists familiar with the problem concur that both the Hudson Fails site and the contaminated sediments already in the river contribute to downriver and food chain contamination. GE's conclusion that PCBs flowing from the Hudson Falls site are recontaminating river bottom sediments strengthens the argument for a cleanup.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Write to the DEC and ask for them to hold additional public meetings on the Hudson Falls site in downriver communities. You can do this by writing to: William Daigle, Room 224, NYS DEC, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, New York, 12233. Mr. Daigle's telephone number is (518) 457-1641.

Write to Governor Mario Cuomo, and ask that he use the state's existing legal authority to require GE to pay for:

Governor Cuomo's address is: Executive Chambers, State Capitol, Albany, New York, 12224.

Write to the EPA and urge them to continue the reassessment, incorporating available information about the flow of PCBs from the Hudson Falls plant. The EPA process provides the best opportunity to develop a full scale understanding of the relative contributions that the Hudson Falls Plant and the contaminated sediments are making to the overall PCB contamination of the river. The person to write to is: Jeanne Fox, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, Jacob K. Jayits Federal Building, New York, New York,. 10278-0012. It is also helpful to send a copy of your letter to your Congressmember.


Source: Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.
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