The Hudson River Dredging Project

Lock 5 on the Hudson River just north of Schuylerville

Lock 5 on the Hudson River just north of Schuylerville

General Electric is about to begin one of the largest environmental cleanups in the history of the United States. Beginning in May, GE is going to dredge the Hudson River in Fort Edward, New York to cleanup PCBs in the river bottom. Eventually, 40 miles of the river will be dredged from Hudson Falls south to Troy, NY.  I live in Washington County, New York, just across the river from Schuylerville. I am 13 miles south of where the dredging will begin.

There are half a dozen “hot spots” where dredging will occur within a short distance of my house. They won’t be touched until Phase 2. The area around Fort Edward will be dredged this year in Phase 1. There will then be a review process of what was completed. Phase 2 dredging should continue in the spring of 2010. It could take 5 years before all of the dredging is completed.

It still amazes me that GE dumped the PCBs into the river in the first place. A lot of smart people work for GE. I read somewhere that the GE research center in Niskayuna, New York (near Schenectady), has more Phds. than anywhere else in the world. Someone at GE should have known that discharging this stuff into the Hudson River was a very bad idea, even in the 1940s. If not the 40s, than at least the 1960s.  I don’t care if it was legal or illegal. I don’t care if they had a permit or they didn’t have a permit. It was stupid and irresponsible and they should have known better.

Common sense should tell you that you shouldn’t dump this stuff into the river. Now they have to spend millions of dollars to clean it up. It would have been much smarter to either say that we shouldn’t manufacture this stuff in the first place because it is too dangerous or we have to figure out a safe way to dispose of it before we start making it.

GE started dumping polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River in the 1940s and continued to do so until 1977. I  was trying to find out why GE eventually stopped dumping PCB’s in 1977 when I ran across this 2001 article by Charlie Cray called, Toxics on the Hudson: The Saga of GE, PCBs and the Hudson River. GE stopped discharging PCBs into the river  because they were banned by federal law. The United States Congress banned the manufacture of PCB’s in 1976 when they passed the The Toxic Substances Control Act.

PCBs  are bad for you. They are the reason that you can’t eat fish from the Hudson. You can catch fish in the Hudson, but you must release them right away.

The Environmental Protection Agency has an entire section of its website devoted to Hudson River PCBs.

GE has a website with all kinds of detailed information about the project,

The Hudson River is beautiful in this area. It should be as clean as it looks. What do you think?

6 Responses to “The Hudson River Dredging Project”

  1. askcherlock says:

    The Hudson River and all our rivers deserve to be clean. Those who pollute them deserve to pay the price. They did know what they were doing! I live in Pittsburgh where years ago with all the steel mills, you wouldn’t dream of going near the Three Rivers. Tiday they are clean. We have boating events, fishing events and even swim in them. Someone cared. It started with the citizens of the city.

  2. loostool says:

    It’s easy to have 20-20 hindsight and come out with a statement to the effect of “They should have know better” or “Common Sense should have told them not to dump this stuff in the river”. But that ignores, or at least glosses over some very relevant facts;
    – No body knew that PCB’s were potentially dangerous when they started discharging them into the Hudson back in the 40’s. No body knew in the 50’s or even had empirical evidence into the 60’s. Lacking evidence to the contrary it was not a far reach for GE to dump this stuf – as tey had been dumping other stuff all along.
    – Look at what Tanneries used to dump into rivers? Toxic, nasty stuff. And everyone thought THAT was ok too. Now we know better, now we don’t dump that stuff.
    – There isn’t even one formal study that says that PCB’s cause cancer. Check it out…not one. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t bad for you, but everyone who runs around screaming “PCB’s equal Cancer!” is wrong – or at least unproven.
    – Check out some of the contrarian studies that suggest dredging may actual do more harm than good; the PCB’s are slowly being buried under layers of sediment – PCB readings in the river are going down. Dredging may stir all of this mess and create a “PCB Soup” out of the river that will take years to come down.

    I believe that GE has every right to fight back against the gov’t that ALLOWED them to do something, changed the rules part way through and then said that GE had to pay for what was perfectly legal for so many years.

  3. John Tedder says:

    I could have told you as an 8 year old that you shouldn’t dump that stuff in a river.

  4. loostool says:

    You were a biochemist as an 8 year old?

    The fact is no, you couldn’t have said that. YOu’re working from a position of acquired knowledge; you know tha PCB’s are bad NOW, but back THEN no one knew they were harmful if they were put into the river.
    What if they allowed chocolate syrup be dumped into the river now? Would anyone have objections? (Probably a few). There would be little hue and cry for them not to because, hey, i’t ONLY chocolate syrup. But what if 30 years from now we found out tha chocolate caused a chemical reaction in fish that made them toxic to birds or even peopl? THEN people would up and scream bloddy murder and use the “You never should have done that” line. Separate the issues; PCB’s are bad – that’s a given. But back before anyone knew they were really bad it WASN’T illegal to dump them in the river. So shame on everyone for letting it happen – but it is not solely a GE problem. Again, I’d raise a stink if I were GE and the State came back to me 40 years after the fact and said that I had to pay for the whole clean up. “Hey. Mr. NYS; YOU said it was OK. So didn’t the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. We only did what we were told to do.”
    And as to the dredging; like I noted previously – check out some of the contrarian websites; The dredging may do far more harm than good.

    You wouldn’t BELIEVE half of the crap that the State and the Feds used to allow to be dumped in rivers. So before we start pointing fingers at the companies alone, and before we start the “common sense” chant, we better look at the politicos who allowed it all to happen for so long. If anyone failed in the “common sense” department it was our elected officials who said.”Errr…OK” in the first place.
    There’s two sides to every story

  5. Chip Furlong says:

    Hi John, this is a good argument for private ownership of even rivers…or parts of rivers. If you dump poison into something that belongs to me, you’re a criminal and I’m a victim. On the other hand, if nobody owns it….

  6. John Tedder says:

    Thanks for commenting Chip. The Hudson River is amazingly beautiful here. I hope that GE and the EPA can clean up the PCBs so that some day people can eat the fish they catch and swim in the river without worrying. I was sitting on my back deck a few weeks ago and saw a bald eagle fly over. What an amazing sight. It was huge. The river and wildlife have made a great recovery since the federal government forced companies to stop using the river as a dump. Hopefully, this clean up will complete the process.

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