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Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site

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In 2014, the EPA announced that General Electric Co. would conduct a comprehensive study of PCB contamination in shoreline areas of the Upper Hudson River. Under the latest agreement with GE, the company is evaluating PCB contamination in shoreline areas that are subject to flooding, called the floodplain. Taking a soil sample is a simple and routine process. Samples are collected using hand tools, such as a hand auger, and result in a 2-inch diameter hole. After each sample is taken, the hole is filled in. Short-Term Response Actions (STRA’s) have been taken where elevated levels of PCBs have been detected in soil on private and some public properties in areas people use. These actions have consisted primarily of the installation of topsoil and grass cover material to prevent direct contact with PCBs or the placement of signs to warn people that PCBs are present. These measures are considered temporary, pending the completion of the comprehensive study in the floodplain and the selection of a final cleanup plan for the floodplain. Dredging in the Upper Hudson River was conducted between 2009-2015. Workers use excavators with environmental clamshell buckets mounted on flat, anchored platforms to dredge the river. The PCB-contaminated sediment was emptied onto 35-foot-wide, 195-foot-long floating barges. Using custom GPS guided software, dredge operators were able to precisely remove only material targeted by EPA for dredging. After each dredge pass, sediment core samples were collected and analyzed to determine whether the contamination had been removed. Tugboats were used to move barges of contaminated sediment to an upstream processing facility and clean backfill to the previously dredged areas. The tugboats and barges had to navigate through the lock system to get to the processing facility. The barges made as many as 20 one-way trips to and from the processing facility during a 24-hour period. During the work, oversight teams monitored dredging, processing and other project activities for the safety of crews on the river, and to ensure compliance with best management practices. Once contaminated sediment and debris were removed from the river, they were taken to a processing facility on the Champlain Canal in Fort Edward. Workers at the processing facility used excavators with environmental clamshell buckets to load the contaminated sediment and debris onto a trommel which began the process of separating the material. Multiple size separation processes were sequenced to remove particles from ¼ inches to 12 inches in diameter. The remaining sediment was pumped to the dewatering facility. Water was squeezed out of the sediment in Plate and Frame presses, which dropped the sediment into containers before it was put into staging areas. Granulated Activated Carbon was used to treat the water separated from the sediment at the processing facility. Following treatment, the water was discharged to the Champlain Canal. Processed dredged material was stored at warehouses at the processing facility until it was ready to be loaded onto lined rail cars and transported to a disposal facility. Larger, coarse material was also stored on site and transported by rail to approved disposal facilities. Rail cars were loaded with dredged and processed materials for delivery to permitted, off-site disposal facilities. After an area has been dredged of contaminated sediment to the EPA’s standards, clean backfill was transported on a barge by a tug boat. The backfill replaced dredged sediment and maintained the natural contours of the riverbed. Workers used excavators with environmental clamshell buckets mounted on flat, anchored platforms to place backfill on top of the previously dredged area, returning the riverbed to its natural state. Quality of Life Performance Standards were designed for the dredging project to keep the impacts on people to a minimum. The project’s effects on air quality were closely monitored. Air monitors were placed around all of the dredge operations and in residential and commercial areas, and air quality data was collected daily. The project’s effect on water quality was closely monitored in accordance with Engineering Performance Standards. Water monitoring was done around and downstream of the dredges, to determine PCB resuspension levels. This water monitoring buoy was solar powered. Water column monitoring will continue post-dredging in order to assess PCB concentrations throughout the Upper and Lower Hudson River. The project’s effect on river navigation was closely monitored and reported daily, to ensure that there were minimal and/or short-term impacts on recreational boating.  Some dredge areas were repopulated with aquatic plants in the growing season following the year in which the area was dredged. The habitat replacement program was designed to limit impacts, and restore the function of river habitats from the dredging project and includes reconstruction, replacement, and/or stabilization of river bottom, submerged aquatic vegetation, wetlands, and shoreline areas. This picture shows a riverine fringing wetland habitat reconstruction effort. Reconstructed areas are evaluated over time. Workers on Poseidon, the submerged aquatic vegetation barge, plant vegetation as part of the post-dredging habitat reconstruction effort. Individual plants are placed down the tubes, and divers plant them into the riverbed. This picture shows a riverine fringing wetland habitat reconstruction effort. These efforts occured after the dredging and backfilling processes. Reconstructed areas are evaluated over time. When historic items were discovered during the dredging process, archaeologists and divers conducted an investigation. This picture shows a propeller which is from a late-18th or early-19th century boat submerged in the eastern channel of Rogers Island. Archaeologists found at least 10 sunken vessels during the first phase of the project.