News Releases from Region 02
EPA Review Projects Long-Term Success for Hudson River PCB Cleanup
(Albany, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released for public comment its second review of the historic cleanup of PCB-contaminated sediment from the upper Hudson River. The review concludes that the Hudson River cleanup is working as designed and, while not yet protective, is expected to accomplish its long-term goal of protection of human health and the environment when the cleanup is completed. In the interim, the State of New York has fishing restrictions and advisories in place to control human consumption of contaminated fish. Under the Superfund law, cleanups generally must be reviewed every five years after construction starts on a project to determine if they are working as intended and remain protective of human health and the environment.
EPA’s second five-year review is the culmination of an eleven-month evaluation process which included collecting new data, conducting an objective analysis of project activities and a quantitative analysis of all available fish, water and sediment data. The more than 1000-page report includes a detailed technical assessment and various technical data evaluations as appendices. The five-year review acknowledges that as many as eight or more years of post-dredging fish data may be needed to establish, with a high degree of confidence, a long-term statistical trend in levels of PCBs in the fish. The report is available at www.epa.gov/hudson.
“EPA followed the requirements of the federal Superfund law and used the best available science to conduct this review,” said Acting Regional Administrator Catherine McCabe. “The question that the five-year review asks is ‘do we still think the cleanup decision we made in 2002 will provide long-term protection of human health and the environment?’ Based on the information and data that we have today, that answer is yes.”
This five-year review included a rigorous and unprecedented stakeholder and community engagement process, with the EPA convening a 20-member five-year review team of EPA experts, state and federal agency representatives, and community stakeholders. Three public workshops were also held while the review was underway. All input received was considered during the review process.
The EPA’s two-part cleanup plan called for the targeted environmental dredging of approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the Upper Hudson River between Fort Edward and Troy, NY, followed by a period of monitored natural recovery. Dredging began in 2009 and was completed in 2015. It was one of the largest and most logistically complex environmental dredging projects ever undertaken in the U.S., and resulted in the removal of about 2.75 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment. Approximately 310,000 pounds of PCBs were permanently removed from the river – twice the mass anticipated – representing an estimated 72 percent reduction in the overall mass of PCBs in the Upper Hudson River. The first five-year review for the site was conducted in 2012.
This second five-year review considered all available data, including all fish, water and sediment data collected over the past five years, but necessarily reflects only a single year of data about the post-dredging state of the river and fish. Because dredging was completed in 2015, the fish collected for sampling in both spring and fall 2016 were still affected by elevated PCBs levels during the dredging project.
The data collected since the last five-year review show that the results are generally consistent with what EPA expected. The 2016 fish data suggest that the fish have begun to recover from dredging impacts and are generally back to pre-dredging levels. However, the 2016 data alone are not sufficient to evaluate post-dredging trends.
“The early information that we have for sediment, water and fish is encouraging. In the years ahead, we will collect more data to identify long-term trends,” said Acting Regional Administrator Catherine McCabe. “While the project was designed to set the river on a course for recovery, we have always explained that the recovery will take many years. It is not possible for the fish to fully recover immediately after the conclusion of dredging.”
As expected, average PCB concentrations in fish in the Upper Hudson are declining but have not yet reached protective levels. When EPA made its cleanup decision in 2002, the agency predicted that it would take years after dredging is completed for PCB levels in fish to reach levels where the existing fish consumption advisories may begin to be relaxed, and decades before fish can safely be eaten frequently. As a result, the fish consumption advisories are a necessary component of the site remedy. This is typical for Superfund sediment cleanup sites across the country. Since 1976, high levels of PCBs in fish have led New York State to close various recreational fisheries and to issue advisories restricting the consumption of fish caught in the Hudson River.
As natural recovery of the river continues, human exposure to PCB-contaminated fish will continue to be controlled through fishing restrictions and fish consumption advisories issued by New York State. EPA set interim targets for the reduction of PCBs in fish tissue that would allow New York State to adjust the advisories and loosen the restrictions over time. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) controls adjustments to the advisories. Hudson River-area residents who eat fish are encouraged to closely review and adhere to the advisories set by New York State. The five-year review includes a discussion of some of the efforts New York State has taken to improve the effectiveness of the advisories. EPA will continue to work closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and NYSDOH to improve their fish advisory outreach program.
The sediment cleanup is now transitioning from the dredging phase of the project to a robust monitoring phase that will track the long-term recovery of the river over time to confirm that the cleanup is functioning as intended. This includes monitoring of sediment, fish, water, reconstructed habitats, and the caps that were placed in some of the areas of the river where PCBs remained.
If the EPA determines that the recovery is not occurring as expected, the EPA will evaluate next steps. The next five-year review is expected to be completed in 2022.
The next major component of the cleanup of the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site is now underway, and includes a comprehensive study of PCB contamination in low-lying areas of the Upper Hudson River that are subject to flooding, called the floodplains. Extensive soil sampling was conducted in 2016 and will continue in 2017.
As part of his continued effort to prioritize Superfund cleanups, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last week the creation of a Superfund task force to provide recommendations within 30 days on how the EPA can streamline and improve the Superfund program. EPA will look for ways to streamline and improve the Superfund program, with a focus on identifying best practices with regional Superfund programs, reducing the amount of time between identification of contamination at a site and determination that a site is ready for reuse, encouraging private investment at sites during and after cleanup, and realigning incentives of all involved parties to foster faster cleanups.
The five-year review report is available at www.epa.gov/hudson. During the 30-day public comment period, comments can be sent by mail or email to:
Gary Klawinski, Director
EPA Region 2, Hudson River Office
187 Wolf Road, Suite 303
Albany, NY 12205
The EPA plans to hold two public information meetings during the public comment period. Dates and locations to be announced shortly.