Hudson' Cleanup Moves Slowly
Governor Cuomo removes hurdle to allow state to begin dredging contaminated river bottom. ENVIRONMENT
ALONG much of its 315-mile run from the Adirondacks south to the New York City harbor, the Hudson River is cleaner than it was two decades ago. There is less floating garbage, less raw sewage, fewer dead fish. Yet the Hudson still faces a major threat from a toxic enemy: PCBs, (polychlorinated biphenyls) from a 40-mile stretch of river north of Albany.
A bitter and stultifying debate between government officials, business interests, and environmentalists over how to clean the river and who should pay for the effort has blocked progress.
Presence of the PCBs, suspected carcinogens, led state officials in 1976 to ban all fishing in the upper Hudson and commercial fishing for striped bass anywhere in the river. They have since issued health advisories suggesting limits on fish consumption.
PCBs form a colorless, odorless liquid. They were used as an insulator and lubricant in the manufacture of heavy electrical equipment. The company stopped producing the PCBs in 1977.
Environmentalists are pleased by New York Governor Mario Cuomo's June 7 veto of legislative language in the state budget that would have prevented the state from moving ahead with its plan to dredge 250,000 pounds of PCB-contaminated sediment from the river bottom.
The General Electric Company, which dumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PCBs into the upper Hudson between 1946 and 1976, had lobbied hard for the legislation. If passed, the state would have had to stall its cleanup plans until the Environmental Protection Agency completed a lengthy review - expected to take about 18 months.
Environmentalists charge that GE is trying to delay the cleanup and prevent the EPA from taking the Hudson on as a federal Superfund project. ``We've been working on this since 1976 and every time it appears something meaningful is going to happen, GE steps in to derail it,'' says John Mylod, executive director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc., a regional environmental advocacy group based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If the dredging effort moves forward, it could cost some $280 million over several years. If the EPA took on the task under its federal Superfund, the agency could collect cleanup costs from the responsible party, in this case from GE. Without EPA involvement, New York could pay the whole cost itself.