HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A new report by land preservation group Scenic Hudson this week is taking a look at the impact of PCBs left in the Hudson River over the course of several decades by General Electric. Specifically, the new report puts numbers on the damage.
The group’s report, compiled by a group of experts in natural resource damages, estimates that General Electric created around $11.4 billion in damages by depositing millions of pounds of toxic PCB materials into a stretch of the Hudson River spanning from New York Harbor to facilities 200 miles upriver. The damage was incurred between 1947 and 1977.
“GE’s contamination has caused 70 years of harm, that is expected to last another 50 years or more into the future,” said Dagmar Schmidt Etkin, Ph.D, an environmental research consultant and co-author of the report. “Hudson River Trustees have documented PCB pollution of drinking water, fishery closures and fish consumption restrictions, compromised river navigation in marinas and canals, and threats to the health of waterfowl and mammals. After a thorough review of these studies, we have concluded that the Hudson has suffered adverse impacts at historic levels.”
PCB contaminants are recognized contaminants that inhabit every aspect of a river or water body’s ecosystem. The 200-mile stretch of contaminated Hudson River water makes up one of the largest Superfund sites in the U.S.
The report likens the contamination in scale to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. While that spill created months of contamination and exposure – and a $9.2 billion price tag – the Hudson River PCB issue could last for decades if further dredging doesn’t happen. The impact would affect not just the ecosystem of the river, but also the people who catch and eat the fish from the river.
The estimated cost includes dredging that has already taken place to remove contaminants from the river. The EPA ordered dredging of 296,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment between 2009 and 2015. From there, the report estimates that another $10.7 billion could be spent on further dredging, which Scenic Hudson says will be needed to prevent residual harm that those PCBs can continue to cause for decades to come. The pair of estimated costs combine into $22 million that General Electric could be held liable for.
Scenic Hudson notes that the report is not an official Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Assessments like that can only be performed by NRD trustees. It’s to those figures that the people behind the report are next turning their attention.
“The people of the Hudson River Valley and visitors from across the nation have suffered for seven decades from pollution of the river and surrounding habitat by GE’s PCBs, and the damage will continue for decades more. A once-vibrant commercial fishery closed overnight in 1976, and health officials continue to advise all people to severely restrict or avoid consumption of Hudson River fish,” said Hayley Carlock, Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy and Legal Affairs. “We’re calling on NRD Trustees to negotiate a settlement with GE that will provide for the restoration of the river. The company should step up to compensate for its decades of pollution and lay the groundwork for clean drinking water supplies, healthy habitats, safe public access to the river for all and revitalized ecotourism.”
Scenic Hudson is calling for a Hudson River NRD assessment that would initiate new restoration projects and ecotourism; ensure the safety of fish in the Hudson River for human consumption; eliminate existing PCB threats to drinking water; and heal the river environment. The report can be read in full above.
In a statement, GE said: “GE’s dredging of the Upper Hudson River has been hailed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a ‘historic achievement,’ and EPA, supported by the federal courts, has concluded no additional dredging is needed. Today’s report by a private advocacy group is inconsistent with the wealth of scientific literature showing that Hudson River wildlife populations are healthy and thriving. The government’s natural resource assessment has not yet been completed. We are proud of our contributions and will continue to work closely with local, state and federal agencies.”