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Commentary/
Reality check: 
mis- & dis-information,  deception, and outright lies

by Robert L. Henrickson 
East Nassau, New York
December 25, 2000
Just when I (mistakenly) thought I'd heard it all, I read Rensselaer County Legislator Keith Hammond's letter (The Advertiser, December 22) urging Legislative support of a resolution against "...dumping dredged material from the Hudson River on Rensselaer County or surrounding areas, and especially away from any farmland anywhere.".

Reality Check: "It should be noted that the use of a local landfill to dispose of dredged material was screened-out based on community opposition to such a landfill."  Author?  U.S. E.P.A., in one of at least two statements in the "Superfund Proposed Plan" for the Hudson River PCB remediation. 

Did I have to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the document?  No, I simply participated in the public hearing in Saratoga on December 12th, picked up a copy, and read it as part of my responsibility to be informed on issues -- actions which were obviously not undertaken by Mr. Hammond and the other listed members of the Minority, notably Leader Louis Polsinello, who has also raised his voice in opposition. 

It doesn't end here, however. Two elected officials, with constituents on the Hudson and for whom I have a great deal of respect, have also raised objections. 

First, was the flare-up from Albany Mayor Jennings regarding the mention of the Albany Port as a possible dewatering and rail shipment site for the material. Then, the outright opposition of the plan by State Assembly Minority Leader Faso.  Neither Jennings nor Faso participated in the hearing.

Let's look briefly at the realities here: The chemicals involved are uncontained PCB's residing now in the River's sediment.  Through a variety of hydrological processes including the River's currents and the scouring effect of running water on the sediments beneath, these PCB's are being released and resuspended into the River at a rate of about 500 pounds (50 gallons) per year over the Troy dam. 

These chemicals have been implicated as carcinogens, but here we've allowed ourselves to be smoke-screened. More importantly, they are persistant organic pollutants (POP's) that, based on an accelerating body of research over the last ten years, are becoming increasingly linked to endocrine disruption. 

Simply put, these chemicals mimic the hormones that have to be in the right place, at the right time, and in the right amount for the proper development and survival of everything from an individual cell to an entire species. 

This research on POP's involves not only lab work, but also documentation of numerous examples of damage to animals in the wild and to humans as a result of accidental and even well-intentioned exposure.  Does anyone remember the DES babies?  DES stands for Diethylstilbestrol, a chemical compound that was discovered to cause severe after-effects on the grown children of mothers given this widely-prescribed drug from 1938 to 1971. 

Though the PCB molecules may be shedding some of their numerous chlorine atoms with time, they remain PCB's, and the River is definitely 'not cleaning itself'. 

Interestingly, one of the research revelations is that the dose / response curves of these chemicals are not necessarily linear, leaving our previously established concept of 'safe threshold levels' invalid. (See, 'Our Stolen Future', Colborn, Dumanoski & Myers; www.ourstolenfuture.org)  This is an eye and mind opener! 

The E.P.A. proposal deserves study in its entirety, but here are some of the points: This will be targeted environmental dredging to begin in 2004 of 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, not what G.E. has displayed in the media. 

The E.P.A. predicts that the release and resuspension of PCB's into the water during this process (and remember, these are PCB's which already are contaminating the River's bottom and the organisms that dwell there) will be below 20 (vs. 500) lbs. per year.  Thus, the environmental agency's plan will not  'undo all the good that has been done'.

River 'shut down' or 'disruption'?  Well, during the 1970's, almost a million cubic yards were removed by New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation and New York State Dept. of Transportation.  Anyone remember that?  I don't. 

The sediment will go first to two dewatering sites (sorry, no massive water treatment plants needed), and then will be shipped by rail to an approved, contained site. 

Much like the mention of the Albany Port, the location near Buffalo was proposed to generate a monetary figure for this plan. Once the dried sediment is in boxcars, the expense changes little if it goes to Texas instead. 

E.P.A. is confident they can complete the plan in five years. There will be backfill of selected areas to contain any remaining contamination, and to restore habitat. Monitoring will follow. 

Unfortunately, G.E. has attempted to distort reality with an unconscionable propaganda campaign by pouring an estimated $2 million per week into media coffers to defeat this remediation proposal. 

Not satisfied with this effort, they have reportedly gone to a federal court in Washington, D.C. attempting to overturn the Superfund Law, so that after corporate America has had its way with our world, the taxpayer can pick up the tab. 

If you consider yourself not an owner, but a steward of these lands for future generations, as I do, please examine the E.P.A. proposal, and send your written comments to: U.S. E.P.A., 290 Broadway - 19th Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866 by February 16, 2001, and notify your elected officials. 

I would also respectfully request the Rensselear County Legislature and every other elective board in this magnificent Hudson River valley to pass a resolution supporting E.P.A.'s plan. Tomorrow's children and tomorrow's wildlife count. Will you speak out for them? 

(Robert L. Henrickson is a member of the Nassau Union of Concerned Citizens, Inc. and a trustee on the Village Board of East Nassau, New York.  He may be reached via e-mail at: rlhe@localnet.com)

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