January 5, 2001
PCB Study Stays Neutral on Dredging Plan
By KIRK JOHNSON
Yields Ghosts of Hudson River's Past (Jan. 3, 2001)
Gives Its Plan on Hudson River PCB's, but a Fight Lies Ahead (Dec.
PCB's Could Be a Cure Worse Than the Disease, G.E. Insists (Dec. 7,
to Order $490 Million River Cleanup by G.E.(Dec. 6, 2000)
Hudson, Cleanup Idea Stirs Emotions (Dec. 2, 2000)
War Over PCB's in Hudson, the E.P.A. Nears Its Rubicon (June 5, 2000)
• The Natural
World: The Environment
Over the Cleanup (June 5, 2000)
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• EPA Announces Its
Preferred Cleanup Plan
Sample Sources on the Hudson
The New York Times
long-awaited study released yesterday
by the National Academy of Sciences about PCB pollution and the various
strategies for cleaning it up does not endorse a plan by the federal Environmental
Protection Agency to dredge the Hudson River.
But neither does it reject the proposal.
The study's summary — the full text will not be issued for several months
— goes out of its way to say that it will provide no final answers to a
question that has become a high-stakes issue among competing political,
economic and environmental interests in New York: what is to be done with
"Many readers expect this report to recommend remediation options,"
the report says. "However, the committee strongly believes that making
such recommendations is not appropriate" because the study focused on how
to make cleanup decisions in general rather than on any specific case.
But in the politicized debate over the river that has erupted since
the E.P.A. announced its nearly half-billion-dollar dredging plan in December,
even playing the subject down the middle could give both sides new ammunition.
The study flatly states, for example, that PCB's are a dangerous and
potent long-term poison in the environment. That rejects arguments by General
Electric, which discharged the PCB's into river from its factories for
30 years until the mid-1970's, and has contended ever since that the danger
But the study also says that dredging and other so-called active remediation
plans are potentially dangerous, too, because no method or technology can
eliminate the possibility that some dredged-up pollution could leak back
into the water.
That part of the study raises questions about the E.P.A.'s position:
that advances in dredging have all but eliminated the risk that stirred
up PCB's could recontaminate the river or nearby soil where the dredging
is proposed to take place.
PCB's, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used for decades in the manufacture
of electrical conductors and other insulating products, but the chemicals
— in an oily liquid form that tended to leak through cracks in old cement
factory floors — were also often hard to contain. PCB's were later linked
to cancer in humans and liver damage and other problems in wildlife, and
were banned in 1977.
But by then G.E. had spilled or dumped an estimated 1.1 million pounds
or more of PCB's into the river about 40 miles north of Albany.
The company has spent millions of dollars on its own scientific studies
of the river, and has argued that the PCB's are being naturally buried
by river silt and should be left where they lie.
A spokesman for the E.P.A., Dr. Peter Grevatt, said he believed that
the science academy's careful language about how cleanup decisions should
be made — especially that each polluted site is unique and that generalizations
are hazardous — provided a vindication of what he said was the agency's
careful decision-making process on the Hudson.
"We feel like it provides a mandate for the approach we have taken,"
said Dr. Grevatt, the senior science adviser for the agency's waste cleanup
A spokesman for General Electric, Stephen D. Ramsey, said he thought
the report vindicated G.E.'s position just as thoroughly.
"I would hope that this would cause a fresh breath of common sense and
logic to be infused into this process," Mr. Ramsey said.