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December 5, 2000

E.P.A. Will Propose Dredging of Hudson River


Filed at 7:19 p.m. ET

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The federal Environmental Protection Agency will recommend a $460 million ``targeted dredging'' of PCB-contaminated pockets of the upper Hudson River, agency officials said Tuesday.

The EPA will recommend the removal of 2.65 million cubic yards of sediment from so-called PCB hot spots along a 40-mile stretch of the river north of Albany. If the proposal is approved, the dredging would take about five years to complete and could begin as early as 2003.

The EPA must take into account public comments before making its final decision in June. Contaminated sediments would be sent to landfills outside the Hudson Valley, according to the agency.

The proposal under federal Superfund law culminates 10 years of study during which the EPA marshaled evidence about the health and ecological threats of PCBs in the Hudson River. Much of the PCBs were released decades ago by General Electric Co.

``It's what the science tells us is necessary to protect the health of the Hudson,'' EPA administrator Carol Browner said Tuesday.

``This is a polluted river. This is a highly polluted river.''

Browner was to make an official announcement Wednesday in New York City.

The EPA decided against a more sweeping dredging plan in favor of focusing on hundreds of PCB hot spots between Fort Edward and Troy. Almost 500 acres would be dredged under the EPA's proposal. Browner said the targeted dredging would clean up the river without unduly disrupting communities along the river.

``It really provides a win-win situation,'' Browner said.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used as insulating material in transformers and other electrical equipment before being banned by the government in 1977.

GE was allowed to discharge an estimated 1.1 million pounds of PCBs into the river over a 30-year period ending in 1977. The releases were made from GE capacitor plants roughly 40 miles north of Albany in Fort Edward and neighboring Hudson Falls. A 200-mile stretch of the river down to New York City was contaminated, with the PCBs accumulating in fish and in the sediment at the bottom of the river.

The EPA rejected dredging in 1984, but the agency has been reconsidering since 1990.

The proposal is expected to stir up the long-running controversy over dredging the river. GE, which could face a cleanup bill of $1 billion if a cleanup is ordered, has waged an anti-dredging media blitz. Residents along the Hudson remain divided on whether it's best to dredge or leave the river alone.

Recent EPA studies show that PCBs -- classified by the agency as a probable carcinogen -- pose risks to wildlife and to people who eat fish from the Hudson. An agency analysis showed that the risk of cancer and other health problems will continue above acceptable levels for at least 40 more years if there is no cleanup.

GE has countered with its own studies showing the threat diminishing. Last year, it released a computer model indicating that PCB levels in the fish continue to drop.


On the Net:

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/

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