Study warns of dangers in Hudson River

EPA study contradicts conclusions in General Electric study GE discharged PCBs in river Fish in some areas will be unsafe to eat for at least a decade if nothing is done


ALBANY, N.Y. -- Contaminated sediments will continue to be a major source of PCBs in the upper Hudson River for years to come, and fish in some areas will remain unsafe to eat for at least a decade if nothing is done to clean up the problem, according to a study released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

These findings, based on a computer model that projects 21 years into the future, contradict conclusions in a study made public recently by the General Electric Co. The GE study, which also used computer modeling, showed that some fish between Fort Edward and the Troy Dam, both in upstate New York, will be fit for consumption by next year if the river continues to naturally cleanse itself by covering PCBs with sediment.

EPA officials said that their projection indicates that erosion, or scour, occurring during low-flow river conditions is an important source of PCBs in the water. The erosion could be caused by the churning of sediments by boat propellers, organisms or wind, according to the EPA.

GE used PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for about three decades as an insulator in electric capacitors. The company legally discharged more than 1 million pounds of the chemicals into the river before the chemicals were banned in 1976. GE says it has spent millions of dollars to remove some of the PCBs it discharged.

According to the EPA model, a 100-year flood would not substantially increase the concentrations of PCBs in fish, and water columns and surface sediment will get 50 percent cleaner every 10 years. However, largemouth bass above Stillwater, near Albany, will not meet the maximum Food and Drug Administration contamination level of two parts per million for commercial fishing until 2008 at the earliest, the EPA study found.

They would not meet the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Advisory panel's standards for more than 21 years.

Whether people can safely eat the fish depends on what the definition of safe is. Some would say that 2 ppm is not safe, said Trina von Stackelberg of Menzie-Cura Associates, the Massachusetts firm that created the governments computer model.

Douglas J. Tomchuk, Hudson River PCBs site project manager for the EPA, said the study based on this model was only one step toward making a final decision on whether to require GE to dredge the riverbed to remove PCBs. The next public step in the process comes in August, when an EPA assessment of the effects of PCB contamination on human health will be released.

EPA officials said they had not yet reviewed the GE study at length and would not comment on it.

GE spokesman Mark Behan said he had not yet seen the EPA study but again called for a review by independent scientists of the findings by both the agency and GE. The corporation maintains that the river has been recovering naturally over the past 20 years and will continue to do so. "We will give [the EPA study] a careful review, just as we hope they will give ours a careful review," Behan said. "If a panel reviewed both models simultaneously, the EPA and the public would get the benefit of having more science rather than less."

Rep. John Sweeney, a New York Republican said he would ask the General Accounting Office to impanel a team of scientists to provide independent scrutiny of the two studies.

With competing studies available, each with conflicting results, it's hard to tell which science is credible, Sweeney said in a prepared statement.

GE has assumed that if the EPA ordered dredging, it would not likely begin before 2005 and would take seven to 11 years to complete. Dredging the upper river could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pub Date: 06/06/99

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