Companies vie for Hudson work

Bids for dredging contracts will not be sought until last 2004

November 19, 2001|By Dina Cappiello | Dina Cappiello,ALBANY TIMES UNION

ALBANY, N.Y. - Cleanup companies from the United States and Canada are vying for a piece of what would be the largest environmental dredging project in history - removing toxins from the upper Hudson River.

The final plan for removing 100,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from a 35-mile stretch of river will not be finalized until later this year. And bids for contracts, whether from the Environmental Protection Agency or General Electric Co., will not be sought until late 2004 or early 2005, after a three-year design period.

When the extensive project was unveiled last December, the EPA and GE were bombarded with proposals from companies that see the dredging project as an opportunity to do business or to test a new technology.

"Everybody wants a piece of the action," said Mary Mears, an EPA spokeswoman who confirmed that the agency has received numerous proposals at hearings, in written comments and by e-mail. She would not say how many.

"It's way too premature to talk about these technologies," Mears said.

Challenging project

Companies are jumping at the chance to be part of the project, which is unusual among federal Superfund sites for its complexity and scale.

"This site has particular appeal to it," said Ira Rubenstein, executive director of the Environmental Business Association of New York State. "Few sites are this difficult and this problematic. The challenge ... is how to use dredging as a long-term economic development tool."

The proposals, according to interviews with a half-dozen cleanup businesses, tackle everything from dredging equipment to how the 2.65 million cubic yards of sediment should be treated and disposed.

The EPA's tentative plan calls for the dredged sludge to be treated at two facilities situated along the river, and then shipped to an out-of-the-area landfill.

But by reducing transportation and doing away with disposal, several of the businesses say they can cut costs and controversy. And at least two of the companies contend that they can cleanse the river of PCBs without dredging at all.

`I know we can help'

"I want a piece of it. I know we can help," said Bernard Silver, president and chief executive officer of Surface Technology Co. He said his Riverside, Calif.-based company has formulated a liquid chemical that when injected into the river bottom breaks PCBs down to water and carbon dioxide.

Silver, along with partners Mitsubishi and Environmental Soil Management of Fort Edward, N.Y., has approached GE "to try and get them to give us a crack at the board."

The company claims its product would remove PCBs from the river at a fraction of the price that dredging and disposing of a ton of Hudson River sediment would cost under the EPA plan.

GE used PCBs for about three decades as an insulator in electric capacitors. The company legally discharged 1.3 million pounds of the chemicals into the river before PCBs were found to be carcinogenic and banned in 1976.

Corporate officials did not return numerous calls for comment. But according to other companies in contact with GE, the global conglomerate has been supportive of alternative technologies that would replace dredging, a cleanup method it has long opposed. GE, in the 1980s, tried treating PCBs in the riverbed, with limited success.

Other businesses, such as the Canadian company ERIN Consulting Ltd., have ideas for what to do with the hazardous material after it is dredged from the river. Jim Ireland, president of ERIN, said he could use native plants such as mulberry, which break apart PCBs at the roots, to cleanse the dredged material.

Ireland proposed to the EPA a test project along the Hudson River working with a local university. "They were certainly receptive to receiving proposals," he said.

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