EDITORIAL: GE’s not done yet

FEELING A LITTLE queasy? It could be a cold or flu, or lack of sunlight or cat dander, too much social media, Kim Jung Un. Or maybe the threat of exposure to PCBs in the Hudson River? But no. PCBs are so 2015. So wait another 55 years, things will be better.

That’s the fairytale General Electric wants the federal Environmental Protection Agency to believe. The company has spent six years and a billion dollars dredging PCB-laden sediment from the river bottom and carting it away. GE legally dumped these nasty manmade chemicals, otherwise known as polychlorinated biphenyls, into the Hudson River for three decades until the late 1970s. Now the company says that its half-way measures have removed enough of these PCBs. GE wants to walk away from the remaining mess it made in the Hudson, which has been called the nation’s largest Superfund toxic waste site.

What’s this got to do with our part of the Hudson River, the one you see from the Amtrak station in Hudson and glimpse here and there from Germantown to Stuyvesant?

Even though the GE factories that flushed the chemicals into the Hudson River–1.3 million pounds of them–are 70 miles north of the City of Hudson, the state Department of Environmental Conservation knows that some of those PCBs have traveled downriver to our neighborhood. That’s because the various types of PCBs have distinct chemical signatures. The PCBs found in the “lower Hudson” (that’s us) come from GE.

We haven’t had a multi-billion-dollar cleanup here. There’s still more research needed to discover where the chemicals have collected. GE doesn’t want to know. The company says that if we wait a half century or so, levels of PCBs found in fish caught in the Hudson River will be safe enough to eat.

This might be a reasonable position if the point of cleaning up the river was to help fish. But this is not about fish, it’s about people. It’s about our exposure to a chemical considered a “probable cause of cancer… [that] can trigger serious health problems, including low birth weight and reproductive and immunological problems. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable,” according to the EPA.

To force the public to pay for future PCB cleanup, GE needs a certificate of completion from the EPA saying that GE finished the cleanup it promised in a written agreement with the EPA. The EPA should not issue the certificate. More research and, quite likely, more dredging are needed, with a focus on the lower river.

Last week New York State Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Basil Seggos wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, laying out all the reasons why the cleanup so far is not “protective of human health and the environment” and calling more research here.

You can write to Mr. Pruitt too. He’s at epa.gov or, by mail, at US EPA, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Suite 3000, Washington, DC 20460.

There’s better reason to hope that Congressman John Faso (R-19th), who represents many of the communities along the lower Hudson, will work to hold GE accountable. Last July Rep. Faso announced that he was successful in having the Rensselaer County Village of Hoosick Falls added to the EPA’s National Priorities List after chemicals from a factory in the village poisoned local water supplies.

The people of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Rensselaer and Ulster counties in his district should expect no less help in demanding that GE remove the poisons it sent down the Hudson to us.

Tell him: No EPA certificate of completion for GE until GE completes the cleanup here.

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