John G. Haggard
Leader, Global Remediation

Global Operations - Remediation
33-41 Farnsworth Street.
Boston, MA 02210

September 1, 2017

Gary J. Klawinski
Director, Hudson River Office
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2
187 Wolf Road, Suite 303
Albany, New York 12205

Re: Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site
GE’s Comments on Proposed Second Five-Year Review Report

Dear Mr. Klawinski:

Enclosed are the comments of the General Electric Co. on the Proposed Second Five-Year Review (Second FYR) Report for the Hudson River sediment remedy.

The Hudson River dredging remedy remains one of the largest and most logistically complex environmental cleanups in U.S. history. Together, GE and EPA removed significantly more PCBs than projected, while also mitigating potentially adverse impacts to the fullest extent practicable. That is why, at the completion of the dredging in 2015, EPA aptly described the project as an “historic achievement” and declared the project to be “extremely successful.” EPA’s Second FYR Report reaffirms those conclusions and that the Hudson River dredging project is on course to achieve EPA’s goals of protecting human health and the environment. GE is proud to have completed this unprecedented project that EPA selected, New York State endorsed, and both oversaw, and GE is proud of the environmental improvements that have been achieved so far, the result of a very productive working relationship.

The data collected to date, and summarized in the Second FYR Report, demonstrates that the remedy—chosen by EPA with the concurrence of New York State—is reducing PCB levels as planned and shows why no additional dredging in the Upper or Lower Hudson is recommended or warranted. In the first 12 months since GE completed the $1.7 billion dredging project, PCB levels in water in the Upper Hudson declined at every monitoring station and by as much as 73 percent. PCB levels in fish are near or below pre-dredging levels, as EPA projected. These results indicate that environmental conditions have responded to the remedy and are improving just as EPA projected they would.

The purpose of a Five-Year Review, as EPA’s guidance explains, is to assess whether the selected remedy is, or will be, protective of human health and the environment by evaluating whether it is functioning as intended and whether the assumptions underlying that remedy remain valid. Consistent with that guidance, EPA reviewed all of the data collected since 2002 and determined in the Second FYR that the remedy was implemented correctly and is functioning as intended. That determination is consistent with the expectations EPA set forth in its 2002 Record of Decision (ROD) and with its First Five-Year Review in 2012, in which the Agency concluded that the remedy would be protective of human health and the environment based on data and information at that time.

On the sole issue now before EPA—whether the remedy was properly implemented and working as intended—there can be no real dispute. The enclosed comments demonstrate the many ways in which the project’s substantial technical record fully supports EPA’s analysis and determinations. As we show:

  • The selection of the remedy followed 12 years of study and advice from scientists, environmental groups, elected officials and local community representatives. New York State participated fully in EPA’s deliberative process, supported and concurred with the remedy when it was chosen, and helped oversee its implementation. In formally concurring with the final remedy decision in 2002, New York State found “the selected remedy to be protective of human health and the environment” and “will reduce public health and environmental risk,” and lauded EPA’s approach that “balances the public health and ecological needs . . . with the concerns expressed by the many stakeholders, including local communities.” The Hudson River’s leading environmental groups also celebrated the remedy as a “victory for the Hudson River cleanup” and “a very important turning point for the Hudson River.” Before selecting the final remedy, EPA considered multiple alternatives, ranging from monitored natural recovery (no dredging) to full bank-to-bank dredging. Ultimately, EPA chose a balanced remedy grounded in a careful, quantitative analysis and tailored to the specific conditions of the site. EPA’s goal was the strategic removal of enough PCBs to accelerate the decline in PCB levels in fish, while minimizing damage to the river ecology and disruption to local communities. While more extensive and costly remedies were considered, EPA found none would have achieved significantly better results. The data collected to date confirm this conclusion.
  • The final dredging project, as executed, removed more than twice the mass of PCBs as expected in the Record of Decision (ROD)—nearly 150,000 kilograms (kg) versus 70,000 kg estimated in the ROD—and it removed a greater percentage of the PCB mass in the river than anticipated—nearly 80% versus 65% estimated in the ROD. The current estimated PCB mass remaining in non-dredged areas of the river is wholly in line with EPA’s estimates in the ROD.
  • Water and fish data collected from the river since the completion of dredging show a positive environmental response to the remedy that is consistent with EPA’s expectations. EPA recognized in the ROD that, even with the most extensive dredging alternative it evaluated, it would take decades before unlimited human consumption would be feasible based on projected declines in PCB levels. In the interim, EPA concluded that human exposure to PCBs through consuming fish would be controlled, to the extent practicable, through New York State’s fish consumption advisories and fishing restrictions. As EPA found in the Second FYR, those controls are functioning as expected. In the 110 miles of the Lower Hudson River from Catskill to New York Harbor, most fish are now considered safe for eating on a weekly or monthly basis for men over 15 and women over age 50, including the prized striped bass, according to the state’s fish consumption advisories. While New York State bans consumption of fish from the 40 miles of the Upper Hudson, the River supports a thriving recreational (catch and release) fishery.
  • Long-term monitoring after dredging is and always has been an integral part of this remedy. GE has begun this monitoring, and the results from the first year of post-dredging monitoring (2016) are encouraging and consistent with EPA’s projections. For example, in the Upper Hudson River north of Albany, where the dredging occurred, PCB levels in water declined as much as 73% from pre-dredging levels. In the Lower Hudson River south of Albany, where PCB levels were already significantly lower prior to dredging, PCB levels declined as much as 36%. These declines are depicted on Figure 1. Post-dredging fish data from 2016 likewise indicate that fish are beginning to recover. Monitoring of water, fish, and sediments will continue for decades to verify that the dredging remedy and ongoing natural recovery will reduce PCB concentrations to the target levels in the expected time frames.

Notwithstanding the clear evidence supporting the ongoing success of the remedy, some parties have resurfaced old arguments and argued that EPA should order additional dredging, claiming that more dredging would more quickly achieve EPA’s goals. This claim is not supported by scientific evidence; nor is it properly a question for the Second FYR. At its core, this argument improperly seeks to have EPA go back to the drawing board, reopen the remedy selection process and select a different remedy. The sole question before EPA at this stage is whether the selected remedy was properly implemented and is working as planned. EPA has properly concluded that the answer to this question is yes—the remedy was properly implemented and is working as planned, and the scientific data demonstrate that the dredging project is clearly delivering the environmental benefits that EPA envisioned.

Moreover, the calls for additional dredging fail to recognize that, in selecting the final remedy in 2002, and in multiple subsequent reviews, EPA considered the arguments being raised now and rejected them. EPA’s analysis has consistently demonstrated that additional dredging beyond the selected remedy will not deliver better results in a significantly shorter time frame. In fact, it showed that even the most extensive removal alternative would not be significantly more protective than the chosen remedy and would not appreciably reduce the number of years to achieve the same target levels, as shown on Figure 2. As EPA recognized in its 2002 ROD Responsiveness Summary, more extensive removal alternatives would “greatly increase costs while yielding little additional public health or environmental benefit,” and would therefore fail Superfund’s critical requirement that every remedy selected must be cost-effective.

Some advocates for more extensive dredging have relied on a model developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which purports to show that fish in the Lower Hudson River will recover at a slower rate than predicted in EPA’s ROD. The NOAA model is demonstrably invalid for several reasons but chiefly because its results are inconsistent with actual, measured data—a critical test for determining a model’s validity and reliability. Its predictions for both fish and water are significantly higher than the actual data. For example, as shown in Figure 3, the NOAA model over predicts PCB concentrations in water by two to four times compared to actual measured data.

EPA has said that it expects the benefits of the remedy to become even clearer as additional data are collected over the next several years. An independent expert report prepared for the Hudson River Foundation concurs, recently concluding that many additional years of monitored natural recovery will be necessary to determine whether any additional remedial action is required.

The appropriate next step is the one the ROD envisions: the collection of scientific data to provide a sound basis for assessing the longterm performance of the remedy. GE will continue to work closely with EPA and New York State to complete this additional work. At this time, there is no justification whatsoever for additional dredging. The data demonstrate this remedy is working. As EPA has determined in its Second FYR, the remedy removed more PCBs than expected, is functioning as expected, and will protect human health and the environment. GE will continue to meet its commitments as it has during every stage of this process.

Please let us know if you have any questions about the enclosed comments.

Sincerely yours,

John G. Haggard
GE Project Coordinator

cc: Walter Mugdan, EPA
Douglas Garbarini, EPA
Douglas Fischer, EPA
Commissioner Basil Seggos, NYSDEC

Read GE's full comments on EPA's Five-Year Review Report