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U.S. v. General Electric Co. (N.D.N.Y.)
Hudson River at West Point, New York. Courtesy of EPA.

PCB Contamination of Hudson River

The Hudson River (the River) first connected the nations of the Iroquois, Algonquins and Mohicans and young America to the west. Then, in 1609, 400 years ago, the Dutch arrived at the River. The English explorer, Henry Hudson, who led the Dutch expedition, had sailed the Atlantic three times seeking a shorter route to the Orient. He found no such passage, but on his third voyage he found a pristine waterway – what we now call the Hudson River. Over the next hundreds of years, the River became a major historic, commercial, recreational, and scenic venue.

Much more recently, the River became heavily contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) and became a Superfund Site. The “Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site” encompasses a nearly 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River in eastern New York State from Hudson Falls, New York to the Battery in New York City.

The primary human health risk associated with the site is the accumulation of PCBs in the human body through eating contaminated fish. Since 1976, high levels of PCBs in fish have led New York State to close various recreational and commercial fisheries and to issue advisories restricting the consumption of fish caught in the Hudson River. The PCBs also affect the fish and wildlife.

River Clean-up via a Consent Decree

The progress toward the goal of cleaning up the River over this period has not always been swift and the issues surrounding the nature and extent of the remediation have sparked controversy. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approach to the River has changed over the years, reflecting changes in technology, science and its understanding of the river system and its habitat:

  • In 2002, EPA issued the most significant step forward in the march toward cleansing the River of its PCB contamination when it determined that dredging of the Upper Hudson River, between Hudson Falls and the Federal Dam at Troy, was a necessary step.

  • In 2006, EPA and the Environmental Enforcement Section (EES) negotiated a Consent Decree with General Electric Company -- whose operations were the source of the PCB discharges to the river -- which represents the culmination of more than 25 years of research, study, and action by the United States devoted to the cleanup of this scenic and historic treasure.

Outcome: Under the negotiated Consent Decree, GE will:

  • began the first phase of the remedy by dredging the contaminated river sediments near Roger’s Island in Fort Edward, NY;
  • is currently implementing the  second dredging phase of the remedy at other River locations; and,
  • will pay up to $72.5 million of EPA’s response costs.

The cost of the program is estimated to be $1 billion. Thus, GE’s commitment under this Consent Decree constitutes a major recovery by the United States in the form of both reimbursement of costs and work.

It may assuredly be stated that the dredging represents the beginning of a new era for the River, an era which, it is hoped, will see the River returned to the pristine state in which it was found by Henry Hudson.

 


In the News
May 16, 2006
U.S. Seeks Court Approval on Dredging Agreement with GE
WASHINGTON-In another significant step toward cleaning up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Hudson River, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today asked the U.S. District Court in Albany, New York to approve the October 2005 consent decree with the General Electric Company (GE) for the river dredging called for in EPA's 2002 Record of Decision for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site.
 

Last Updated: October 2012