EPA Sign-Off on Hudson River Cleanup Spurs Suit

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Hauling the Environmental Protection Agency to court, New York blames a lack of pressure from the Trump administration on General Electric’s failure to clean up the river it polluted. 

Though the EPA issued a certificate of completion on April 11 that said GE had successfully dredged the Hudson River of carcinogenic chemicals it dumped there between 1947 and 1977, New York says the cleanliness of the river remains in doubt.

“We will not allow the EPA to let big polluters like General Electric off the hook without a fight,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said Wednesday, announcing a lawsuit filed in Albany. 

The Empire State is still reeling from the legacy of 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls — carcinogens better known as PCBs — that two GE plants deposited into the northern waters of the Hudson. The Hudson River stretches from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York to the bottom of Manhattan island.

GE undertook a six-year cleanup operation starting in 2009 after a 2006 legal agreement, but New York points to recent data showing that PCB levels in the Hudson’s fish remain high and have barely changed in the last three years since cleanup concluded. The EPA meanwhile has said it has insufficient data to make the determination at this point, according to the complaint.

“The facts are clear: Hudson River fish remain much too contaminated with PCBs to safely eat, and EPA admits they don’t know when – or if – they ever will be,” James said in a statement. “EPA can’t ignore these facts – or the law – and simply pronounce GE’s cleanup of PCBs complete.” 

New Yorkers have been instructed for years not to eat fish from the Hudson River or to only do so in moderation, particularly fish from the upper Hudson, closer to the dumping site. The state has warned children and women of childbearing age not to eat any fish or crabs caught between certain parts of the river. 

“Take no fish. Eat no fish,” a state-issued informational brochure warns of the Upper Hudson region.

According to Tuesday’s suit, that would be good advice for New Yorkers to bear in mind indefinitely. 

“By its own admission,” says the lawsuit, “the EPA believes eight or more years of post-dredging data on PCB concentrations in fish tissue are needed in order to determine whether the remedial action is protective of human health and the environment.”

PCBs can cause cancer as well as affecting the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system. 

New York says the EPA’s certificate of completion “also harms the residents of the state because it suggests to the public that all necessary remedial work is concluded and that fish are now safe to eat, when in fact the consumption of Hudson River fish contaminated with current levels of PCBs continues to present a known health risk.”

It’s an “ultra vires” lawsuit, meaning the state says the EPA has exceeded its scope of power. 

Under the leadership of former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler since February, the EPA is not expected to push hard against industry any time soon.

EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.

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