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The Hudson River is a body of water that stretches for 315 miles from the

Adirondack Mountains to the Battery in Manhattan, reaching its deepest point of

216 feet in the Highlands near Constitution Island and West Point and reaches

its widest point of 3 miles across at Havestraw. This river is one of the most

beautiful and scenic of the Tri-State area. Unfortunately, it happens to be New

York?s most polluted river. The river has been influenced upon since the early

1600?s, when Englishman Henry Hudson commanded the Dutch ship Half Moon on an

exploration of the river, certain that he had discovered a trade route to China.

It soon dawned that this was no Atlantic-to-Pacific passage but an Edenlike

place of awesome potential-a river valley teeming with prospect and spirit that

was worth fighting for. In the centuries that followed, the fight for the river

and its commerce never stopped, and still continues to the present. Then during

the Industrial Revolution, with the advent of hulking manufacturing plants on

the riverbanks, everything changed. The river became a sewer, cut off from the

people around it by the electrification of the railroads. The 1825 completion of

the Erie Canal instantly opened trade to the Midwest by linking Troy to Buffalo

and established the Hudson River as the major commerce channel for New York

City. Tycoons transformed the landscape in New York and across the country with

the railroad, and the Hudson River valley became a hotbed for iron mining,

limestone quarrying and clear-cutting. Toward the 19th century, when dynamite

blasting was reducing the face of the Palisades to rubble, conservationists

became alarmed that something was being lost to progress. In 1900, New York and

New Jersey established the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to preserve the

cliffs from further quarrying. Although conservation efforts continued into the

20th century, there was no progress to protect the Hudson River and its banks

from industrial pollution. Some of the largest factories in the nation started

production on the Hudson River, including Anaconda Wire and Cable in

Hastings-on-Hudson and GM in the present day Sleepy Hallow, discharging waste

into the river. There are numerous known contaminated sites around the U.S.

Among the most dangerous of these, and of particular concern to residents of the

Hudson Valley, are the forty ?hot spots? in the Hudson River resulting from

the dumping and leakage from General Electric plants at Fort Edward and Hudson

Falls. From 1947 to 1977, these two plants legally discharged from 500,000 to

1.5 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson, and unknowingly saturated the

bedrock beneath both sites with at least that much again. There are PCBs in

Hudson River water, biota, and sediment from Hudson Falls to New York City – 200

miles that comprise the nations largest Superfund site. Pure PCBs are oozing out

of the bedrock to this day, constantly recontaminating the river and over

300,000 pounds remain concentrated in bottom sediments of the river today. The

spread of PCBs throughout the Hudson River and the food chain, which it

supports, has created one of the most extensive hazardous waste problems in the

nation. Polychlorinated biphenyl?s (PCBs) are a group of synthetic oil-like

chemicals (therefore insoluble in water) of the organochlorine family. Until

their toxic nature was recognized and their use was banned in the 1970s, they

were widely used as insulation in electrical equipment, particularly

transformers. Reputable chemists have since concluded, ?it was probably a

mistake ever to make or use PCBs.? These are serious poisons, which have been

shown to cause damage to the reproductive, neurological and immune systems of

wildlife and humans and are known to cause cancer. Exposure has also been linked

to behavioral damage. Specifically, because PCBs in the body mimic estrogen,

women of childbearing age and their infants are particularly susceptible to a

variety of development and reproductive disorders. Once in the body, these

compounds do one of two things: they block the normal passage of hormones into

their receptors, or, mimic the hormone itself and enter the receptor in lieu of

the hormone. By doing so can irrevocably alter and damage the development of the

organism. Small amounts of PCBs are taken up by microscopic organisms in the

riverbed and passed up through the food chain. PCBs accumulate in

microorganisms, which are eaten by small fish, which are eaten by big fish,

which are eaten by bigger fish still, and so on up the food chain. The process

by which PCBs concentrate at higher and higher levels up the food chain is

called biomagnification, or bioaccumulation. Once bottom-dwelling organisms

absorb the material, PCBs are not readily excreted and remain, in

ever-increasing concentration, lodged in the fatty body tissues of fish as they

grow, as for humans they persist at elevated levels within the bloodstream,

allowing for continuous internal exposure. As one consequence, a once-thriving

commercial fishing industry in the Hudson Valley, earning about $40 million

annually is now all but dead. Almost all of the river-dwelling fish are

migratory, and the effects are such that the NYS Dept. of Health has issued an

advisory telling people to severely limit their consumption, even of fish caught

recreationally in the Hudson. Women of childbearing age and children under

fifteen are advised to eat none at all. All other individuals are advised to eat

no more than one meal per week of many species (like yellow perch) and no more

than one meal per month of others (like striped bass). Although humans can be

exposed to PCBs in a variety of ways, eating contaminated fish is by far the

most potent route of human exposure, with exposure levels of about 4,000 times

greater than from breathing (contaminated air) or drinking (contaminated water).

Despite commercial fishery closures and recreational fishery health advisories,

exposure to PCB-contaminated Hudson River fish continues to occur! The primary

distribution of health advisories in NYS is through publication in recreational

fishing licenses. However, because licenses are not required on the main stem of

the Hudson or in the marine waters, many recreational anglers never receive

health advisories. As long as PCBs remain in the river, the danger of exposure

will remain as well. Removing contaminated sediments from the river is the

surest way to reduce PCB levels in fish, and in the people who eat Hudson River

fish. The NYS DEC is investigating a long-term solution to PCB-contamination at

GE?s facilities in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. This will include stopping

ongoing migration of PCBs to the Hudson River and remediating both upland sites.

At the same time, EPA continues to conduct a Superfund Reassessment of

PCB-contaminated sediments. The culmination of this process will result in a

Record of Decision, which may recommend dredging contaminated sediments for

treatment and destruction. Advanced dredging techniques exist which could remove

the contaminated material with minimal dispersal of material into the

surrounding water. This has been successfully demonstrated in cleanups around

the country. Deposited onshore in a prepared location, the material could then

be concentrated and treated biochemically of preferably thermochemically under

controlled conditions to break down the PCB molecules into hazardous residues.

These are established, proven technologies. Another technique of removal would

be the usage of a cutterhead suction dredge. This will limit the resuspention of

contaminated sediments within the water column by combining the action of a

rotating cutter with hydraulic suction. This has been shown to have a more

effective and efficient design than other dredging equipment, with the most

operational flexibility and the best maneuverability near shorelines. A total

project cost of $280 million has been estimated. This is less than one percent

of GE?s annual revenues! PCBs will not be removed from the Hudson River

without two things: political will and money. There is a strong need for further

research of these techniques as well as its effects on the environment within

and around it. We can help by writing to the state legislatures or senators,

EPA, or, NYS DEC urging them to: Order prompt and comprehensive cleanup of PCBs

from the riverbed Use safe, effective and commercially available technologies to

permanently destroy PCBs once they are dredged Require GE (the company

responsible for the contamination) to pay for a full cleanup. With the help and

action of non-profit organizations, environmental groups, as well as the human

population, there is hope to defend the river and its once awesome awe renewed.

I grew up and lived on the river all my life and it makes me sick to know that

this happened, because it affects relatives, friends and myself. I am part of

some of the organizations listed in the bibliography and continue to do my fair

share of letter writing to save the most serene place in my life, my home– the

river!

48f

Laws, Edward A. Aquatic Pollution. 2nd edition. New York: John Wiley and

Sons, Inc. 1993. Pg. 301-305. Adams, Aurthur G. The Hudson Through the Years.

New Jersey: Lind Publications, 1983. The Hudson: A Guide to the River. Albany:

State University of New York Press, 1981. Barnthouse, Lawrence W. Science, Law,

and the Hudson River


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