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Researcher: Chemicals repolluting Hudson


An environmental researcher claims toxic waste generated by General Electric Co. plants continues to seep into the Hudson River at a rate that could cause serious setbacks to the area's environmental cleanup projects.

State officials disputed the claims made by Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting Inc., who has inventoried toxic dump sites around the state. The officials say Hang's assertions contain mischaracterized facts and conclusions.

The plume underneath the river has been studied for years and officials are in the processing of limiting the flow of the toxins into the river.

But Hang said the contamination is far more potent than most officials at the company or in government believe. If left untreated, Hang believes the plume could wipe out any progress made by the first six months of the dredging project.

Many of Hang's assertions were featured in the December issue of Harper's Magazine, which hit newsstands on Monday.

"It could mean that. even if this dredging project is successful, if these other sources aren't dealt with, the river could become recontaminated," he said in an interview last week with The Post-Star. The underground plume includes a range of chemicals, from polychlorinated biphenyls to benzene compounds, and was produced by GE's Fort Edward plant and its former Hudson Falls plant.

Hang said he sifted through documents on file at the state Department of Environmental Conservation and studies commissioned by GE, which is paying for a $780 million dredging of PCB-contaminated sediment in the river that started in May.

In a letter sent Monday to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Hang wrote that the government's National Priority List - an inventory of Superfund sites around the country - failed to disclose the large amount of raw oil underneath the GE plants.

"Despite more than 25 years of regulatory effort, those hazards have neither been fully assessed nor cleaned up," Hang wrote in his letter to Jackson.

Both the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are undertaking massive cleanup projects locally.

The dredging of the river, from Fort Edward to Troy, is expected to take six years. The project's first year of work concluded in October. In Hudson Falls, state officials oversaw the installation of two intersecting tunnels and wells to drain PCBs out of the bedrock.

Officials expect to keep in place indefinitely the wells and other equipment removing the PCBs from the bedrock beneath John Street in Hudson Falls.

Hang believes both methods are not removing all the chemicals, and much of it continues to enter the river.

Kristen Skopeck, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, referred calls to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC engineer Kevin Farrar, who is overseeing the Hudson Falls cleanup that is separate from the dredging project, said many of Hang's claims are overstated.

"Of course, there are still materials in there," Farrar said of the bedrock. "We anticipate that the tunnel and collection system will be effective in preventing any additional flow into the river. If that's not efficient, we'll install additional drains to make it so."

It is also unlikely a large amount of PCBs will leak into the river from underneath the water table, Farrar said.

"It's very unlikely that this PCB oil, which is heavier than the water, will enter the river," he said.

State officials also point out that the potency of the plume pales in comparison to the PCB "hot spots" currently in the water.

"We pretty much know what's going on down there," Farrar said. "The underwater plume that's under the river is fairly large. But we have several wells in there. We do not anticipate there's a significant amount of PCB oil coming out of the rock."

A summation of the first year of the project is expected in December. Dredging on the river will be halted in 2010 while officials assess the success of the first year of the cleanup.