NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Dredging the Hudson -- to What End?

December 12, 2001

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has chosen to go ahead with a Clinton administration plan to dredge polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)from a 38-mile stretch of the Hudson River north of Albany, N.Y.

Two General Electric capacitor plants legally released the PCBs into the Hudson from 1947 to 1977 -- until their manufacture and use were banned by Congress in 1976. A landmark study just before that time had found that laboratory rats fed huge amounts of PCBs developed liver cancer.

But a follow-up study, conducted by the same researcher and a new colleague, found no association between actual exposure to PCBs and death from cancer and any other diseases. So there would appear to be no health gains from a monumentally costly and risky dredging project.

  • Epic in scale and unprecedented in scope, the EPA's plan entails dredging 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment, separating the PCBs from the water at two giant hazardous-waste facilities, transporting the sludge on trucks and trains, and dumping it in landfills -- the location of which has yet to be determined.
  • No one knows how long the project will last -- but the EPA estimates it will cost GE $460 million, not counting substantial costs imposed on local residents.
  • Although PCBs take decades to break down, their levels in Hudson River fish have been declining for decades.
  • GE and local officials suggest letting the river cleanse itself naturally by entombing the chemicals under successive levels of silt.

Such a solution would avoid the very real risk that dredging will simply stir up the PCBs and repollute the river.

Residents and businesses along the affected part of the river are up in arms against the prospect their communities will be transformed into giant excavation sites, complete with unsightly dredging rigs fouling the river and trucks loaded with smelly, oily sludge rolling through their neighborhoods for years to come.

Source: Bonner R. Cohen (Lexington Institute), "EPA Will Destroy Hudson River to Save It," Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2001.

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