P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
February 21, 2001
Honorable Christine Todd Whitman
Re: Dredging of PCB-laden Mud from the Hudson River
Dear Ms. Whitman:
Please revisit the decision by the previous Administration to require dredging of PCB-laden mud from the Hudson River in the vicinity of Hudson Falls and downstream. This ill-advised decision appears to have been politically motivated, and should be reversed.
I have followed the PCB issue for thirty years, since1971, when the Long Island Press, Daily News, and New York Times all ran articles about research on terns on Long Island Sound. The scientific journal Natural History had just reported that extremely high concentrations of PCB's in terns, as much as 35 times the federal level then allowed in poultry, apparently were responsible for the mutations observed in the birds on Great Gull Island in the Long Island Sound. Soon it was reported that Long Island Sound ospreys had high levels of PCB's. At that time, the heat was focused on the Monsanto Corporation.
As a civil engineer working at the time in the fields of water and air pollution control, I began keeping files on this subject, and, in the course of this continued interest, I have built up a voluminous historical record of the political dispute pertaining to the PCB's emitted from the Hudson Falls plant owned by General Electric Corporation.
Since I live relatively nearby in the town of Stony Creek, which is in Warren County on the Hudson River about 30 miles upstream, I naturally heard over the grapevine additional news about the plant. I remember hearing from a first-hand witness back in the late 70's or early 80's that the release of confined PCB-laden mud from behind a dam was permitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. I have never seen an investigation of this allegation.
When the dredging plan for the PCB-laden mud below Hudson Falls was originally proposed, I was greatly concerned from two points of view.
First, moving the contaminated mud to farmland was an injustice. Where the mud sits, it threatens no one's water supply. But if the mud is moved, it could conceivably contaminate local sources of water for the rural residents of the area.
Even if potential contamination were not considered likely to present a risk, a PCB mud landfill could be a problem for the peace of mind of the residents. In addition, no one should be subject to government's deliberately risking the contamination of his water supply. Then, if such contamination would be no risk to the water supply of rural residents, why is it such a worry to those concerned about the Hudson? The answer cannot be that the encapsulation would be fool-proof, because no encapsulation is foolproof. If this point is not intuitively clear, it can be demonstrated by numerous engineering articles about the failure to flawlessly install landfill liners. The concerns that self-styled environmentalists claim to be addressing about the possible longevity of PCB's dictate even more insecurity about the integrity of an encapsulated landfill. Furthermore, the de-watering process, which is not even theoretically a closed process, provides an opportunity for contamination of ground and surface water.
I was also concerned about the misdirection of societal resources to move great volumes of material that contains contamination in relatively miniscule amounts, when the contamination in the material is likely to cure itself over the years. It would be obvious to any high school student that polychlorinated biphenyls are biodegradable compounds, unlike metals like mercury and lead. The metals have to get chemically bound up in some way to remove their risk, but are still going to be there, absent some physical force, but the PCB's can actually disperse chemically, by biological and chemical action. This was obvious conceptually, and has become physically observable. The fact of biodegradation has not changed except for it becoming even more specifically understood with the passage of time. Granted, the PCB's decay slowly, mainly by losing chlorine in the time frames of concern. But many scientists conclude that with the lower chlorination, the compounds do not bioaccumulate in the fish and generally have less impact. As your own agency's measurements have documented, the PCB levels in the Hudson are indeed declining, just as was logically predicted and was then beginning to take place.
When the dredging plan was originally proposed, I spoke against it the public hearing on February 10, 1981 in the Washington County Courthouse in Hudson Falls.
Not far from a photo of me at the microphone, the Glens Falls Post-Star carried this reference to my statement: "Carol LaGrasse of Stony Creek quoted an article in the 1971 edition of the New York Times, and pointed out that the state still allowed Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. to demolish a dam on the Hudson in 1973 that sent PCBs contaminated materials down the river."
"'I don't trust EnCon,' Mrs. LaGrasse said. 'You will be controlled by construction interests which will force the trucking of the materials.'"
With my insider knowledge at the time of how the basic outlines of environmental projects were decided, I knew that the drift would not be based on science, but on who would get the money.
Now, I fear, however, that the fundamental project decisions are more often made on the basis of fear of the influence of powerful environmental groups. I have been thankful, however, that the Congressional delegation from this geographical area has stood firm in opposing this potential injustice toward the rural people who would be harmed. Now, I'm optimistic that with a new Administration at the EPA, rational, objective, moral decision-making will prevail.
By 1981, I had lived in Stony Creek for eight years. I had seen the modest incomes by which local people make do, living their independent life-styles. It appeared tragic that the government would consider forcing an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars just to move material from one place to another when people in the area struggled just to keep their families clothed and fed, to keep up the homestead and pay the taxes, keep the pickup going, and to get in the wood to feed the fire over the winter. What a slap it seemed to me that money so functionally usable in the North Country would be poured down the sewer right in front of the noses of the people, while at the same time many of them would be threatened with the contamination of their land.
But the issue has grown even clearer during the twenty years since I spoke at that hearing. While having its practical purpose discredited, the project has grown in ambition. Now the area to be dredged extends further downstream, supposedly to the Troy dam! While the environmentalists obstruct essential navigational dredging elsewhere because the mud is contaminated, they use every ounce of their effort to force a dredging project in the placid upper Hudson, a dredging project that is not beneficial for navigation or any other purpose!
(In your former position of Governor of New Jersey, you were undoubtedly familiar with the environmentalists' obstruction of navigational dredging in the estuarine channels that bring shipping from all over the world to ports in that state.)
Supposedly, the dredging is needed for wildlife purposes, although undefined, and for public health. Yet the teratogenic effects found in shore birds (which had very high concentrations of PCB's in their flesh) were never found in the GE workers who for many years worked so closely with PCB's, even immersing their hands in the material. Nowhere have scientific researchers found a connection between human cancer and PCB's. The December 12, 2000 Wall Street Journal op ed, "Who Says PCBs Cause Cancer?" by Elizabeth M. Whelan (enclosed), speaks incisively to this point.
I recall that the journals originally reported human disease to be skin lesions of factory workers who experienced extremely high concentrations of PCB's in their work place.
Moreover, there are serious environmental reasons not to expend societal resources to move the volumes of material under consideration.
First, there is the mud that would be inadvertently discharged into the river, increasing the turbidity, and also raising PCB levels temporarily.
Second, there is the waste of resources such as those to build a landfill or to use 2.65 million cubic yards of expensive landfill capacity, to build the de-watering sites, to build the docks, to manufacture the trucks to haul the hauling, to extract and refine the fuels for the trucks to do this hauling. (There is also the pollution of the combustion emissions of these trucks.) One figure that was bandied about is that it would take moving 80,000 lbs. of mud to remove each pound of PCB's from the river bottom. If this is true, then it would take, from the point of view of North Country experience, more than 25 pickup trucks of mud to carry away every pound of PCB's! The EPA currently avows that the movement of the mud after dredging, barging and de-watering will be by rail; but even the EPA's relatively low (and perhaps unrealistic) estimate of 65 rail cars per day for five years amounts to a very large amount of hauling, with immense impact in a number of ways. Another idea of the enormous societal waste and environmental impact can be found in the total project time, which is predicted to be ten to twenty years. Another indication of the EPA's distortion of the impact of the proposed project is its unwillingness to divulge the destination of the hauled PCB-laden mud. What arrogance on the part of government officials allows them to conceal such a fundamental and important aspect of the project scope, one requiring public knowledge and comment?
The New York State government has stopped much smaller dredging projects, even as small as a rowboat access to a private dock, because of supposedly negative environmental impact.
Reputedly, GE has already spent $165 million on cleaning up the Fort Edward site and preventing the discharge from the contaminated shorefront. One figure estimated for the future cost of the proposed dredging is $490 million. Why waste these resources?
I'd like to address one last point. The environmental extremists are pretending to be upset that Schuylerville got a donation from GE to improve the town. But none of the media have pointed out that the environmentalists are probably just jealous. You are undoubtedly familiar with the gravy train set in place with the Clean Water Act of 1972 whereby the environmental groups bring so-called "citizen suits" to get settlements from industrial "polluters." Of course, as everyone knows by now, all that the environmental groups are doing is looking down the permit data already kept by government agencies to select the deep-pocket businesses whose discharges do not meet the impossible standards of the law. The environmental groups work in tandem to feed on these settlements from business. But heaven help us if some small town up north gets a few bucks from big business! This must influence the small town to give the big company unfair consideration. Of course, this logic flies in the face of the fact that the towns up north here have been united against the dredging for many years.
Furthermore, the media have failed to take note of the fact the Scenic Hudson also donated to the Schuylerville park, in the amount of $30,000! With this in mind, how could a donation to Schuylerville be the determining factor for the municipality's viewpoint about dredging?
The ironies of the Schuylerville controversy drummed up by the advocates for the dredging project are further compounded: Scenic Hudson itself was the beneficiary of a $50,000.00 technical assistance grant from the EPA for the purpose of allowing the public to evaluate the EPA's science! This generous grant to an organization that is a leading advocate for the dredging project was awarded on an insider basis, with no opportunity for the organizations that would tend to be more critical of the EPA's science to apply. In fact, they were not contacted on time to apply and had no way of knowing in a timely way that the grant existed!
Finally, besides the stirring up of the river bottom, which the Corps of Engineers and EPA usually oppose; besides the waste of resources; there is also the message sent by the dredging push-punish industry for actions that were legal at the time, drive industry out, leave off the hook the government officials who were complicit long after PCB's danger was reported; cow-tow to the unscrupulous "environmental" PAC; ignore the well-being of the local landowners; ignore the landowners in areas to which the material may otherwise be hauled; ignore the economic impact of dredging; ignore science. In my estimation, the ugly side of this 25 year battle is the use of this issue by environmental groups to pump up their cause and raise funds.
The proposed dredging project will have a pronounced negative impact on the private property of many people. This negative impact on the fundamental rights in individuals, which will cause personal and economic losses, has not been overtly assessed. Yet, the project has no clear human benefit: the government will not classify the fish that inhabit the Hudson River downstream as fully safe to eat for seventy years, at least two generations from now, if then. I question whether a professional risk:benefit analysis has been done for this proposal. While the proposed dredging carries a clear impact on private property owners, an alternative with no adverse impact on private property is being avoided, namely to continue the work at the plant site, which will accomplish the same goal in the same period of time. This flies in the face of established professional standards for environmental projects.
New York State now has an "Environmental Justice Advisory Committee" made up of prestigious officials and others who are concerned with issues of industrial pollution's effects on poor neighborhoods. Most of the directions of groups concerned with this cause display a distorted idea of the issues they face. But a true environmental justice issue is at stake here. The rural people of New York or elsewhere deserve to be treated with respect by government. No rural community should bear the brunt of this ill-conceived dredging proposal. Let the beautiful upper Hudson heal itself as it has been doing, without disturbing the peace of the riverside communities or threatening farm communities.
May I respectfully urge you to reverse the announced earlier position of the Environmental Protection Agency to require dredging of the PCB's from the Hudson River.
Please add this letter to the official hearing record pertaining to the EPA's consideration of this matter of Hudson River PCB dredging.
Carol W. LaGrasse