PCBs, GE, & FOIA

Yesterday’s Albany Times Union published damning information about GE’s PCB contamination of the Hudson River.  The polluted 200-mile stretch from Hudson Falls to PCBthe Atlantic Ocean makes it one of the largest Superfund sites, according to the EPA.  PCBs were banned in 1977 and are considered probable human carcinogens that are also linked to low birth weight, thyroid disease, and learning, memory, and immune system disorders. The federally mandated dredging of the Upper Hudson is costing GE $1 billion, while taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions more in related cleanup costs.

GE has long held that chemicals in the insulating fluid used in its Washington County capacitor plants aren’t harmful to humans and that the river is able to clean itself.  GE PCBYet documents show that as early as the 1960s — well before the EPA ordered GE to dredge the river — company officials learned of the potential serious health threats of PCBs and GE engineers called it “hazardous waste” in confidential memos. The documents also indicate that GE dumped more PCBs into the Hudson than estimated by regulators, and that another million pounds a year were hauled by “scavenger crews” and dumped indiscriminately, leading one GE engineer to call the disposal method “out of sight, out of mind.”

The Times Union obtained the documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests aimed at the federal lawsuit filed against GE by the towns of Halfmoon, PCB signStillwater and Waterford, the village of Stillwater, and the Saratoga County Water Authority in 2009.  The municipal agencies claim that their water systems, which are tied to the Hudson River, have been tainted by the ongoing dredging project as well as the original contamination from GE’s capacitor plants over a 30-year period.  They seek to compel GE to pay for alternate drinking-water supplies while the company performs the clean up.  Last week GE officials announced that it had reached a “settlement in principle” with three of the plaintiffs.

The Times Union article also notes what it cannot access:  thousands of other internal company records, including “scores of documents related to GE’s multimillion-dollar public relations campaign in opposition to dredging,” which GE argues are privileged.  For more details, primary documents, photos, and videos, read here.

This entry was posted in bioaccumulation, carcinogens, CERCLA, drinking water, environmental cleanup, environmental law, EPA, fish consumption advisories, FOIA, PCBs, public health, synthetic chemicals. Bookmark the permalink.

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