January 28, 2008

News from the homefront...

...time will tell whether it is good or bad.

At first glance, it's wonderful news. In case you didn't click through, this weekend it was announced that the PCB dredging plan in the Hudson River has been revised, and as a result, will remove 70% more contaminants from the river, while only needing to dredge about half of the volume of sediment originaly planned. A secondary result of this new plan is that some of the areas of focus have moved downstream, leading to significantly less impact in the Fort Edward area (my first, and shortlived, hometown). Finally...the reason behind all these changes...contaminated sediments have been shown to be generally shallower than previously anticipated.

Chances are, the reduction and shift of impact will not be enough to lessen the local impact (trust me, there are some actual sob stories coming from the preparation activities already). But when I saw the headline, I immediately felt both vindicated, and happy for the often attacked and antagonized proponents of the dredging project.

Let's just say, this project has been and will continue to be a controversial issue, and I have always had mixed feelings about it. I can't count the times I have actually refused to give my opinion on the subject. However, I do believe it is for the ultimate well being of those living in proximity to the river (both in the project zone and downstream), especially future generations, that the dredging take place.

The reason the headline got me so aroused has to do with the initial debates over what the right course of action would be. While the scientists (generally) stressed the risk of a flood-enduced scouring and re-suspension/transport of contaminated particles (read up on the physical and physiochemical characteristics of PCBs), GE sewn and home-grown opposition stressed the damage to be done by digging up the sediment to recover deeply buried (and therefore now safe to let sit) contaminants, including habitat destruction and contaminated particle re-suspension/transport. Of course, we all know what happens when we let dangerous chemicals sit unattended only to be forgotten (HR PCBs gave us their own reminder in 1973).

I'm glad that the scope of the project may lessen some of the impacts...but more important to me is that, with the contamination being relatively more shallow, it would be even more succeptible to exposure via future events (perhaps near future), and causing untold harm. Besides, if the river has recovered so well since the cessation (or perhaps more appropriately, limitation) of industrial chemical inputs to the river, it will surely be able to recover from the removal of some bottom sediments in relatively short order.

You have to wonder whether that's the whole story though. The first line of the Times Union article says it all;

General Electric has convinced federal officials that it can dredge much less Hudson River bottom...

GE came up with the idea to dredge less material, huh? Tell me that doesn't give you pause when thinking about the merits of the proposal. Without having looked through what they offered as an argument, all I can do at the moment is hope that due diligence was done, both by the EPA, and by GE's hired scientists and engineers. Do you trust them? I can't say one way or another, and I don't often consider myself a cynic...but I do find myself questioning motives.

"I have no idea if this will affect the budget. This is something that we don't discuss," said GE spokesman Mark Behan.

Oh, ok, as long as you put it that way, I no longer have any concerns. You expect me to believe a multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporation, in the interest of good-science, has yet to consider the financial implications of their proposal?

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