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Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site

Actions Prior to EPA’s February 2002 Record of Decision (ROD)

Site History

1947-1977: GE uses PCBs at its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities. PCB oils discharged directly and indirectly into the Hudson River include both non-permitted and permitted discharges. Estimates of the total quantity of PCBs discharged directly into the Hudson River from the two plants during this time are as high as 1,330,000 pounds. Discharged PCBs were transported throughout the river and adhered to sediments at the bottom, including in larger areas behind the Fort Edward Dam.

PCBs are detected in fish collected from the river.

Fort Edward Dam is removed. Removal of the dam and subsequent flooding moved much of the accumulated PCB-contaminated sediments downstream. Five areas of PCB-contaminated sediments, referred to as Remnant Deposits, are exposed.

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) begins to issue health advisories to limit consumption of fish from the river due to PCBs.

Legal action brought against GE by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) results in a $7 million program for the investigation of PCBs and the development of methods to reduce or remove the threat of contamination.

NYSDEC bans all fishing in the Upper Hudson and bans most commercial fishing in the Lower Hudson, including striped bass fishing.

GE and NYSDEC sign a Consent Order to address direct PCB discharges from GE’s Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities.

1976-1978 and 1984: NYSDEC surveys sediments of the Upper Hudson River and identifies 40 “hot spots” with average total PCB concentrations of 50 parts per million (ppm) or greater between Rogers Island (RM 194) and Lock 2 (RM 163).

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) prohibits the manufacture and sale of PCBs. GE ceases use of PCBs but GE’s Fort Edward and Hudson Falls plants continue to contaminate the river, primarily from PCB releases via bedrock fractures at the Hudson Falls plant.

Highly contaminated sediments are placed in a secure encapsulation site in Moreau. Unstable riverbanks of two Remnant Deposits are reinforced and three remnant sites are revegetated to prevent public contact and to minimize erosion-release of PCBs into the environment.

Mid- to late 1970s
New York State conducts navigational dredging in the Upper Hudson River.

Passage of Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund

EPA proposes listing the site on the National Priorities List (NPL).

The Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site is formally listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). EPA issues the 1984 Record of Decision for the site. EPA recognizes that PCB contamination in the Upper Hudson River needs to be addressed but selects an interim No Action remedy for sediments because, in the Agency's view, the reliability and effectiveness of available remedial technologies at that time is uncertain.

The 1984 ROD contained the following components:

  • An interim No Action decision with regard to PCBs in the sediments of the Upper Hudson River.
  • In-place capping, containment, and monitoring of exposed Remnant Deposits from the former impoundment behind the Fort Edward Dam, stabilization of the associated river banks, and revegetation of the areas. GE implemented this part of the remedy under a 1990 Consent Decree with EPA.
  • A detailed evaluation of the Waterford Water Works treatment facilities, including sampling and analysis of treatment operations to see if an upgrade or alterations of the facilities were needed. The study funded by EPA and released by NYSDEC in 1990 found that PCB concentrations were below analytical detection limits after treatment and met standards applicable to public water supplies.


EPA announces its decision to initiate a detailed Reassessment Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) of the interim No Action decision for the Upper Hudson River sediments. This is prompted by the five-year review required by CERCLA, technical advances in sediment dredging and treatment/destruction technologies, and by a request by NYSDEC for a re-examination of the 1984 decision. 

The Reassessment RI/FS was divided into three phases. Phase 1, consisting primarily of a review of existing data, was completed in August 1991. Phase 2, which included the collection and analysis of new data, modeling studies, human health and ecological risk assessments, and peer reviews, began in December 1991 and concluded in November 2000. Phase 3, also known as the FS, formally began in September 1998 with release of the FS Scope of Work. The FS was released concurrently with the Proposed Plan in December 2000.

GE detects an increase in PCB concentrations at the Upper Hudson River water sampling stations and attributes the higher levels to the collapse of a wooden gate in a tunnel within the abandoned Allen Mill. The mill is located next to the river bank near the GE Hudson Falls plant. Oil-phase PCBs that had migrated to the tunnel water via subsurface bedrock cracks had been previously diverted from entering the river by the gate.

GE removes approximately 45 tons of PCBs from the Allen Mill tunnel under NYSDEC jurisdiction.

GE documents the presence of PCB-contaminated oils in bedrock seeps at Baker Falls next to its Hudson Falls plant.

NYSDEC replaces Upper Hudson River fishing ban with catch-and-release fishing restrictions. NYSDOH continues to recommend that people eat no fish from the Upper Hudson River, that children under 15 and women of child-bearing age eat no fish from the entire 200-mile length of the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site, and that the general population eat none of most species of fish caught between the Federal Dam at Troy and Catskill. Commercial fishing for striped bass and  several other species in the Lower Hudson River is still closed.

After finding that there are statistically significant losses of PCBs from sediments to the water column, EPA conducts an evaluation to determine if an early response action to address contaminated sediments in the Thompson Island Pool would be warranted prior to completion of the Reassessment RI/FS. EPA decides no feasible and appropriate interim action is available.

Historical use of Rogers Island for staging and disposal of PCB-contaminated dredge spoils in the late 1970s presented an environmental concern. EPA evaluates the extent of PCB-contaminated soils on Rogers Island to determine if health concerns exist for island residents. Surface soils within the floodplain of the Hudson River on Rogers Island are found to be contaminated with PCBs and lead.

Due to direct-contact human health concerns, EPA excavates 4,440 tons of contaminated soil (lead and PCBs) from Rogers Island. The soils are disposed of off-site and clean backfill and erosion controls are installed.

Peer reviews were held in 1998, 1999, and 2000 in which panels of independent experts reviewed and commented on EPA's Reassessment RI/FS Reports.

EPA issues a Proposed Plan for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site.

EPA issues a Feasibility Study for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund Site.

February 2002: EPA signs a Record of Decision to remove PCB-contaminated sediments from the Upper Hudson River using environmental dredging techniques.