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Pollution of the Hudson River

by Raquel Vega

The Hudson River extends 315 miles from its source in the Adirondacks at Lake Tear of the Clouds to New York Harbor. This river flows cleaner than it has in decades. Many of its worst polluters have been disputed and stopped. The Hudson River shores are now being cleared of abandoned warehouses and empty factories, making room for new parks.

PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, are said to be found in the waters of the Hudson River. PCBs come in 209 distinct chemical mixtures and are used in electrical equipment, carbonless copy paper, newsprint, caulking compounds, and other everyday products found in homes and businesses. General Electric (GE) used PCBs in their company. They never manufactured the PCBS. Instead, they purchased them from another manufacturer and used them for thirty years in the production of electrical capacitors. GE's use of PCBs was entirely legal. They obtained the appropriate permits and at all times held valid permits under the Clean Water Act for the discharge of the PCBs into the Hudson. GE discharged the PCBs, along with sewage and other industrial wastewater, through discharge pipes that ran from its plants to the Hudson River. This practice was common among industries and cities along the Hudson and elsewhere.

In the late 1970s, New York State began advocating a major river dredging project. The goal was to reduce PCB levels by removing tons of sediments from the Thompson Island Pool and areas south of Troy. The state sought to bury the dredged material on nearby farmland, but it was a violation of local zoning laws.

In the 1980s, New York State proposed a second dredging project which was smaller in range and focused mostly on concentrated areas of PCBs. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, PCB levels were not declining as fast as they had in the 1970s. This was due to the collapse of the Allen Mill, a structure that was built on the edge of the river below GE's Hudson Falls plant site. A wooden gate at the mill collapsed causing a large quantity of material to be released into the river. The material inside the mill included PCBs. As a result, PCB levels in the water rose for the first time in years. GE moved quickly to remove the material inside the mill. A system was established to collect millions of gallons of contaminated water flowing into the mill. The PCBs entered the mill by by seeping through the bedrock of the Hudson Falls plant site.

The Hudson Falls site is no longer an active manufacturing facility. Since 1992, GE has been working on a clean-up program in the area of the Allen Mill and at the Hudson Falls site. More than 131 tons of PCBs have been removed and effectively prevented from ever reaching the river. Hudson Watch

Clearwater involves a group of people who are trying to make the Hudson River a better place. Clearwater conducts environmental education, advocacy programs, and celebrations to protect the Hudson River. The centerpiece of Clearwater's public education program is the 106 foot wooden sailing sloop Clearwater, designed after the Dutch sailing sloops of the 18th and 19th centuries. Each year Clearwater accomodates nearly two thousand children and adults on board to teach history, biology, environmental science, and navigation along the Hudson, New York Harbor, and Long Island. Clearwater

More on Hudson River PCBs

Systems Theory


Plant Life


Images of the Hudson

Related Links

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