NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution


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NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Correct GE’s Misinformation in Latest Hudson River Pollution Report

A manufacturing facility on the banks of a dammed river.

General Electric plant on the Hudson River in New York. (Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees)

The Federal Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees sent a letter to General Electric (GE) today, addressing misinformation and correcting the public record in regard to the recently released Hudson River Project Report, submitted by GE to the New York Office of the State Comptroller. Trustees are engaged in a natural resource damage assessment and restoration (NRDAR) of the Hudson River, which is extensively contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) released by GE.

“We take our responsibility to keep the public informed throughout the damage assessment process seriously,” said Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the Trustees engaged in the NRDAR process. “An informed public is key to the conservation and restoration of our treasured natural resources.”

“The extensive PCB contamination of the Hudson River by General Electric has clearly injured natural resources and the services those resources provide to the people of New York State,” said Robert Haddad, Assessment and Restoration Division Chief of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, a Federal Trustee in the Hudson River NRDAR process.

The Federal Trustees affirm these five facts in the letter [PDF]:

(1) Trustees have documented injuries to natural resources that the Report does not acknowledge.

Trustees have published injury determination reports for three categories of the Hudson River’s natural resources that GE does not mention in the report. Trustees anticipate that GE will be liable for the restoration of these injured natural resources.

  • Fishery injury: For more than 30 years, PCB levels in fish throughout the 200 mile Hudson River Superfund Site have exceeded the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) limit for PCBs in fish. Fish consumption advisories for PCB-contaminated fish have existed since 1975.
  • Waterfowl injury: In the upper Hudson River, over 90 percent of the mallard ducks tested had PCB levels higher than the FDA limit for PCBs in poultry. The bodies of mallard ducks in the Upper Hudson River have PCB levels approximately 100 times greater than those from a reference area.
  • Surface and ground water injury: Both surface water in the Hudson River itself and groundwater in the Towns of Fort Edward, Hudson Falls and Stillwater have PCB contamination in excess of New York’s water quality criteria. PCBs levels higher than these standards count as injuries. Additionally, the injuries to surface water have resulted in a loss of navigational services on the Hudson River.

(2) GE has been advised that additional dredging would reduce their NRD liability.

Federal trustees have urged GE to remove additional contaminated sediments to lessen the injuries caused by GE’s PCB contamination. Federal trustees publicly released maps showing hot spots that could be targeted for sediment removal over and above that called for in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remedy, and calculated the acreage to be dredged based on specific surface cleanup triggers. Information on these recommendations is publicly and explicitly available. Therefore, GE’s statement that they have “no basis to guess how much additional dredging the trustee agencies might want, in which locations, and applying which engineering or other performance standards” is incorrect.

(3) GE’s very large discharges of PCBs prior to 1975 were not authorized by any permit.

Two GE manufacturing facilities began discharging PCBs into the river in the late 1940s, resulting in extensive contamination of the Hudson River environment. In its report, GE states that “GE held the proper government permits to discharge PCBs to the river at all times required,” suggesting that all of GE’s PCB releases were made pursuant to a permit.

The implication that all of GE’s PCB releases were permitted is inaccurate. In fact, the company had no permit to discharge PCBs between 1947 and the mid-1970s, and thus GE discharged and released massive, unpermitted amounts of PCBs to the Hudson River from point sources (engineered wastewater outfalls) and non-point sources (soil and groundwater) at the Fort Edward and Hudson Falls facilities. After GE obtained discharge permits in the mid-1970s, the company at times released PCBs directly to the River in violation of the permits that it did hold. Not all of GE’s releases were permitted, and regardless, GE is not absolved of natural resource damage liability for their PCB releases.

(4) GE’s characterization of inconclusive studies on belted kingfisher and spotted sandpiper is misleading.

Trustees hold the scientific process in high regard. In its report, GE inaccurately states that studies on spotted sandpiper and belted kingfisher demonstrate no harm to those species from exposure to PCBs. In truth, those studies were simply unable to show an association between PCBs and impacts to these species. Both studies make a point of stating that the lack of association may have resulted from the sample size being too small. The studies are therefore inconclusive.

(5) The Trustees value public input and seek to ensure the public is informed and engaged.

The Trustees are stewards of the public’s natural resources and place high value in engaging with the public. GE incorrectly implies in the report that the Trustees have been secretive with respect to their NRDAR assessment. The Trustees strive to keep the public informed of progress by presenting at Hudson River Community Advisory Group meetings and at events organized by scientific, educational, and nonprofit organizations, as well as releasing documents for public review and providing information through web sites and a list serve.

To access the letter to GE and for more information, visit the Hudson River NRDAR Trustee websites:

www.fws.gov/contaminants/restorationplans/hudsonriver/index.html

www.darrp.noaa.gov/northeast/hudson/index.html

www.dec.ny.gov/lands/25609.html

The Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees agencies are the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the state of New York. These entities have each designated representatives that possess the technical knowledge and authority to perform Natural Resource Damage Assessments. For the Hudson River, the designees are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which represents DOC; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which represents DOI bureaus (FWS and the National Park Service) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which represents the State of New York.


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The Oil Spill That Helped a South Carolina Community Transform an Abandoned Naval Golf Course Back into a Healthy Coastal Marsh

This Earth Day and every day, NOAA honors our planet by using cutting-edge science to understand Earth’s systems and keep its habitats and vital natural resources healthy and resilient. Learn more at http://www.noaa.gov/earthday.

Pelicans and dark, oiled marsh are visible in front of the container ship M/V Everreach, which spilled oil into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor on September 30, 2002. (NOAA)

Pelicans and dark, oiled marsh are visible in front of the container ship M/V Everreach, which spilled oil into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor on September 30, 2002. (NOAA)

Around 100,000 residents call North Charleston, S.C., home, and since 2000, more and more people have been flocking to this urban center that balances the benefits of a lively port city with the rich history and natural beauty of a southern coastal town. Yet this isn’t by coincidence. It’s by decision and design. The City of North Charleston actively promotes a prosperous and livable community, which includes restoring green spaces and opening public access to the hard-working waterfront.

This spring, NOAA (through our Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program) and our fellow natural resource trustees supported that vision as we restored approximately 12 acres of salt marsh (coastal wetlands) and an additional acre of upland buffer area on Noisette Creek, a tributary of the Cooper River adjacent to the city’s scenic Riverfront Park. These efforts were part of a larger restoration plan to address the environmental and recreational impacts from an accidental oil spill in 2002.

Turning an Oil Spill into an Opportunity

An aerial view of the former Navy base and the Cooper River (foreground) looking up Noisette Creek, dating to approximately 2003. The area restored back to coastal wetlands appears on the left side of the creek.  The building at the point with a red roof was the former Naval Officers Club, which has been replaced by a city park at the point. The project site starts where the Officers Club parking lot ends and extends to the first road crossing the creek. (The Noisette Company/Jim Augustin)

An aerial view of the former Navy base and the Cooper River (foreground) looking up Noisette Creek, dating to approximately 2003. The area restored back to coastal wetlands appears on the left side of the creek. The building at the point with a red roof was the former Naval Officers Club, which has been replaced by a city park at the point. The project site starts where the Officers Club parking lot ends and extends to the first road crossing the creek. (The Noisette Company/Jim Augustin)

At the end of September in 2002, as the container ship M/V Everreach pulled away from North Charleston for its next destination, approximately 12,500 gallons of oil spilled out of it and into the waters of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.

The oil was seen over some 30 miles of shoreline and sediments, including tidal flats, fringing marshes, intertidal oyster reefs, sandy beaches, and manmade structures (e.g., docks, piers, bulkheads). Most of the oil concentrated in the vicinity of the North Charleston Terminal on the Cooper River and old Navy base piers and docks.

This spill impacted pelicans and shorebirds, closed a shellfish bed operation, and temporarily disrupted recreational shrimp-baiting in local waters.

The state and federal agencies charged with preserving the area’s public natural resources—NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources—worked cooperatively with the ship’s owner, Evergreen International, to determine the resulting environmental injury and resolve legal claims for natural resource damages.

From Marsh to Golf Course and Back Again

After carefully assessing the impacts, we the natural resource trustees worked with North Charleston’s property owners, developers, and local officials to restore a marsh-turned-naval golf course back into a functioning wetland that could support birds, fish, invertebrates, and vegetation.

As part of a restoration project after the 2002 M/V Everreach oil spill, NOAA and our partners constructed a network of tidal creeks along Noisette Creek in North Charleston, S.C. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

As part of a restoration project after the 2002 M/V Everreach oil spill, NOAA and our partners have just finished constructing a network of tidal creeks along Noisette Creek in North Charleston, S.C. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

Back in 1901, decades before North Charleston became its own city, the City of Charleston provided riverfront land to the U.S. Navy to develop a naval base. This also involved converting a marsh on the base into a golf course. The former Navy golf course along Noisette Creek in North Charleston was used until the base closed in 1996 and the property was transferred back to the City of North Charleston with a small portion owned by the Noisette Company. In 2002, the city and Noisette Company began arrangements and planning for the Noisette Preserve, a 135 acre “recreation and nature preserve at the heart of the redevelopment, located around Noisette Creek and its marshes, creeks and inlets” [Final Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, PDF]

A newly established inlet in the Noisette Creek Preserve, looking towards the interior of the restored marsh. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

A newly established inlet in the Noisette Creek Preserve, looking towards the interior of the restored marsh. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

To increase the tidal exchange and drainage needed to restore this area to a salt marsh, the project required removing a berm in two areas along Noisette Creek and constructing a network of tidal creeks throughout the property, which also provides access for recreational paddlers. Roads, drainage tiles, rip-rap, and other sources of debris were removed during the process as well.

As a result, the public will be able to enjoy a beautiful living shoreline which supports the surrounding area’s ecological services and ultimately benefits activities like boating, fishing, shellfish harvest, and shrimp baiting.

Supporting Green Communities

In cooperation with Evergreen International, we will monitor the wetland enhancements over the next five years to ensure the project achieves the desired ecological improvements. This project, the first of the planned restoration completed for the Noisette Creek Preserve, has created momentum and excitement for several similar projects slated for this small urban watershed. By aligning these restoration efforts with the larger goals for the City of North Charleston’s smart and sustainable growth, we and our partners have been able to build stronger, greener coastal communities and support a thriving local economy—a success for both the environment and the people of North Charleston.

Readers, how are you supporting resilient and sustainable coastal communities near you this Earth Day (and every day)?


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Baby Mink Jeopardized by Toxic Chemicals in New York’s Hudson River

This is a guest post by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. This originally appeared in full on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region blog.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. (Don Cooper)

In the early 1970s, toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in the water, fish, and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.

Those PCBs have contaminated the surface water, groundwater, sediments, and floodplains of the Hudson River. We find that living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s food chains are contaminated with PCBs. We believe that serious adverse effects are likely to be occurring to wildlife exposed to this PCB contamination in the Hudson River.

A whole team of people are using their individual and collective expertise to address the problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River and its effect on wildlife. My favorite part of this job is the teamwork among all the people working on this issue, and the interactions with our experts and the public.

We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources. Although a cleanup funded by GE is underway for certain sections of the Hudson River, the dredging GE is doing will leave some areas still contaminated with PCBs.

The dredging also cannot compensate for past effects of this PCB contamination on the Hudson River’s natural resources. For example, dredging will not make up for all the years that public use of the Hudson River fishery has been impaired by fish consumption advisories. Dredging will not return that lost use to the public.

In our planning to determine the effects of PCBs on wildlife, we identified mink health as one area to investigate. Mink are vulnerable to the effects of PCBs. Hudson River mink eat PCB-contaminated fish and other small creatures, and they ingest contaminated water, soil, and sediments as they look for food and build their dens. This led us to suspect that Hudson River mink might be harmed by PCBs in their environment.

Read more to find out how PCB contamination might be affecting mink offspring.

[Editor's note: And learn about a past report from the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees, including NOAA, which found that PCBs permeate nearly every part of the Hudson River.]

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