Every New Yorker knows that while the Hudson is likely at least slightly cleaner than the East River (and certainly cleaner than the Gowanus Canal), it’s by no means recommended for swimming or drinking. Now, a legal agreement between the US Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and General Electric (GE) – known for polluting the river for decades – will help determine just how dirty the New York City-adjacent Hudson is. 

Hudson River
Activity on the Hudson River on Sunday afternoon. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Known as the largest Superfund site in the US (a term for significantly polluted areas deemed for restorative action by the EPA) the Hudson River has been the focus of a long-term cleanup initiative after years of corporate pollution.

For 30 years between 1947 and 1977, GE dumped approximately 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (known as PCBs) – which are highly carcinogenic compounds – into the Hudson River near their capacitor manufacturing plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, New York, flowing 160 miles south to the lower Hudson bisecting New York City and New Jersey. The energy company began the first phase of their cleanup process in 2009 and has been assessing pollution levels in the Upper Hudson over the last several decades. The Lower Hudson (south of Troy, New York) has not yet had a thorough analysis of the remaining PCB damage.

While GE has been conducting ongoing assessments of the contamination along the Hudson, according to New York clean water advocacy group Riverkeeper, the newest agreement between the DEP and the energy conglomerate states that GE must analyze the remnants of PCB damage in the Lower Hudson from Troy to Battery Park in service of determining whether further cleanup action is needed. The group has been pushing officials to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the site. 

Erin Doran, an attorney for Riverkeeper, said of the assessment: “Investigating the PCB contamination throughout the Hudson – and determining how to address it – is absolutely critical for the health of the river, the life that relies on it, and people around it. We hope this agreement is a first step towards effectively addressing PCB pollution in the Lower Hudson River. We urge the EPA to ensure that the study is comprehensive, that it proceeds without delay, and that it leads to the actions needed to help restore the river back to health.”

“Riverkeeper is encouraged by the EPA’s agreement with GE to perform sampling in the Lower Hudson River. The EPA must continue to hold GE accountable for all of its PCB pollution, including the contamination in the vast 160-mile stretch of the Hudson from Troy to the Battery. Families along the Hudson River should be able to safely eat fish caught from the river without fear of health risks posed by PCBs. We are still a long way from that goal. After years of calling for action from EPA and GE to address PCB contamination in the lower Hudson, we are encouraged that this study is happening and look forward to a meaningful cleanup to follow,” Riverkeeper’s President Tracy Brown added

Robert Atterbury, Executive Vice President Park Relationships & Programs of Hudson River Park Trust told W42ST: “There is so much about the Hudson River habitat that our science community still seeks to understand. GE’s sampling, overseen by the EPA, will enhance knowledge about legacy pollutants like PCBs and the extent of their impact in the Lower Hudson River. Here in Hudson River Park, we look forward to seeing how the results of that  research can inform and guide some of the goals identified in our Estuarine Sanctuary Management Plan, as well as other regional environmental action agendas.”  

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos told W42ST: “New York State is committed to a comprehensive cleanup and restoration of the Hudson River. EPA’s agreement directing GE to undertake additional sampling in the Lower Hudson is a critical step to address historic PCB contamination. This new data will supplement the extensive sampling efforts previously conducted by DEC, EPA, and GE to evaluate the health of one of New York’s most important waterbodies. New York State DEC looks forward to continuing to work with EPA to understand what further actions can be taken to address unacceptable levels of contamination that remain in the river.”

Seggos and the DEC have been under fire lately for allowing ConEdison to regularly pump millions of gallons of wastewater contaminated with selenium, lead, chromium, copper and chloroform into the Hudson River, leading to a lawsuit by some members of the City Club of New York (a civilian-led advocacy group promoting responsible urban land use) against the agency under the Federal Clean Water Act. 

Workers use excavators with environmental clamshell buckets to dredge the Hudson River. The PCB-contaminated sediment is emptied onto floating barges. Photo: EPA.gov

Despite being hospitable enough to host dolphins on a recent summer afternoon, it appears that a significant analysis and cleanup will be required to make the Hudson a cleaner place – and one where you aren’t likely to see styrofoam floating above the service or know carcinogens lurk below. 

Join the Conversation


  1. I thought GE wiggled out of responsibility to correct long ago…Also though dredging stirred up too many pcbs to be a solution…Hope the right things happen

  2. Having GE in charge of the sampling when they are the party that did the polluting?! The EPA ought to be doing the sampling and the testing itself. Which side are you on, EPA??

  3. The Grand Calumet River in Indiana has similar toxic profile and it drains into Lake Michigan affecting Chicago’s water supply. The “solution” is to dredge then the cap remaining river bed with clay. The toxic dredging was to be placed near a school in East Chicago…..This in no way gets rid of the toxins and the Indiana harbor is still quite toxic.

    1. I am so thoroughly sick, disgusted, and pissed the fuck off how humans driven by pure greed!! , can make decisions that would land most of us in prison. But these uncaring, stupid, inhumane corporate waterhead ignoramuses make decisions that effect the well-being of our natural resources to the point of total destruction. Listen . If I had anything to do with all of the evil sick greed laden blatant decisions man has made to fuck our once beautiful planet into oblivion.. I would kiss the wife and kids goodbye as I leave to go spend another day at the death machine business I was once proud to be employed by.. pull up in my personal parking spot..at Killeverything Inc. pull out my . 45 and blow the back of my skull all over the back of my brand new sports car’s rear window.. that my fantastic employer afforded me to purchase. GREED .. TURNS HUMANS INTO BRAINLESS PATHETIC NUMBNUT MOTHERFUCKERS !!! AT THE AGE OF 56.. I HAVE BECOME SO ASHAMED OF BEING A HUMAN ON PLANET WHO GIVES A SHIT.. THE ONES CALLING THESE SHOTS . ARE REWARDED HUGE SALARIES.. TO FUCK THE PLANET AND GET AWAY WITH IT… EVIL PURE EVIL

  4. I grew up along the Hudson River from 1960 to present. I fished there all my 62 years of life and the fishing back in the 1960’s and 70’s was great , one of my buddies , his father was a commercial fishermen in Ossining until commercial fishing was banned in the 70’s because of pollution, I was 10 years old in 1970 . The amount of actual time spent down there fishing and going on adventures exploring up and down the shore from Scarborough to Croton Point from the age of 6 to 17 and then just fishing after that added up to roughly 3 1/2 years of my entire life. From Scarborough to the tip Croton Point including the dump and marshes , the mine entrances hidden by overgrowth at Sparta , I can say I’ve stepped on every square foot of land throughout my days . Crawbuckie beach was a favorite along with these underground jail cells my friends and I discovered while on one of our exploring adventures. I don’t know if they are still there , but they began down an embankment at the left side of the driveway of St.Augustine’s Church right off route 9 before you cross the Croton River bridge into Croton and went all the way down to the river. I do think they were jail cells and not animal cells that I once read about because the only gate left there that we saw back then which had rusted off it’s hinges and fell on the dirt ground was actually a heavy iron jail cell gate , I believe at one time they may have been used for animals but way after their real purpose.The Hudson River is a beautiful place , but as the years passed I watched the fishing die . During the mid 70’s the decline of fish began. We use to catch Tommy cods , flounder, bream, carp , catfish, snapper blues, white perch ,eels , striped bass, blueback herring,my brother once caught a 3’ sturgeon and released it when we realized what it was . Back in those days you could fill a 5 gallon bucket of assorted fish by yourself in 1 1/2 hours, today if your lucky enough, it would take you about 2 days . The fishing is pretty much gone for the Native species that lived there , the shad , blueback herring, striped bass and bluefish that enter the river to spawn in Spring , even their numbers have gone drastically down . In the late 80’s we started seeing nasty tumors and bleeding lesions on most of the catfish we caught . I’ll be 63 this year and I think the river is worse now than before. Some may not agree , but seeing through all these years is believing. I don’t believe the “ Scientific data “, I believe more in experience . Back in the 70’s the Croton Harmon railroad yard had huge sand pits that were filled with fuels and chemicals, our dog died weeks after going into one of those pits and that stuff was leeching into the river from the banks of Croton Point beach, you could visibly see and smell it. Back in the day while fishing you would catch some seaweed while reeling in your line , today , every time you reel your line in , the hook has shreds of plastic caught in it . Since 1990 I have never caught or heard of anyone catching Tommy cods , flounder or bream at all , they’re gone .

  5. I was born and raised in that Area of New York in Hudson Falls I left when I was 19 and would never go back because the pollution is so great everyone in my Family has died early from cancers no one prior to that was ever sick with cancer I have done my study when GE sent me paperwork wanting me to fill out all this information about my health if I’ve had children and if they had any birth defects it’s just a cover for their own asses but it doesn’t matter the damage is done they’re never gonna fix it and I pray for New York every night in my in my prayers because I know the devastation my brother worked for GE for over 30 years and he’d come home and cry at night his wife said Because he knew they did it and they have no conscience they don’t care they paid people low salaries to work there I know because I work there for a year and a 1/2 and when I worked on A PCB machine one of my children had A.L.L. Acute lyemphatic lukemia at age 11 By the grace of God she’s 39 but she has all kinds of health issues never could have children because of GE My oldest brother had ALL he died of it He was older but everyone of my family members have died decades too early I’m turning 70 this year my sister is 83 that Is 2 of us out of 10 kids No doubt in my mind if I had stayed in New York in Hudson Falls and Glen’s falls I’d been dead by now too. I like it The administrators for GE should be ashamed of themselves that they didn’t find a way to stop doing it in the forties or fifties why did they have to keep Doing it until the late seventies when there’s no chance of survival for anyone or anything up there in that area along the Hudson river Tears in the clouds is where the Hudson that’s exactly what it is tears from the natural Indians that live there they took care of our States the white people that ruined from money A dollar is more important then God’s creatures or creation

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