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Hudson River cleanup makes progress

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Tugboats are used to move barges of contaminated sediment to an upstream processing facility and clean backfill to the previously dredged areas. (EPA photo) Tugboats are used to move barges of contaminated sediment to an upstream processing facility and clean backfill to the previously dredged areas. (EPA photo)

MICHAEL HILL | AP

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A $2 billion cleanup of the upper Hudson River is proceeding briskly and could finish in two years, an Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday.

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck gave a progress report on the federal Superfund project as crews on the river north of Albany this week wrap up a fourth year of dredging sediment contaminated with poly-chlorinated biphenyls.

Enck said workers are almost three-quarters toward their final goal of removing 2.65 million cubic yards, and have removed 612,000 cubic yards this season, 75 percent over the project's annual goal. Good weather and efficient work by crews under the direction of General Electric Co. has helped speed progress, she said.

"We're working toward what once seemed an unobtainable goal, and that is a healthy, vibrant Hudson River," Enck told reporters on a conference call.

In one of the largest and most complex Superfund projects ever undertaken, GE agreed with the EPA to remove PCBs from a 40-mile stretch of river at a cost Enck estimated would be about $2 billion. Until 1977, the Fairfield, Conn.-based company discharged into the river about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, which were used as coolants in electrical equipment.

The EPA believes the dredging will clean the river of PCB contamination and eventually make the fish safe to eat. There are currently consumption advisories for fish from the river.

Althea Mullarkey, a public policy analyst at Scenic Hudson, said she shared Enck's optimistic assessment of the work, but stressed the need for an expanded project. Environmentalists have long been pressing for additional dredging of contaminated sections outside the Superfund site, though Enck said again Tuesday that is not being contemplated.

Dredging is set to end by the weekend, though crews will be filling dredged areas with sand and gravel for several weeks, if weather permits.

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