Information Regarding EPA's Cleanup Decision Process on the Hudson River Site

RCED-00-193: Published: Sep 28, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2000.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to clean up the Hudson River, focusing on: (1) the computer models EPA and General Electric (GE) are using in their assessments and related scientific and technical issues; and (2) the processes EPA is using to obtain and respond to scientific and technical comments on its modeling and other assessment studies.

GAO noted that: (1) the computer models that EPA and GE have developed to predict polychlorinated biphenyls levels in the Hudson River are generally similar in structure and have produced generally comparable outcomes; (2) for example, both models indicate that PCB levels in the Hudson River will eventually decline if no cleanup action is taken; (3) however, the models differ in certain technical respects, particularly concerning the level of complexity and detail used to describe how PCBs behave in the environment; (4) as a result, since the models are not interchangeable, they could lead to different conclusions regarding the extent to which PCBs pose an unacceptable level of risk to human health and the environment, currently and in the future; (5) in addition to the modeling differences, EPA and GE disagree on related scientific and technical issues, for example, whether PCBs in a certain area of the river are a continuing source of contamination for the entire river; (6) EPA obtained public and external scientific and technical comments on its assessment model and studies from several sources; (7) EPA, through a contractor, established five independent peer review panels comprised of 29 experts to review its major scientific and technical work products; (8) these panels received public comments during peer review meetings, a step not normally taken; (9) EPA used an extensive public outreach process as part of its assessment of the Hudson River; (10) this process involved several working groups established by EPA to help ensure that its public outreach process was inclusive; (11) EPA consulted with interested federal and state agencies and GE to obtain scientific and technical information and suggestions on its approach; (12) EPA expects to propose its decision for public comment by December 2000; and (13) in reaching its decision, EPA plans to incorporate comments received from a number of sources, including GE.

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