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Part of the 7.2 mi. contaminated stretch of the Grasse.  Photo by David Sommerstein.
Part of the 7.2 mi. contaminated stretch of the Grasse. Photo by David Sommerstein.

Mohawks seek better Grasse cleanup

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The St. Regis Mohawks say the federal government's plan to clean up toxic chemicals from the Grasse River has improved, but it's still not good enough. The Alcoa aluminum plant in Massena dumped cancer-causing PCBs into the river before they were banned in the 1970s.

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David Sommerstein
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Ken Jock directs the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe environment division.  He says the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to dredge 7.2 miles of riverbank sets a standard of acceptable PCB levels 25 times lower than an earlier cleanup.

That’s a real good step.  I think that’s a positive development that EPA has made those levels now lower.

Jock says the problem is the second part of the plan. The EPA wants to use a cap to contain PCBs in the main channel of the river.  Jock says that’s not a permanent solution.  An ice jam scoured away a trial cap in 2003.

And that took away a lot of sediment and the cap that had been put in there as part of a trial.  We’re very concerned that any kind of a cap is subject to those natural forces.

Alcoa officials praised the strategy, which will cost $243 million. 

Alcoa employs more than a thousand people in Massena. There has been concern that the cleanup was getting in the way of talks for Alcoa to commit to a long-term presence there. In a press release, Senator Chuck Schumer said the plan was “a balanced way to clean the Grasse River and protect public health without breaking the bank” for Alcoa.

The EPA will hold public hearings on the cleanup plan October 29 and 30 in Akwesasne and Massena.

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