academic environmental studies   macalester college
Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

History of Superfund
Details of Superfund Act
Current State of Program

Criticisms of Program

Hudson River Case Study

Possible Solutions
References & Links


Comments and questions to:


The struggle surrounding the Hudson River has been taking place for decades. Recently, the movement to clean up the river has gained significant ground. Late in his second term President Clinton made the decision that the Hudson River should be dredged of the harmful contaminants that the General Electric Company (GE) had spent years dumping into its waters. Shortly after George W. Bush took office, he concurred with his predecessor – the Hudson should be dredged. In 2002 Christie Todd Whitman, the head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), supported the presidents by passing the Record of Decision (ROD) stating that the dredging project would happen following a three-year planning period. According to Alex Matthiessen, executive director of the environmental watchdog organization Riverkeeper, “The EPA decision [to dredge] represents more than just a regulatory victory; it represents the triumph of truth over deception, good over evil, the will of the people over the massive and relentless anti-environment campaign of a corporate giant” (Tucker 2002, 54).

The Hudson River originates at Lake Tear of the Clouds, high up in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. From its headwaters, the river flows over 300 miles through dramatic mountains, sloping farmland, locks and dams, towns and cities, before reaching New York Harbor. It is a striking example of both natural beauty, and industrial contamination – while its landscapes inspired the first school of painting in the nation, its contamination distinguishes it as the longest Superfund site in the United States (Claudio 2002). The history of the Hudson River is closely knit with the growth of industry and commerce in America. It is named for Henry Hudson, who navigated the river in 1609 thinking it would be a quick route to China. While Hudson was clearly mistaken, the river did become an important inland waterway for the United States. By constructing the Erie Canal in 1823, ships were able to sail from the Midwest to New York City, and onward. When railways became the most efficient transportation method, tracks were laid along the banks of the Hudson, making it an ideal location for industry. With easy access to both water power and rail transport, the banks of the river teemed with factories.

    One of the earliest and most important companies to locate along the Hudson was the General Electric Company (GE), formed when Thomas Edison consolidated his patents for incandescent bulbs in 1892. Although the company was based in New York City, it began taking over factories along the river; before long GE’s manufacturing complex stretched from Schenectady to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In Fort Edward and nearby Hudson Falls, GE took over factories directly on the river and retained permits from New York State to dump waste into the river (Tucker 2002). The two locations continue to be pivotal in the controversy surrounding the river.


Hudson River watershed
                      Map from

Last updated:  4/30/2007


Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA · 651-696-6000