This Day In History: May 15

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After decades of environmental damage and legal wrangling, General Electric finally begins its government-mandated efforts to clean the Hudson River on May 15, 2009. One of America's largest and most prestigious corporations, GE had dumped harmful chemicals into the river for years and spent a fortune trying to avoid the cleanup.

GE's plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, two towns in upstate New York, dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a harmful compound manufactured for GE by Monsanto, into the Hudson from 1947 to 1977. The State of New York banned fishing in the Upper Hudson in 1976 due to the pollution, and in 1984 a roughly 200-mile stretch of the river was declared a Superfund site, requiring GE to pay for the cleanup. Via lawsuits, lobbying efforts, and public relations campaigns, GE fought back until 2002, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced a final decision that the corporation would, in fact, have to foot the bill. Even then, GE dragged its feet for seven years before dredging finally began.

The dredging, which cost GE $1.6 billion, lasted from 2009 until 2015. By all accounts, significant progress was made, and observers have applauded the return of some of the river's wildlife. Still, few believe that GE truly cleaned up its mess. Despite the removal of 3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments, the state has challenged the EPA's assertion that GE held up its end of the bargain, pointing to studies that show significant levels of PCBs in the Hudson. The state still warns children and those who may bear children against eating fish and other wildlife caught in the Hudson, advising adult men to limit their consumption, as well as counseling citizens to try to avoid swallowing the river's water.