GE's PR battle to stave off dollars 460m clean-up

ALBANY, NY: General Electric has won the support of 60 local governments in a PR battle waged to avoid the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed dollars 460 million bill for cleaning up the Hudson River.

ALBANY, NY: General Electric has won the support of 60 local governments in a PR battle waged to avoid the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed dollars 460 million bill for cleaning up the Hudson River.

ALBANY, NY: General Electric has won the support of 60 local governments in a PR battle waged to avoid the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed dollars 460 million bill for cleaning up the Hudson River.

GE has been embroiled in a long debate over how to treat deposits of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found there.

GE legally dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river, until the chemicals were banned in 1977. EPA said people eating fish from the river could face an increased risk of cancer and other diseases. A 10-year study of the problem culminated in the EPA's recommendation last week that GE dredge the river.

Since 1989, GE has retained Glen Falls, NY-based Behan Communications to work on the issue.

Recently, Behan Communications and GE have made an aggressive effort to rally public opinion against clean up by creating a Web site, newsletters, petitions and advertising to galvanize local opposition.

As well as the government support, a Zogby poll commissioned by GE reported that 59% of respondents supported GE's own strategy to prevent PCBs from entering the river, and to continue pumping PCBs out of groundwater supplies.

'They won the battle by Labor Day,' admitted Mark Ballantyne, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, which favors the EPA dredging plan.

Ballantyne said he knew GE's PR strategy was effective when he met people at charity cancer events who criticized his stance. The Sierra Club is poised to launch its own campaign on the issue.

The EPA insists that the calls it has received support the dredging plan.

Ballantyne remains skeptical.

'GE has had a very effective PR campaign,' he said. 'It should win some awards - just not the kind the Sierra Club gives out.'



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