PITTSFIELD -- A thorough public airing was promised Monday for a proposal to ban polystyrene food containers in Pittsfield.

Meeting before an audience of about two dozen, the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee heard from speakers both pro and con during the information-gathering session -- likely just the first effort to gain input from the public and business and scientific communities, members said.

On opposite sides of the issue were Rinaldo Del Gallo, who proposed a ban on the containers in February, and Martin W. Fisher, with Serlin Haley, a Boston law firm representing Dart Container Corp.

Del Gallo argued that the cost of finding less environmentally damaging alternatives would not be great for food servers, and that eliminating "the very dangerous" chemicals in the product from landfills and the ecosystem was worth the cost and effort.

"And it is very late in the day for anyone to argue that [polystyrene] is safe," he said at one point, adding that there is evidence the product is a "known carcinogen," and when incinerated or buried releases a range of potentially hazardous chemicals.

Martin argued that federal regulators have not declared the product unsafe for use. He said a large part of the problem is litter, but that a ban would have no effect in that regard. "That is human nature," he said.

He said he hopes to be given the opportunity to provide scientific and other information to support the polystyrene manufacturer's position. "I think all I ask is for a transparent and open process," Martin said.

Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said her group strongly supports a ban. She said the danger of chemicals in the product are a concern, but polystyrene litter in waterways and elsewhere is something her group meets with during annual river cleanup events.

Mark Miller, a member of the city's Green Committee who said he was speaking as an individual, said he supports a thorough review of the issue, including scientific information.

Committee Chairwoman Melissa Mazzeo said she had learned from the speakers Monday and hoped to learn more in subsequent meetings, perhaps before the entire council.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop agreed, saying he wants "an open, inclusive process, and we started that tonight."

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont said he is "not sure we should pick on just one industry," but he plans to keep an open mind, especially about environmental and health concerns.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said his decision will focus on the product's effects on the environment, and he hopes to have science educators from the area provide input to officials.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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