Nearly 50,000 acres in Berkshire County are off limits to a potential PCB landfill thanks to revised state regulations that protect highly sensitive environmental areas across the commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently enacted a prohibition against hazardous waste facilities within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACEC.

ACECs are places that deserve additional environmental protection due to their "uniqueness and high ecological value," according MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell.

Five of the state's 30 ACEC designations are located in Central and South County, accounting for 48,880 of the 268,000 acres protected state-wide.

MassDEP's revision also bans facilities that deal in hazardous waste from being located next to or in close proximity to an ACEC, if that location would threaten the natural resources, according to agency officials.

The updated regulation doesn't target possible PCB dumping grounds, but state environmental officials are concerned about their placement.

"The commonwealth has repeatedly gone on record that an in-state landfill of that nature is unacceptable," Kimmell said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

While the state's solid waste regulations prohibited locating solid waste management facilities within or next to an ACEC, a similar prohibition was lacking for hazardous waste sites. The revision officially took effect the week before Christmas, following a series of public hearings this past summer, including ones in Pittsfield and Lenox.

A small, but vocal, group of people in attendance who spoke favored the revised regulation and opposed any hazardous waste sites -- especially another potential PCB landfill -- in Berkshire County.

They cited the infamous Hill 78 next to Allendale Elementary School In Pittsfield as one PCB landfill too many in the Berkshires.

The site contains PCB contaminated soil and sediment removed by General Electric from the Housatonic River and its former factory complex in Pittsfield. Citizens groups are worried the "Rest of the River" cleanup, plans for additional PCB cleanup in Pittsfield, Lenox and points south, will include an additional PCB landfill in the Berkshires.

"The new regulation is all well and good, as long as GE doesn't force the issue in court," said Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative. Gray fears GE would sue, given the precedent set by the existing PCB landfill.

However, Kimmell vowed the state would fight to prevent a repeat of Hill 78.

"PCBs need to be removed and shipped to a licensed facility out-of-state as [Massachusetts] doesn't have one," he noted.

One suggested site, according to MassDEP officials, has been near the Housatonic River, a section of which is a designated ACEC.

The Upper Housatonic River ACEC is a 13-mile stretch of river and surrounding 12,275 acres in Lee, Lenox Pittsfield and Washington. That stretch of river is subject to a cleanup of PCBs that leached into the river years ago from a General Electric plant upstream in Pittsfield.

The other four Berkshire ACECs are : Hinsdale Flats Watershed in Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Washington; Schenob Brook Drainage Basin in Sheffield and Mount Washington; Karner Brook Watershed in Egremont and Mount Washington; and Kampoosa Bog in Stockbridge and Lee.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.