Derek Gentile: GE's foot-dragging won't make river toxins disappear


GREAT BARRINGTON >> I was talking to a friend about the NFL the other day, and the subject of the St. Louis Rams' return to Los Angeles came up.

"Yeah," he said. "They're kind of the General Electric of the NFL, aren't they?"

If wasn't a perfect comparison, but the comment struck me. In just 40 years or so, GE has shifted from the anchor company of a thriving city to the epitome of the evil, polluting, uncaring corporate Godzilla.

I can remember growing up in Adams and seeing my dad go off to work to GE every morning. That company provided our family with a very comfortable lifestyle for many years.

I remember something else. When I was in third grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Wynn, introduced the concept of homework. Homework? As in, doing schoolwork at home? As in, missing Satellite 6 and Dark Shadows to complete schoolwork? Blimey!

Worse, I remember bleats of protest to my mother about this wholly unfair tactic. Would this go on all year?

"All year, and next year and beyond high school into college," mom said. "And wait until you get into college. You'll have homework on weekends!"

I recall declaring there would be no college for this lad if I had to deal with that!

Mom shrugged.

"Then go work at The GE," she said.

That's right. We called it The GE. An article of respect, I think. But more than a backup for recalcitrant youth, The GE allowed people of uncertain ambitions who didn't seek college, a hugely lucrative alternative.

That is no small thing. With the near-absence of factory work in the Berkshires, alternative employment has fallen on creating small businesses and tourism. Which is not the financially comforting alternative The GE was.

This is a big reason we see the anger and angst at meetings like the one I attended in Housatonic on Tuesday. It's the reason vast majority of people are still passionate, 20 years after The GE cleared out, about a PCB cleanup.

If The GE wanted to leave, that's fine. But dumping poison into our rivers, our soil, even our air, well, that's not fine.

One of the things that is apparent to many with regard to this cleanup issue is that The GE, as a corporate entity, is entirely comfortable waiting this out. Five, 10, 20, 30 years. If they can wait until the storm blows over, I'm sure they say to each other, we'll be off the hook.

Ain't gonna happen. This is Berkshire freakin' County, man.

If I can remember what my mother told me 40 years ago, these local cleanup people aren't going to forget, either. I promise.

And by the way, I did go to college. And did homework.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions