Environmental groups prepare to battle GE over PCB cleanup in Housatonic River


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Local environmental groups are banding together to fight a possible PCB landfill by General Electric as part of an anticipated expanded PCB cleanup of the Housatonic River.

Led by the Housatonic River Initiative, the eight organizations will gather next week to update the public on the so called "Rest of the River" remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17, 7 p.m. at the First Con grega tion al Church in Great Barrington.

The gathering is one day before the EPA holds a public discussion on the fate of the PCB cleanup. That meeting is set for Sept. 18, 5:30 p.m. at Lenox Library.

While the federal EPA has publicly stated a PCB landfill won't be part of it's proposed "Rest of the River" cleanup plan for GE, local environmentalists doubt the company will go along with that federal agency's scenario. The EPA is expected to outline a cleanup plan in the next few months.

"One gets the feeling GE will continue to want to site a PCB dump in Berkshire County and use it as a threat and bargaining chip until the cows come home," said Tad Ames, president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Furthermore, Housatonic River Ini tiative Executive Director Tim Gray expects GE would sue the EPA to establish a PCB landfill, as the company would have the right to appeal cleanup decisions with the EPA and federal courts. Gray says GE would file a lawsuit citing as precedent the PCB dump that already exists in Pittsfield due to the initial PCB cleanup several years ago.

"That was one of the worst [EPA] decisions made in this region," Gray said.

Gray was referring to the infamous Hill 78 next to the Allendale Elementary School that contains PCB contaminated sediment and soil removed by GE from the Housatonic River and its factory complex in Pittsfield.

The PCBs leached into the Housatonic from the former GE transformer plant in Pittsfield. The chemical, a suspected carcinogen, was banned by the U.S. government in 1977.

As for the second phase of the PCB cleanup from southern Pittsfield to the Conn ecticut border, it would also include dredging of contaminated sediment from a 10-mile section of the river south of Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield. Gray is urging the public to convince the EPA that on-site remediation using low impact technology is available instead of creating a new PCB landfill.

Dredging, however, will still be necessary in order to eradicate PCBs from the river.

He noted the success BioTech Restorations of North Carolina has had cleaning up contaminated properties in California and its willingness to do a pilot program -- for free -- on the Housatonic River.

"The worst thing that happens, it doesn't work. The best thing is it works and catapults the cleanup into the future," Gray said.

BioTech co-founder Chris Young has been invited to make a presentation during the Sept. 17 meeting.

Whatever cleanup method is used, local environmentalists say they must remain united for a long battle to ensure a sensible cleanup plan that will hasten the river's recovery from years of pollution.

"Berkshire County is very fortunate it has organizations and people who care about the environment and quality of life," said Dennis Regan, Berkshire director of the Housatonic Valley Association.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.

Published Sept. 8, 2013


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