Expert to discuss PCB research at Lenox forum


LENOX >> A specialist in the study of PCB impacts on human health will discuss his latest research in a program on Tuesday sponsored by the Housatonic River Initiative, an activist group advocating a more far-reaching cleanup than recommended by the Environmental Protection Administration.

Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany has appeared frequently at HRI forums in the Berkshires since 2002.

"I'm a regular," he acknowledged in phone interview from his office at the university.

He will present his research at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lenox Town Hall, 6 Walker St.

"Living and breathing the air near a PCB-contaminated site increases heath risks, specifically for diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure)," Carpenter said. His findings are based on population studies in New York state, including locations along contaminated portions of the Upper Hudson River, where GE recently completed an EPA-ordered cleanup in Fort Edwards and 40 miles downstream.

He emphasized that the research demonstrates that "exposure to PCBs is no longer just from eating contaminated fish but from breathing the air."

The Lenox forum, organized by Tim Gray, longtime executive director of the HRI, will include a question and answer session.

Gray has questioned the scope and strength of the EPA's "intended final decision" for the removal of PCBs from the Housatonic beginning in southeast Pittsfield and stretching downstream into Connecticut.

"We believe this is the weakest cleanup plan ever put out for any river in the nation," he said after the EPA announced its plan. "We feel it sets the stage for leaving massive amounts of PCBs in the river and it opens a big legal hole for leaving dumps along the river."

The EPA's Rest of River decision issued Sept. 30 has been challenged by GE, which is appealing the ruling.

The federal agency is calling for a $613 million, 13-year cleanup, including dredging, excavating and capping of most PCBs on a 10.5 mile stretch of the Housatonic between Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox, which is heavily contaminated. Most of the work would take place during the first eight years.

According to the EPA, the removal of contaminated soil and sediment from the river, its banks, backwaters and floodplain would eliminate 89 percent of the PCBs that now spill over the dam at Woods Pond.

The "hot spot" pond would be drained, excavated and refilled to a greater depth of up to 6 feet, compared to the current 3 feet. An estimated 43,000 truck trips would be needed to remove contaminated material and return with clean fill.

In its 22-page appeal filed on Oct. 30, GE invoked "informal dispute resolution," the first step in what could be a prolonged legal fight. The company argued that the EPA plan lacks "common sense," is more expensive than necessary and is three times larger than the proposal advocated by the state of Massachusetts.

GE also contended that contaminated material could be safely disposed of at a local site, at a savings of $250 million, rather than trucked out of state to a federally licensed facility, as the EPA recommended. The company also called for a less extensive cleanup operation at Woods Pond, saving $130 million.

If negotiations with GE fail to reach a settlement, the EPA would issue its final decision, which could be challenged in lawsuits filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by the company, state and local governments, or groups and individuals who submitted formal comments to the federal agency last year.

The EPA's plan and GE's response will be discussed by the Housatonic Citizens Coordinating Council, which represents dozens of stakeholders, at a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18 at the Lenox Library.

GE released PCBs, a probable cancer-causing chemical, into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield transformer plant from the 1930s until 1977, when polychlorinated biphenyls were banned by the U.S. government. Carpenter's past research has suggested that living near PCB pollution also increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Carpenter, a neuro-toxicologist, also is a professor of environmental health sciences at UAlbany's School of Public Health. He has been a director at the New York state Department of Public Health.

He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1964. Carpenter is credited with six books and more than 370 peer-reviewed publications, according to his UAlbany biography.

If you go ...

What: Public forum on the health risks of PCBs, sponsored by the Housatonic River Initiative, featuring Dr. David O. Carpenter, environmental scientist at the University at Albany and a specialist in PCB research

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Lenox Town Hall, 6 Walker St.

Why: Dr. Carpenter will present his latest findings on the health effects of airborne PCBs and will answer questions from the audience.

Information: Tim Gray, 413-446-2520


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