Pittsfield councilors call for answers on chemicals in groundwater

The Hill 78 and Building 71 landfills near Allendale School in Pittsfield contain PCBs from the cleanup of the Housatonic River. Recent testing of the sites showed levels of toxic chemicals that are elevated but not yet actionable.

PITTSFIELD — The state and federal government need to answer questions from the City Council about toxic chemicals in city groundwater, councilors agreed Tuesday.

"They need to come to Pittsfield," Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo said.

Councilors became aware last month, after reading a report from General Electric Co., that two volatile organic compounds are appearing at above-benchmark levels in the area surrounding two of its "consolidation areas."

Health Director Gina Armstrong told councilors, during the full council meeting Tuesday, that although the chemicals appeared at above-benchmark levels, they didn't rise to the level at which the government would require action.

"It's still well below an action level," she said.

Samples will be taken again this month, she said, and reported to councilors in November.

GE had been dumping PCBs into the Housatonic River for years until the government banned it in the late 1970s. During the mandated cleanup that followed, GE put contaminated materials at two agreed-upon sites near their Pittsfield plant.

The waste sites, known as consolidation areas, reside along Tyler Street Extension, near Virginia Avenue. Hazardous waste is stored within insulated tanks at Building 71, while Hill 78 houses the less-contaminated materials in what councilors described as an "unlined" storage area.

The volatile organic compounds that raised hairs for councilors in the company's most recent report were trichloroethylene, or TCE, and tetrachloroethylene, known as PCE.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, who chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee, said the inconsistent reports warrant his committee keeping a closer eye on the reports.

"Some things had changed" in between the committee's earlier review in the spring, he noted.

"I think that's something to have a conversation about," he said.

Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell wanted to clarify that although the chemicals appeared in the groundwater, that holds no bearing on the city's drinking water.

"It's not actually in our drinking water " he said. "Because I had a couple of calls about this."

Connell said the chemical increases are coming because Hill 78 is an unlined landfill.

Valerie Andersen, a city resident, said during public comment that it's "really a disgrace" that the two landfills exist in the first place.

"This is a health issue for not only the children who go to Allendale School, but all of us who live in Pittsfield," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.