Our Opinion: GE must step up and explain cleanup intransigence

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It was clear that a solid majority of Berkshire residents in attendance at Monday's information session in Lenox about the cleanup of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield want PCB-contaminated fill dredged from the river to be shipped away rather than buried in landfills near the river. It's still unclear why General Electric won't explain why it should not have to do so.

GE established a precedent when it sent contaminated fill from the Hudson River in neighboring New York to a landfill site in Texas. The corporation may not want to pay the transportation cost in cleaning up the pollution from its former plant in Pittsfield, but that is not Berkshire County's problem. A GE engineer was in attendance at Monday's meeting hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency but he was there on the condition that he not be expected to answer questions (Eagle, Dec. 4.) This is in dramatic contrast to the process in which the GE Consent Decree was reached 20 years ago to clean up the Housatonic River and a number of parcels in Pittsfield. At that time, high-ranking GE officials from corporate headquarters (Fairfield, Ct. then, Boston today) made themselves available to the press and public.

The federal EPA has produced a realistic, $613 million, 13-year plan that calls for a cleanup of heavily contaminated areas and hot spots but does not seek to clean the river entirely of PCBs, a monumental project that could cause harm to river banks and property adjacent to the river as it winds toward Connecticut. GE has rejected this worthy proposal, leading to an ongoing mediation. Many in attendance expressed frustration with this process, but as Washington, D.C. attorney John Bickerman, who heads the mediation effort, explained Monday night, mediation must be explored to perhaps avoid lengthy litigation.

Lenox Selectman Warren Archey said Monday he would bring forward a motion that town police be authorized to prevent a GE cleanup of Woods Pond to avoid spills of toxic waste, and urged other towns to do the same. We hope neither Lenox nor any other Berkshire town will order its police officers to in effect act as protesters and block a federal cleanup.

We once again urge GE to end its insistence that landfill sites be built along the Housatonic River. Failing that, the corporation should at least explain why it believes it is necessary do so in light of the precedent set elsewhere.






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