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Berkshire Communities Hold Together on PCB Cleanup

A stretch of the Housatonic River under remediation.
Berkshire Environmental Action Team
A stretch of the Housatonic River undergoing remediation

The leaders of several Berkshire communities are united in their stance to support to remove harmful PCBs from the Housatonic River, while no plan has yet been proposed by General Electric or the EPA on the cleanup of the so-called Rest of River. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports….

In a letter sent to the Environmental Protection Agency last month, representatives from the Berkshire communities of Great Barrington, Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Sheffield, and Pittsfield, cited their support for the removal of the PCBs, and their need for appropriate compensation for any economic harm caused by the remediation processes.

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi, one of the signers of the letter, said that it’s important that the local communities unite, and reiterated his support for the cleanup in the largest city in the Berkshires.

Until the 1970s, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were dumped into the Housatonic River by General Electric. Now GE is tasked by the US Environmental Protection Agency to remove the contaminated sediment. PCB’s are believed to be probably causes of cancer in humans, and have other detrimental affects to wildlife.

Jim Murphy, spokesman for the EPA, says that the Agency is no place to compensate local communities, but has offered to help Pittsfield and the others with an economic consultant.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is in the process of developing economic impact studies of the remediation for the towns along the Housatonic River in Berkshire County.

Meanwhile, in Pittsfield, work is being completed to remediate the banks of Silver Lake, an area nearby to the former GE facility, now the William Stanley Business Park. According to the EPA, work to put in place a sand cap designed to hold PCB’s on the contaminated lake’s bottom, will be completed in 2013.

The first two miles of the PCB remediation in Pittsfield have already been completed.

As for the so-called Rest of River cleanup. The first phase is likely to run from Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox/Lee. However, a plan has not yet been proposed.

Citizen and environmental groups have criticized GE’s slow pace on the cleanup. Tim Gray, of the Housatonic River Initiative and Housatonic River Keeper has been advocating for new advanced technologies to take place of the traditional dredging and capping remediation methods. This is Gray speaking at community meeting on the effects of PCBs on wildlife last spring.

Murphy said that the EPA and GE are taking an adaptive approach and are welcoming any new PCB technologies than can be put into practice.

Discussions between the state governments of Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as General Electric and the EPA are still ongoing.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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