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Company Offers Technology to Aid in Housatonic PCB Cleanup

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

As state and federal officials are still working with GE on a plan to clean PCBs from the Housatonic River in the Berkshires, local activists are searching for new technologies to lessen the impact on the surrounding ecosystem. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

In an event yesterday evening sponsored by local environmental groups and hosted by the Housatonic River Initiative, company BioTech Restorations presented new technologies they’ve been developing to remove harmful chemicals from contaminated soil.

Until the 1970’s, General Electric released harmful PCBs into the Housatonic River. PCB’s, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are believed to be cancer causing chemicals that can affect wildlife and people.

Chris Young, owner of Biotech Restorations, explains that PCBs cannot be broken down easily in nature.

Tim Gray, Housatonic River Keeper, invited Biotech to the Lenox Town Hall to discuss their work in remediating harmful pesticide residues from soil, in hopes that their technology may be used to help remove PCBs from the contaminated soil and flood plain in the Housatonic River watershed.

The technology will not prevent dredging in the Housatonic. But Gray says that if the technology can be used on site, dredged up sediment could be treated locally, instead of being placed in dumps.

Young explained that PCBs are in a group of man-made chemicals that take the natural ability of bacteria in soil to breakdown and digest organic matter. Biotech’s Factor treatments are designed to give that ability back to the natural occurring bacteria with specially formulated proteins.

But Biotech’s work is not done yet. At the presentation, Young showed bench-scale testing data and talked about their past experience remediating soil in California, but their technology is untested on PCBs. Young did explain that initial testing  would take between 4 and 8 months. The company also would have to meet all the state and federal regulatory standards.

David Charters, with the office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Response at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, was invited by EPA Region 1 to attend the presentation. He commented on what the EPA needs to see before Biotech and begin testing at the cleanup site between Pittsfield and Woods Pond in Lenox.

And Chris Young said that Biotech will only be used if the decision makers in the cleanup process decided to go with his company, and if the technology can be proven effective.

EPA and GE have both indicated that they would like to see an adaptive approach to the cleanup. No plans for the so-called “rest of river” cleanup have yet been announced.

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