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Pittsfield, MA Leaders Demand Answers, Action On Rising Toxicity Levels

Josh Landes
Pittsfield Health Director Gina Armstrong addresses the city council Tuesday night.

Following a report that toxic chemicals have exceeded limits in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, civic leaders are demanding answers.

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Councilor Kevin Morandi made a request to state and federal officials “to have the EPA, DEP, and DPH start attending the meetings."

"There are a lot of questions and concerns, and having them at the table needs to happen, I feel," said the councilor."

It stems from a September report from General Electric that readings on a pair of toxic chemicals are rising in Pittsfield. There are two hazardous waste dumps on the former GE campus: Building 71 and Hill 78. Pittsfield Health Director Gina Armstrong explained that the report emerged from May readings from nearby monitoring wells for city groundwater.

“So these two levels — the PCE and the BCB — they have been slightly elevated over the benchmark standard, but below any action level,” said Armstrong.

The type of well defines how the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection would respond.

“These exceedances were not found in a point of compliance well," explained the health director. "Those wells are those that are within 30 feet of a building, and also being a shallow well. So it doesn’t meet that criteria so it doesn’t prompt any action at this time.”

Armstrong said the EPA would monitor the wells again this month, and make the information available to the city in its next monthly report.

Reached Wednesday afternoon, the DEP declined to comment. Messages and calls to the EPA were not returned in time for broadcast.

In the meantime, Armstrong said the readings posed no immediate threat to Pittsfielders.

“In no way would it cause an exposure through drinking water," she told the council. "That entire area is on public water supply.”

Councilor Christopher Connell offered one explanation for the spikes.

“The reason why we’re having sometimes the spikes in the levels is because even though the contamination area was capped, there was never a liner put underneath," said Connell. "So it’s leaching through — heavy rain, heavy water events are coming through the soil in the sides, and leaching it down, further down, into the groundwater.”

While Building 71 houses waste in tanks, Hill 78 is an unlined landfill.

Armstrong said concerned citizens can find out more.

“Attend or follow up with the Citizens Coordinating Council meeting on October 24th. It’s a Wednesday evening, 5:30 to 7:30," she suggested. "Dean Tagliaferro will be present and he can get in-depth with an overview of the groundwater monitoring and the specifics with the different types of wells.”

Tagliaferro is the EPA project manager for the long-running GE-Housatonic River cleanup. The CCC emerged out of GE’s settlement with the communities along the Housatonic River to allow residents to question representatives of the company and state and federal agencies. The Berkshire Environmental Action Team told WAMC that GE has not sent a representative to a CCC meeting in at least a year.

In a statement to WAMC, GE said it was “not aware of any issue that indicates further action is needed to protect human health or the environment.”

The October 24th meeting will be held at the Lenox Library.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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