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Outrage over GE, EPA's plans to clean PCB's from Housatonic

Emily Burkhard
Updated: February 19, 2020 11:46 PM
Created: February 19, 2020 06:35 PM

LEE - Tensions ran high at Lee High School on Wednesday night. That’s where hundreds of people came to express their outrage over plans to remove PCB's from the Housatonic River.

Environmental Protection Agency New England has announced plans with General Electric and individual towns in Berkshire County to remove the harmful chemicals released into Housatonic from the plant in Pittsfield.

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"Twenty thousand additional samples [will be] taken in the river,” EPA New England Director of Superfund and Emergency Management Division Bryan Olson said. “We'll find the worst stuff take that out and then we'll ship that offsite and then the rest of the stuff will go into the landfill location."

Meaning lesser contaminated material, which has PCB contamination of under 50 parts per million, will go into a landfill. The location currently being proposed is on the Lennox-Lee town line. Each town would receive $25 million from GE in exchange for putting the contaminated soil and sediment there.

In all GE plans to pay $63 million to towns along the Housatonic that will be affected by the cleanups.

Many people at the meeting on Wednesday are upset that the plans weren't put to a vote.

"This day and age we're voting on pot shops we're voting on sandwich signs and things like this, we should've had a vote on our 20-acre toxic dump,” said Tim Gray, one of the founders of Housatonic River Initiative.

EPA New England said the landfill will have two liners and will be located one mile from Lee water supply reservoirs, 1,000 feet from the river and over 15 feet above the water table.

EPA officials said the Lenox-Lee site, formerly Lane Construction, is an ideal location because of its proximity to Woods Pond, which is the first major impoundment downstream from the Pittsfield plant.

"A quarter of the contaminated soils and sediment is in that pond. So that pond is immediately adjacent to this location were talking about,” Olson said. “So the soils and sediment can be pumped right over the hill into this location and it keeps all the trucks off the road, makes a huge difference in terms of the impact to the community."

But others argue that method is much more convenient and cost effective for GE.

"That saves them millions, actually they say $250 million it saves them from trucking it out of the community,” Gray said.

Gray is also worried about plummeting property values and adverse health effects.

EPA officials said the entire cleanup could take 10 to 15 years. They said the landfill near Woods Pond would be big enough to hold contaminants from all other cleanups along the Housatonic.

Olsen said this is just the first step in the EPA’s process. They'll have more public hearings and information meetings where they'll gather feedback to incorporate into the final plan.

The EPA New England is hosting a similar meeting in Great Barrington at Monument Mountain High School on Thursday (2/20) at 6 p.m.


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