PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The region's congressional delegation is pushing Environment Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to uphold the EPA's 2016 order that contaminated material in the Housatonic River be "shipped off-site to existing licensed facilities for disposal."
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal have sent a letter to Pruitt calling on him to ensure General Electric lives up to its commitments in the $613 million "Rest of the River" cleanup.
Keeping the contaminated soil and sediment in the county would save GE roughly $250 million.
GE, once a powerhouse in Pittsfield, left behind tons of polychlorinated biphenyls used in its transformer manufacturing between the 1930 and 1970s. The EPA has estimated thatup to 600,000 pounds of toxic PCBs, a suspected carcinogen, are left in the river and pose a threat to the region's health.
Under conditions established in the Consent Decree and in the 2011 Final Removal Design & Action Plan, GE was required to finance the dredging of hundreds of cubic yards of "hot spot" sediment and additional shoreline sediment along Silver Lake in Pittsfield. The company also was ordered to address the estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs it discharged into the Hudson River in New York, an effort that's cost $1.7 billion.
The "Rest of River" cleanup plan was initially proposed more than three years ago to address contamination in the Housatonic from Pittsfield through South County. It was vetted by the EPA and the state and was determined to be in the best interest of the people of Western Massachusetts. However, a critical component of the cleanup plan was recently called into question by the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), which instructed the EPA to review requirements involving the location of toxic waste disposal from the clean-up. GE has fought this cleanup and appealed the EPA's Housatonic cleanup decision to the EAB.
"The EPA and Commonwealth have repeatedly stated that the contaminated material must be shipped off-site to existing licensed facilities for disposal -- and there is no such a facility in Massachusetts," wrote the members of congress. "To allow local disposal of GE's toxic waste scraped from the riverbed would be incompatible with Massachusetts state law and a complete disregard of the affected Massachusetts communities who have been plagued with this corporate pollution for far too long."
The EPA's proposal was for GE to remove nearly 1 million cubic yards of contaminated soil from the Housatonic over a period of 13 years. The $613 million plan would clean up 300 acres of the river and wetlands from Pittsfield into Connecticut. According to the plan, the soil would have to be taken to a licensed facility, but none exists in Massachusetts.
"Completing the Housatonic River Project is about protecting our environment and public safety," the letter states. "This is about protecting the health of our families that deserve to be able to fish, hike and play alongside the river and its banks."
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