The Public Health and Safety Committee review a presentation on the GE property.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The monitoring program for the problematic Hill 78 and Building 71 isn't showing anything of concern, according to state and federal agencies overseeing the program.
The building was demolished and its "consolidation area" and Hill 78 contain capped debris from the demolition and cleanup of the General Electric properties. They were completed about a decade ago.
Ward 2 Councilor, Kevin Morandi petitioned for annual updates on their conditions. A presentation of environmental monitoring activities from General Electric was given to the Public Health and Safety Committee on Thursday evening.
"In summary, GE is conducting the long-term monitoring and maintenance program and is overseen by the federal EPA and the Massachusetts DEP with support from Massachusetts DPH," Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong said. "Today there are no significant issues."
In October 2018, two wells testing for contamination in groundwater near Hill 78 tested above benchmarks but not at an actionable level. This site sits next to Allendale Elementary School, prompting the City Council to ask for another meeting with the state Departments of Environmental Protection and of Public Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In February 2019, the EPA tried to calm the council's concerns over Hill 78 and Building 71 saying that the two wells that tested above benchmarks did not pose any health concerns and are just base numbers to compare from year to year.
The council was also told that the air monitoring results are still 10 times below the action level and that the levels inside of Allendale School were even less.
The City Council's Public Health and Safety Committee was happy with the results, but requested increased communication.
Armstrong presented the update on environmental monitoring activities from February 2019 through October accompanied by Julie Cosio and Caroline Stone from the state Department of Public Health.
The remediation of the neighboring Allendale School was done in 1999 with minor additional work in 2007 and 2008, Building 71's "on plant consolidation area" (OPCA) was closed and capped in 2006, and Hill 78 was closed and capped in 2009.
Armstrong said a maintenance plan with long-term inspections and monitoring was memorialized in General Electric's 2011 final report, as Building 71 and Hill 78 almost directly abut Allendale School's property.
In her presentation, she said there are GE requirements for the environmental monitoring of the OPCA that include monitoring the physical integrity of the cap system, the covering, drainage, leachate components, ground water, and PCB air sampling. There is also a requirement for air sampling done at Allendale School that the EPA conducts.
Physical integrity monitoring is done twice a year in May and October. This consists of a walkthrough of the entire site to look for evidence of erosion of the soil cover, vegetation on the soil cover, tree plantings, unusual settlement, damage to the geosynthetic cap and liner component, obstructions and blockages of the drainage layers and outlet pipes, and monitor the integrity of perimeter fencing.
In recent years, typical reoccurring maintenance has included repair of top soil, new drainage pipes, repair and replacing of drainage pipes as they age, reseeding bare spots, repaving access roads, tree replacement, and repairing wood chuck or animal borough holes. These repairs are done to maintain the integrity of the cap on Hill 78.
This monitoring also leads to repair of any issues with the leachate collection system tank and its monitoring devices.
Ground water monitoring is done twice a year, in the spring and fall, which includes sampling of 12 wells that surround the OPCA. These samples are analyzed for an extensive list of chemicals including volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and PCBs. These 12 wells go around the perimeter of Building 71 and Hill 78.
All of the the reports also show that the water flow continues to go south toward the Housatonic River and away from Allendale.
EPA representative Dean Tagliaferro said there has been no change in the status of the analysis that was done over this year and a half and that the sample results continue to be below the applicable standards.
GE conducts sampling for air monitoring at five locations twice a year and the EPA conducts sampling at two locations at Allendale School concurrent to GE sampling. This sampling is to continue until GE decides that sampling is no longer necessary.
PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, ambient air sampling at Allendale has been conducted twice a year since 2010, in July and September.
The notification level for concern is set at 0.500 micrograms per cubic meter. Test results that were conducted in July and September 2019 ranged from 0.0004 to 0.0007. Extremely low levels have been consistent throughout 2020.
Air sampling results around the OPCA are also done twice a year with the notification level set at 0.0500 micrograms per cubic meter. Results in last two years are well below, ranging from non-detection to 0.0044.
In both spring and fall of 2019, the inspection resulted in good overall condition except for findings such as undesirable vegetation at Hill 78 that is sprayed with Roundup herbicide so it doesn't compromise the existing vegetation, the discovery of woodchuck burrow holes, and a detected minor malfunction of a tank half-full alarm.
After these issues were repaired, the May 2020 inspection resulted in the final cover areas showing they are generally in good condition.
Armstrong said the things that are being identified are pretty common, but thinks inspections are occurring frequently enough to be corrected properly after observed.
Members of the committee are always welcome to accompany GE, the EPA, and the Board of Health on inspections of the physical areas to be familiar with how maintenance is going, she said.
Morandi was displeased that representatives from the EPA, DEP, and especially GE couldn't be at the meeting for the presentation. His petition specifically included a request that a representative from EPA or DEP was present to answer questions.
"I find it hard to believe that we couldn't have a rep from one of those organizations through Zoom here to answer questions," he said.
Morandi said he has received several concerns from Allendale School and Allengate area residents about PCBs causing cancer from prolonged exposure. He said that when he first ran for council, there was a letter put out by pediatricians of Pittsfield expressing their concern with Hill 78 being next to a school, but there wasn't any real data linking PCBs to cancer.
He asked Armstrong and her team if there is any data and testing done for teachers, former students, and residents linking that type of exposure to cancer.
Cosio responded that the DPH has done work on it but she would have to look back. She then agreed to provide Armstrong with that data.
"Obviously, there has been work done by the DPH over many many years," Cosio said. "And some reports do include a summary of cancer incidents."
This presentation was tabled until the committee's next meeting and the reports on cancer incidents were requested to be sent before its next meeting.
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