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The capped areas of Building 71 and Hill 78 lie between Allendale School and the co-generation plant.

Mass DPH to Conduct Cancer Evaluation of PCB Exposure

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state Department of Public Health will be reviewing for selected types cancer related to the problematic Hill 78 and Building 71.
 
Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say the capped-off General Electric landfills are not harmful, yet the last public health study that was conducted on them was in the 2000s.
 
In January, the City Council's Public Health and Safety subcommittee requested that MassDPH provide an updated study on cancer cases in that area.
 
The subcommittee on Thursday received news on the upcoming cancer evaluation from Julie Cosio, Jessica Burkhamer, and Brenda Netreba from the Bureau of Environmental Health at the Mass DPH.
 
They are planning on looking at four of the six cancer types evaluated previously in a 2002 report: breast cancer, liver cancer, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Reportedly, epidemiological literature shows some evidence of association of these cancers with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
 
GE for many years used PCBs in its transformer manufacturing. The chemicals have been banned since 1979 but GE discharged them into the river and environment during its use of them.
 
While there is no evidence of an association between PCB exposure and bladder cancer, they are planning on evaluating bladder cancer in Pittsfield because there were increased rates in the previous evaluation.
 
Two previously evaluated cancer types that will not be included in the study are thyroid cancer and Hodgkin's disease because both are reportedly not associated with PCB exposure.
 
"Since the release of the last evaluation in 2002, the scientific literature has identified some additional cancer types that may be associated. For example, we plan to evaluate melanoma based on new evidence suggesting association and PCB exposure," Burkhamer said.
 
"And there might be other cancer types that we may add upon further review of the literature, we're currently working on that literature now."
 
The areas that will be included in the evaluation include Pittsfield as a whole and each of its 11 census tracts, as well as the communities of Great Barrington, Lenox, Lee, and Stockbridge to be consistent with the 2002 report.
 
Data will be evaluated in five-year increments from 1996 through 2015.
 
The DPH also refers to the Massachusetts cancer registry that is a part of the North American Association of cancer registries that collect data from physicians and hospitals. It is said to be a "very complete data set" that has received a gold standard for the past 10 to 15 years.
 
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi asked the representatives if there have been any specific reports tracking the cancer incident rates of previous faculty and students of Allendale School, which directly abuts the landfills.
 
Burkhamer reported that DPH has previously done work at Allendale School, where it offered to test PCBs in staff at the school and based on that evaluation, found no unusual opportunities for exposure to PCBs.
 
"Because of the way the cancer registry works here, the registry is based on the address of the individual at the time that diagnosed so there's no way for us to know if that individual happens to be a teacher at the school or former student at the school," she added.
 
"This is a screening-level evaluation, we're looking to see if this type of evaluation finds any cause for concern in the cancer patterns, we have a stepwise approach where we do increasingly detailed evaluations so if we did find something that was very concerning, there would be the possibility of additional work."
 
Cosio added that when the DPH did a study with Allendale School in 2007, it included an environmental sampling of dust and carpet to look for measuring levels of PCBs and found nothing unusual on the environmental side.
 
The length and time of the evaluation will reportedly depend on the department’s current project load and the scope of the evaluation. It will roughly take a few months for the evaluation and then the findings will need to be evaluated with senior-level staff.
 
Morandi said he was thankful for the DPH’s participation in the concerns raised by Ward 2 residents who live in close proximity to the pollutants.
 
"I wanted to thank you for being here tonight," he said. "I really appreciate this, it's such a real important subject, that's for sure, especially being in my ward I certainly had to try to monitor it as best I could with my constituents and what I've learned from them."

Tags: cancer,   PCBs,   

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Schedule and Policy Changes at the Berkshire Museum

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Special hours will be in effect next week as the Berkshire Museum prepares for the Aug. 6 grand reopening of its fully-renovated second floor. 
 
The museum will close early at 4 pm on Sunday, Aug. 1, and will remain closed to the public Monday through Thursday, Aug. 2 through 5. The Berkshire Museum reopens Friday, Aug. 6, with an all-new second floor complete with five new exhibitions.
 
Beginning with Member Preview Days on Aug. 2, all Berkshire Museum visitors ages two and older will once again be required to wear protective face coverings throughout their visit and will not be permitted inside the building without a mask or other suitable face covering. 
 
Since statewide masking policies were lifted in late May, the Berkshire Museum has strongly encouraged visitors to carry on wearing face coverings to protect its many young visitors under the age of twelve who cannot yet be vaccinated. This week's switch to mandatory masking comes in response to recent CDC guidance and changing COVID-19 conditions in the region.
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