EPA: General Electric Must Revise River Clean Up Plan

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 3:18 PM PDT
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EPA: General Electric Must Revise River Clean Up Plan

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, September 10, 2008 (ENS) - General Electric's cleanup proposal for PCB contamination of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield, Massachusetts raises more than 150 concerns, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The river sediment is polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, south of the GE property where the company formerly manufactured electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

In comments sent to GE in a letter Tuesday, the federal agency details issues that are inadequately addressed in the company's Corrective Measures Study, especially regarding impacts on the river ecosystem during cleanup work, and impacts on aesthetic enjoyment of the area by local residents.

GE must now address the concerns raised by the agency and submit additional detailed information within 90 days. Following review of the revised GE proposal, the EPA will propose its own preferred clean up alternative for a final cleanup remedy.

"Cleaning up the portions of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield is one of the most significant environmental challenges for this generation of New Englanders," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office.

"It will be complicated and challenging for us to both remove elevated levels of PCBs from the river, while also protecting the valuable aesthetic and recreational values of this beautiful rural waterway," he said. "We can all agree that we need to do this work, and get it right."

During the review of the 700-plus page Corrective Measures Study, EPA received hundreds of comments from area residents and involved parties, including several state government agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Varney said the public comments "reflected EPA concerns that the CMS as submitted did not adequately address impacts to the river ecosystem, to sensitive species, and to aesthetic, recreational and quality-of-life values of the river for area residents."

He said the EPA also is concerned that the GE study does not provide adequate detail on potential placement of a landfill for consolidation of, or facilities for treatment of, the contaminated sediment that will be removed from the river.

Nor did GE adequately evaluate the use of rail transportation for off-site disposal alternatives, Varney said.

The Corrective Measures Study covers an area of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield, Massachusetts from the confluence of the east and west branches of the river to the Derby dam in Connecticut.

Varney says the EPA's primary concern is to ensure that GE's cleanup work on the Housatonic River will be "fully protective" of public health and the health of the surrounding river ecosystem in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

To accomplish this goal, Varney says the the final cleanup plan should include a phased and adaptive approach that allows the flexibility to accommodate new knowledge and advances in technology over time.

New cleanup technologies that are not yet proven to be effective may in the future become viable alternatives to ensure a clean river, while being potentially less disruptive to the river and ecosystem than current technologies, he said.

As cleanup work on the Housatonic moves from an urban, channelized river in Pittsfield to a more natural, meandering and rural environment downstream, the EPA believes it is critical that the remedy avoid or minimize negative impacts on sensitive plant and animal species and sensitive areas and restore the river and floodplain to its current character to the greatest extent possible.

EPA will continue with its outreach program throughout the lifespan of the project to ensure that the public continues to be actively involved as the clean up progresses, and as new developments occur in science or technology.

"We are very fortunate to have such a high level of interest among communities up and down the river, and EPA intends to continue to seek their involvement at each stage as we go forward," said Varney.

The public is invited to attend the next meeting of the Citizens Coordinating Council for the GE Pittsfield / Housatonic River Project, which will meet on Wednesday, September 17, from 5:30 - 8:00 p.m. at the Lee Middle and High School Cafeteria.

GE says the company is working cooperatively with the EPA, and the Connecticut and Massachusetts governments to clean up the Housatonic River under a comprehensive settlement agreement reached in 2000.

Since 1990, GE says it has spent more than $495 million on this project, including more than $426 million on its environmental investigation and cleanup at its former transformer plant and nearby areas.

GE completed work on the first half-mile of remediation of PCBs from the Housatonic River in Pittsfield. GE is also undertaking a cleanup of the former plant area.

They company says in a statement on its website that it will transfer 52 acres of land to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority for redevelopment in a large brownfields project.

In 2006, the EPA completed the next 1.5 miles of river cleanup, a project funded through a GE-EPA cost-sharing arrangement. In total, approximately 91,700 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and riverbank material was removed and disposed of.

After testing in 2007, the EPA reports that PCB concentrations in sediment and also in aquatic invertebrates were reduced from the pre-remediation concentrations by approximately 99 percent, indicating that the initial remediation was successful.

Fish sampling indicated the presence of a diverse and abundant post-remediation fish population, with greater fish presence near stone structures provided as part of habitat restoration in the river channel.

For a summary of the EPA's 150-plus concerns with the GE Corrective Measures Study, click here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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