Boston — A status update issued Wednesday (May 25) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the General Electric’s Company’s cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the Housatonic River appears to have been distributed to clear up “incorrect” information in a “recent [newspaper] article.”
In a prepared statement EPA Public Affairs Specialist Kelsey O’Neil wrote that the article “mistakenly stated that GE was originally asked to remove almost three times the amount of soil it is responsible for today, but that EPA had compromised with GE to allow for a speedier cleanup.”
That wasn’t all that needed clearing up, O’Neil noted: “GE’s Corrective Measures Study evaluated alternatives for addressing the sediments and floodplains. That set of alternatives did include one alternative (out of eight, including a no action alternative) with three times the volume of material than proposed…EPA never asked/directed or indicated this was EPA’s preferred remedy in any document…”
A court-ordered Consent Decree is forcing GE to clean up the “Rest of River” from south of the company’s former electric transformer plant in Pittsfield to the Connecticut border. PCB-laced industrial waste was for decades discharged into the river from the plant and still continues to seep into it, polluting its sediment.
While some earlier EPA documents say PCBs are “probably human carcinogens,” the EPA now says “PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a wide variety of adverse health effects, including cancer. PCBs also cause serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other organs. Studies in humans provide supportive evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs.”
In September 2015 the EPA issued its intended final cleanup decision, and GE entered dispute resolution in which it argued with the EPA over several of its decisions, including shipping the PCB sludge out of state to a facility that can handle it. Instead, GE is considering dumping the waste into three proposed Berkshire county sites.
Nothing appears to have changed with this reminder from O’Neil. Both the EPA and GE’s positions are “currently under review by an EPA decision maker,” she wrote. Beyond that, she added, “the next formal step in the Consent Decree is for EPA to issue a final cleanup decision.”
O’Neil wanted to further “correct any confusion regarding EPA’s position on disposal of PCBs,” something Berkshire County residents are keeping a close eye on.
“To reiterate,” she wrote, “the EPA’s recommendation for disposal of excavated material is for off-site disposal at an existing licensed facility. EPA’s recommendation has been consistent in all its proposals.” There are no such licensed disposal facilities in Massachusetts.
The EPA has proposed a “combination of different types of remediation, including specifically: excavation and backfill of an estimated 990,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated material;
Containment/capping of remaining PCBs; Monitored Natural Recovery where appropriate; use of a sediment amendment, such as activated carbon, to reduce mobility of PCBs.”
EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Jim Murphy told the Edge that O’Neil’s dispatch was “just a status update.”
For further information, check the EPA website at https://www.epa.gov/ge-housatonic