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EPA AND MASS. DEP ISSUE ORDER TO GE TO CLEAN UP A PORTION OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER; GE AGREES TO REMOVE POLLUTED SEDIMENTS

Release Date: 12/18/1996
Contact Information: Johanna Hunter, EPA Community Involvement, (617) 918-1041 John Rodman, Massachusetts DEP, (617) 727-9800 x217

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today ordered the General Electric Company (GE) to remove more than 3,000 tons of contaminated soils and sediments containing several tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from a 550-foot stretch of the Housatonic River. In a letter to the agencies, GE agreed to do the work.

"This is an important step in a long journey toward restoring the Housatonic River to a clean and safe resource. We are pleased that GE is finally accepting its corporate responsibility to remove this historic contamination from the Housatonic River and thereby eliminate a serious public health and environmental threat to the citizens of the Berkshires," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "We will continue to keep the pressure on GE to ensure that they clean up the river to EPA and the public's satisfaction." DeVillars praised the close working relationship between his staff and the Massachusetts DEP on this site, calling it "the key to this and future successes."

"At long last we're seeing real progress in the clean up of the Housatonic River," said Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Undersecretary Leo Pierre Roy. "In excellent cooperation with the EPA, we're taking action to restore this magnificent resource to the people of the Berkshires." Governor William F. Weld had directed his top environmental officials to make clean up of the GE site and the Housatonic River one of their top priorities.

The EPA is today issuing a unilateral order under Section 106 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the "Superfund". The order carries substantial penalties for noncompliance. DEP's order is under an existing Consent Agreement signed with GE. The scope of work from the two agencies requires the removal of contaminated river sediments from the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, and soils from the river bank next to Building 68, in which PCBs were formerly mixed and stored. GE had proposed to only cover up the contamination, a plan the agencies rejected. High levels of PCBs were discovered this summer due to new testing required of GE by the EPA and DEP. More than 100,000 parts per million (ppm) PCBs were detected; the highest level previously found in the river was less than 1,000 ppm. Work must begin as soon as the weather allows, and be completed by October of 1997.

PCBs, a group of organic chemicals, had been used since 1926 in electric transformers as insulation and coolants, in lubricants, carbonless paper, adhesives and caulking compounds. PCBs are extremely persistent in the environment because they do not break down to new and less harmful chemicals. If ingested by humans or animals, PCBs can be stored in fatty tissues. The EPA banned most uses of PCBs in 1977.