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EPA Seeks Public Comment: Releases Ecological Risk Assessment for GE Pittsfield / Housatonic River Site

Release Date: 07/11/2003
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Community Involvement Office, 617-918-1064

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be holding public information meetings on Wednesday, July 16, in Kent, CT and Thursday, July 17, in Lenox, MA to present and discuss a recently-completed ecological risk assessment for a major section of the Housatonic River in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The assessment is also being released for public comment and peer review.

The public information meetings will be held on Wednesday, July 16th at 6:30 p.m. at the Kent Town Hall in Kent, CT and on Thursday, July 17th at 6:30 p.m. at the Lenox Town Hall in Lenox, MA.

The area evaluated in the assessment, known as the "Rest of River," includes the Housatonic River and floodplain alongside the river from the confluence of the river's East and West branches in Pittsfield downstream to Long Island Sound. The assessment is one in a series of reports being prepared by EPA as part of the Consent Decree negotiated three years ago between EPA, General Electric and other government agencies.

The 30-day public comment period will run from July 14 through August 13. Consistent with EPA's goal to involve interested parties, and as part of the agreement between EPA and GE, the risk assessment will also be reviewed by a panel of independent experts in a formal peer review. During the comment period, the public is encouraged to:

    • Submit comments on the ecological risk assessment for consideration by the peer review panel.
    • Submit nominations for people to be considered to serve on the peer review panel.
EPA performed the Ecological Risk Assessment to find out what the possibility is that contaminants in the environment will cause harm, now or in the future, to animals that come into contact with them and to characterize the risks to animals that come into contact with PCBs and other contaminants while eating contaminated insects or fish, or nesting and feeding in or near the Housatonic River or floodplain. The Ecological Risk Assessment evaluated the survival, growth, and reproductive success of the following species:
    • Benthic invertebrates (bottom-dwelling aquatic organisms)
    • Amphibians (leopard frogs and wood frogs)
    • Fish
    • Insect-eating birds (tree swallows and American robins)
    • Fish-eating (piscivorous) birds (belted kingfisher and osprey)
    • Fish-eating mammals (mink and river otter)
    • Carnivorous and omnivorous mammals (northern short-tailed shrews and red fox)
    • Endangered species (American bittern, bald eagle, and small-footed myotis bat)
The assessment used field surveys, toxicity tests, and comparisons to information from other sites to make conclusions about risks to these animals in the Housatonic River and floodplains.

The major conclusions of the Ecological Risk Assessment are:

    • Benthic invertebrates, amphibians, and fish-eating mammals are at a high risk for survival, growth, and/or reproductive success.
    • Some fish-eating birds, omnivorous and carnivorous mammals, and some threatened and endangered bird and mammal species are somewhat at risk for survival, growth, and/or reproductive success, while others are not.
    • While individual fish are also considered to be somewhat at risk for survival, growth, and/or reproductive success, the fish community appears to be unaffected.
    • Insect-eating birds do not appear to be at risk for survival, growth, and/or reproductive success.
The release of the report starts the 30-day public comment period, during which individuals, organizations, and other interested parties are encouraged to comment on the ecological risk assessment and / or submit nominations for individuals to be considered to serve on the peer review panel. Comments or peer review panel nominations can be sent to:

Alison Wolfe, Marasco Newton Group
2801 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22201
Or by email to:
GEPittsfield@sra.com

Copies of the full report will become available for review at the following locations on July 14th:

    • Berkshire Athenaeum Public Library Reference Department, Pittsfield, MA
    • Simon's Rock College of Bard Library, Great Barrington, MA
    • Cornwall Public Library, Cornwall, CT
    • Kent Memorial Library (Kent Library Association), Kent, CT
    • Housatonic Valley Association, Cornwall Bridge, CT
    • EPA Records Center, One Congress Street, Suite 1100, Boston, MA
Additional information on the ecological risk assessment, and the peer review charge, which provides guidance to the peer review panel for their review of the document, can be found on EPA's web site at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/ge