KENT, Conn. – General Electric’s proposed cleanup of the Housatonic River would leave fish inedible in many stretches of the river, unsafe for human consumption because of high PCB levels. GE presented its cleanup proposal at a public meeting in the Town Hall here last night. Its plan covers the river south of where the east and west branches meet, just below the Fred Garner River Park on Pomeroy Avenue in Pittsfield. The company will hold another public session at 5:30 p.m. today at the Lee Middle and High School.
Addressing an audience of about 40 people, GE representatives said its plan would strike a balance among removing PCBs from the ecosystem, protecting the environment from an invasive cleanup, and keeping costs low. But its predictions made clear that the enough PCBs would be left behind to present a health risk to some animals and to anyone who ate a steady diet of fish from some parts of the Housatonic.
Under the terms of a settlement that was finalized in 2000, GE must bear most of the cost for coping with the PCB pollution from its Pittsfield plant. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are suspected of causing cancer and have been tied to other health
affects in humans, while studies have shown the chemical has a devastating impact on wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the right to revise and change GE’s proposal. The agency is expected to propose changes by the summer and to issue its cleanup order by the winter. GE will have the right to challenge that decision in federal court.
In making its proposal, GE had eight cleanup scenarios to choose from, ranging from doing nothing to dredging long stretches of the river. Each was run through a computer simulation capable of predicting how the river would respond over the next half century.
Cleanup observers had long predicted that doing nothing would not be enough to satisfy the EPA, essentially taking two options off of GE’s table. Of the six alternatives remaining for the river sediment, GE has proposed the cheapest, with an estimated cost of $154 million.
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