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A gate leading to the former GE site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.NEPM's Nancy Cohen explores the economic and environmental legacy General Electric left behind in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where only a small staff for the company remains.

Residents, Advocates Push For Vote On PCB Dump In Berkshires

Some Berkshire County residents say they should have more of a say in whether PCBs will be buried in a disposal site in the region. 

A now-closed General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, released the toxin — which can cause cancer — into the Housatonic River.

The selectboards of municipalities on the river — along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and GE — approved a plan to ship sediment with the highest concentrations of PCBs out of state, and put lower concentrations in a new disposal site in Lee.

Andrea Wadsworth filed a petition to give Lee's Town Meeting the chance to vote on the agreement in May.

"The passion, the concern, the stories people had about cancer and the effect on their children and economic development — all of those things should have been vetted before a signature was put on a piece of paper," Wadsworth said.

The town lawyer for Lee did not return calls on whether a town meeting vote could alter the selectboard's approval of the agreement. 

The EPA said there are safeguards in place to make sure what's put in the Lee dump is not highly toxic.

Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative said Berkshire County residents should have the chance to discuss and weigh in on the disposal site.

"We vote on sandwich signs. We vote on pot shops," Gray said. "This is a toxic dump. And there's been no vote, which is pretty astounding."

The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee — which had representatives from Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield — voted for the plan as part of  mediated agreement. As part of the settlement, GE is giving $63 million to Pittsfield and the five towns.

The EPA plans to ask for public comments this summer. The agency could alter the cleanup deal based on those comments.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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