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EPA Invites Public To Weigh In On Proposed Changes To Housatonic River Cleanup

A fish advisory next to a path leading to a fishing spot on the Housatonic River, in a file photo.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A fish advisory next to a path to a fishing spot on the Housatonic River, in a file photo.

The EPA is proposing changes to its toxic waste cleanup plan for the Housatonic River, and is asking the public to submit comments starting Tuesday. The public comment period ends August 28.

The proposed revisions are based on a 2018 decision by the agency's Environmental Appeals Board and an agreement signed in February by General Electric, the EPA, cities and towns along the river, the state of Connecticut and some environmental groups.

The biggest proposed change is instead of shipping all of the toxic waste out of state, soil and sediment with lower concentrations of PCBs would be put in a disposal site in Lee, Massachusetts.

Based on prior sampling, the EPA estimates the PCB concentrations in the Lee disposal site, under the revised cleanup plan, would be 20 to 25 parts per million on average. But the Lee site could take waste that averages up to 50 parts per million. Waste with higher concentrations would be shipped to a regulated facility out of state.

The EPA estimates 1.1 million cubic yards of soil and sediment containing PCBs will be excavated from the river and its flood plains in Pittsfield downstream to Great Barrington.

The Housatonic River Initiative wants more PCBs removed from the river and does not support a toxic waste dump in the Berkshires.

The EPA is holding a virtual public meeting on the proposed revisions on August 26, 2020, and expects to finalize the cleanup plan before the end of this year.

GE is responsible for performing the cleanup and paying for it.  

Excavation in the river is expected to start in 2023.

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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