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Public Can Weigh In On Toxic Waste Cleanup Plan In The Berkshires Until Mid-September

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is inviting the public to comment on its revised plan to cleanup PCBs from the Housatonic River. The plan calls for a toxic waste disposal site in Lee, Massachusetts.

The PCBs, which the EPA calls a "probable carcinogen," were used at a now-closed General Electric plant in Pittsfield.

The EPA's plan focuses on the final phase of the cleanup in the Housatonic River, its banks and floodplains, from Pittsfield south to Great Barrington.

The cleanup of the first half mile south of the GE plant was finished in 2002. The next mile-and-a-half was completed in 2007.

The agency said the cleanup "is expected to reduce" what it calls "unacceptable human health risks."

Jane Winn, of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team supported an agreement mediated with GE that includes the disposal site in Lee.

Speaking to New England Public Media's "Connecting Point," Winn said her group was motivated by precedent: an agreement from 20 years ago that led to two PCB dumps in Pittsfield, one of which has waste with high levels of the toxin.

"One of our major concerns was we did not want a high-level toxic waste dump in the Berkshires," Winn said. "And with this settlement, we have one low-level dump that we have agreed to that will be treated as if it was high-level, but it will in fact be all below 50 parts per million of PCBs.

Winn said that because the agreement included a disposal site near the river, GE agreed to clean up more PCBs.

But Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative said not enough PCBs will be removed. And his group does not support another PCB dump in the Berkshires.

"The dump is directly uphill from the river that we're going to be cleaning up. So we think this is not only a terrible place for the dump, but it's affecting neighbors," Gray said. "And the realtors are telling us they're losing sales in our part of town."

The EPA is holding virtual meetings inviting the public to weigh in on its cleanup plan — two on August 26 and one September 15. The agency is accepting written comments until September 18.

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