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In Hundreds Of Public Comments, Berkshire Residents Push Back Against PCB Disposal Site

A lawn sign in Lee, Massachusetts, designed by Reed Anderson of Great Barrington, calls for no local dumps for PCB waste from General Electric.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A lawn sign in Lee, Massachusetts, designed by Reed Anderson of Great Barrington, calls for no local dumps for PCB waste from General Electric.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has posted 585 pages ofpublic comments on a proposed plan to clean up toxic waste from the Housatonic River and dispose some it in Lee, Massachusetts.

The proposed disposal site would contain sediment with lower levels of PCBs, but the EPA has said it would be engineered to handle waste with the highest concentrations.

The public comments were made over two months from July to September in public hearings, via voicemail or email. Some were several pages long; others were a sentence or two. A few were handwritten.

Commenters included relative newcomers to the Berkshires, while others have lived in the county for decades.

Some who wrote against the disposal site pointed out their fathers had worked at General Electric, and the pride they had taken in their work.

Many of the people said they do not want a PCB disposal site in the Berkshires, including Reed Anderson, an artist from Great Barrington who has designed lawn signs against PCB dumps.

In his comment, Anderson asked the EPA to look at photographs of his family, which he had submitted previously.

"Really, go back to the folder and look at them. The decisions being made now affect not just those four faces, one of whom is writing to you now, but a beautiful community of thousands of faces, connected to thousands more people, all with hopes and dreams of their own." Anderson wrote. "In many ways, we are a community in your hands, asking for your protection."

Anderson and other residents said they are worried the toxin could endanger the watershed and asked for all contaminated sediment to be shipped to a federally regulated facility out of state — which is what the EPA had proposed previously.

Some commenters wrote that they are concerned PCBs could leak into the water supply, or would decrease property values or tourism.

Several asked the agency not to excavate the river, but to develop ways to treat and destroy PCBs in place, potentially rendering them harmless, so a disposal site would not be needed.

One person told the agency to leave the PCBs in the river and fine General Electric.

Deidre Consolati, a town representative in Lee who lives near the river, wrote about telling her young son years ago that "it was a bad thing to fish there" and "how frogs and creatures he loved had died."

"I believe I have done my part to accommodate my family's life to this terrible reality of GE's destruction," Consolati wrote. "No one, and ESPECIALLY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE TOWN OF LEE, should ask for more of me or any Lee neighbor."

Ben Barrett from Great Barrington likened leaving the PCBs in Lee to not cleaning up after one's dog.

"I am responsible for cleaning it up, not someone else who had nothing to do with it," he wrote. "The neighbor ought not to be saddled with the results of my negligence."

Holly Baccoli from Lee sent a handwritten note.

"I live about a mile from this dump site and I am disgusted and downright pissed off about this shadey [sic] deal," Baccoli wrote. "Not one of you would want this in your backyard."

The agency said it expects to respond to comments and issue its final cleanup permit for the Housatonic River later this fall.

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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