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Oral Arguments On Housatonic River Cleanup To Focus On Proposed PCB Dump In Lee, Mass.

A section of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where PCBs sediment was excavated and removed, in a file photo.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A section of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where PCBs sediment was excavated and removed, in a file photo.

The decades-long battle to remove PCBs from the Housatonic River continues later this week, when the EPA's appeals board hears oral arguments against the agency's cleanup plan. 

Arguments will be presented virtually on September 2 (PDF).

The big fight is over a planned toxic waste disposal site in Lee, Massachusetts. Two environmental groups are arguing the EPA itself previously said disposing PCBs locally would be "less protective" (PDF) than shipping the waste out of state.

But the agency says it plans to design a site that would "meet or exceed" federal requirements for PCB landfills (PDF), and would contain waste that has such low levels of PCBs it would be safe to put it in a municipal landfill. Waste with higher concentrations would be shipped off-site.

The Housatonic River Initiative and the Housatonic Environmental Action League are also appealing the amount of PCBs that would be removed under the permit, saying not enough would be excavated, and that no PCBs will be cleaned up from the river in Connecticut.

The environmental groups also want alternative technologies to be researched and used to treat PCBs in place, rather than excavate sediments.

General Electric used PCBs from the 1930s until the 1970s at its now-closed Pittsfield plant, which released them into the river. PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen. They can also cause adverse health effects in the endocrine, reproductive, immune and nervous systems.

Still, PCBs remain on the Housatonic's river bottom, where they're ingested by insects, which are consumed by fish. Signs along the river advise people not to eat the fish.

The cleanup of the first two miles south of the GE plant in Pittsfield, which was completed in 2006, utilized PCB dumps in Pittsfield and primarily out-of-state disposal facilities (PDF).

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently announced it will do a cancer study in Pittsfield, something it last did in 2002.

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