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As GE splits, PCB cleanup deal for Housatonic River still 'binding'

A section of the William Stanley Business Park, part of the former General Electric property, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPM
A section of the William Stanley Business Park, part of the former General Electric property, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. 

General Electric announced Tuesday it's reorganizing into three companies, two of which it plans to spin off. GE isn't saying yet which of its new companies will keep its commitment to clean up the Housatonic River.

About 20 years ago, GE signed a court-ordered agreement to remove PCBs from the river, and from the site of its now-closed factory in Pittsfield, which left behind the toxic waste.

Since then, the company and the EPA have removed PCBs from the first two miles of the river south of the plant. Last year GE agreed to a settlement to clean up more of the river downstream. The plan was challenged by some environmental groups, and a decision by an EPA appeals board is pending.

With the reorganization, the EPA said the original agreement is "binding upon corporate successors."

GE is forming three new companies, separately focused on health care, energy and aviation. The former conglomerate plans to spin off the health care and energy companies in a few years, while retaining the aviation division.

GE said it "remains fully committed to conducting a comprehensive cleanup," though it's not yet saying which of the three companies will be assigned the liability.

According to the company, the pension plan for retired workers is secure.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations. Earlier in her career she was the Midwest editor for NPR in Washington, D.C. Before working in radio, she recorded sound as part of a camera crew for network television news, with assignments in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba and in Sarajevo during the war in 1992.
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