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EPA appeals board rejects attempt to block Berkshire County PCB disposal site

A stretch of the Housatonic River.
Nancy Eve Cohen

Environmental activists are promising to continue the fight against a PCB dump near the Housatonic River. That's after an Environmental Protection Agency appeals board, in a decision released Tuesday, denied a challenge to the plan.

The dump, which would contain low levels of PCB sediment, is part of the next phase of cleaning up the river and would be located in Lee, Massachusetts. The Housatonic was polluted with PCBs by General Electric decades ago when it operated a factory in Pittsfield.

In 2020, the EPA, GE, local communities and others reached a settlement on a plan to move forward with the project.

Two groups appealed the permit issued by the EPA for the project, arguing the federal agency made a mistake by allowing the dump locally. The case was heard in September by two EPA judges.

At the conclusion of its 125-page decision, the panel plainly stated, “we reject the Citizen Groups’ contention that the Region clearly erred in choosing to allow disposal of the less-contaminated PCB wastes from the Rest of the River site at the Woods Pond Landfill.”

This decision did not come as a surprise to Tim Gray, who executive director with the Housatonic River Initiative, one of the groups challenging the EPA.

"They make us go into this Environmental Appeals Board court, which the judges are EPA employees, and we're suing EPA right now to try to make them to stop putting a dump on our community,” Gray said. "Do you expect EPA judges to rule in favor of what we're doing? Of course not."

Gray said the group's lawyers are already working on the next appeal.

"They have said right from the beginning that [EPA's appeals board] will probably reject us, and our real chance to possibly be heard by [an] independent judge would be in the 1st Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Boston."

In a statement, a spokesperson for General Electric said the company "is encouraged" by the appeals board's decision.

"We continue to work collaboratively with EPA to complete the necessary preparations so that the Housatonic Rest of River cleanup can proceed as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

The second phase of cleaning up the river has been delayed by years of negotiation, litigation and appeals. The cleanup of the first two miles south of the GE plant, which was completed in 2006, utilized PCB dumps in Pittsfield and primarily out-of-state disposal facilities.

PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen. They can also cause adverse health effects in the endocrine, reproductive, immune and nervous systems.

Sam Hudzik and Nancy Cohen contributed.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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