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Remembering Thelma Barzottini, who fought to clean up PCBs in Pittsfield with a smile

Thelma Barzottini fought to clean up toxic PCBs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in the Housatonic River.
Lynn Lavelle
/
Courtesy
Thelma Barzottini fought to clean up toxic PCBs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in the Housatonic River.

People at a meeting this week on the Housatonic River cleanup paused to remember Pittsfield, Massachusetts, resident Thelma Barzottini, who died at 91 in February.

Members of the Citizens Coordinating Council said she was a sweet person, and was determined when it came to PCB removal.

In a meeting where division between river advocates and government regulators was evident, remembering Barzottini brought people together.

They described her as passionate, kind, well-dressed and a hoot.

Activist Tim Gray said she was one of the first to join the PCB cleanup fight nearly 30 years ago.

EPA attorney Tim Conway said he couldn't escape her push for answers.

"She'd ask a question, and I'd think, oh I thought I'd get through the night without that question being asked," Conway said. "And then the next thing — she'd ask me about my family. I will miss her."

Her passing is a reminder of how long the community has been fighting for a cleanup — so long that both sides have gotten to know and sometimes appreciate each other.

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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