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Cleaning up Housatonic River's West Branch, one shopping cart at a time.

Volunteers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, recently hauled trash out of the West Branch of the Housatonic River. The Housatonic Valley Association and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team invite the public to volunteer at two additional cleanups on July 13 and Aug. 10.

The West Branch of the river is not part of the EPA and General Electric's cleanup of toxic waste. Most of the contamination was found in the East Branch and the main stem of the river. Still, about 18 volunteers pulled out plenty of trash recently, according to Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team — including ten shopping carts.

"We would haul the cart all the way... up the steep river bank, and then have to raise it six feet to throw it over the fence to get it out of the river," she said.

Volunteers also pulled out many nip bottles, along with several cell phones and a drawer from a cash register, which the police took away. They also found hypodermic needles. Leaders of the cleanup collect the needles and delivered them to a hospital for disposal.

The city of Pittsfield's Parks and Recreation Department picks up the rest of the trash.

Winn says cleanups over the past twenty years have made a huge difference for the brook trout, great blue heron, snapping and painted turtles, beaver and muskrat that live in the river.

She noted that children on Pittsfield's West Side are catching crayfish again in the river that runs through their neighborhood.

The cleanups start at 9 a.m. and wrap up three hours later. Lunch is provided for volunteers and funded by Blue Q, a Pittsfield gift company based in the West Side neighborhood.

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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