Friday, March 25, 2005

Topic: PCB's and other chemical pollution.

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Blogger jonathan said...

Cleanup plan for PCB site backed

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Berkshire Eagle

Saturday, September 17

PITTSFIELD — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan to investigate a site where barrels of PCB-laced oil were found, but is being met with criticism from environmentalists and concern from local elected officials.
The EPA has approved General Electric's plan to use metal detectors to investigate a site on Newell Street where 250 barrels have been found, 21 of which were still intact and contained oil that was as much as 78 percent PCBs, a chemical suspected of causing cancer and developmental disabilities in people.

Detectors, test pits

According to the plan, the land underneath power lines owned by Western Massachusetts Electric Co., along with some parcels between those power lines and Sackett Street, will be probed with the detectors. GE will dig some test pits and will excavate any barrels or transformers found during the search.

An adjacent parking lot that is known to be heavily contaminated — GE has pumped more than 36,000 gallons of PCB oil out of the ground since 1999, the EPA said — will not be investigated. The blacktop parking lot is slated for capping, with a synthetic material that is used to cover landfills going over its top, to be followed by clean soil and then grass.

The capping plan is set forth in a cleanup settlement among the EPA, GE, the city of Pittsfield and several additional state and federal agencies. It has drawn heavy fire from environmental advocates, who say it will leave toxic contamination in property that sits in the middle of a densely populated residential neighborhood and right next to a stretch of the Housatonic River that has already undergone a multimillion-dollar cleanup.

The discovery of such high concentrations of PCBs and of other toxins at the site has brought a firestorm of criticism from groups like the Housatonic River Initiative. That group's executive director, Tim Gray, said that "with every new bit of information released by the EPA, the situation continues to get worse and worse."

"We think this site is much larger than just the holes that they are digging right now, and that it probably extends up and down Newell Street. ... There could be huge amounts of barrels and maybe even capacitors and transformers under the ground," Gray said.

The Connecticut-based Housatonic Environmental Action League has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the findings at Newell Street and the plan to investigate further. The EPA had not responded to that request as of yesterday afternoon.

GE spokesman Peter O'Toole said the company will do additional investigation as negotiated with the EPA. He said the discovery of the barrels had been imagined in the settlement agreement and should not change the planned cleanup.

Council invites EPA

Earlier this week, the Pittsfield City Council voted unanimously to ask the EPA to appear before it and discuss the Newell Street situation. It was the first time in recent memory that the council took any action related to the massive cleanup of the Housatonic River, parts of the city and GE's 250-acre plant.

Ward 3 Councilor Linda Tyer, whose constituency includes Newell Street, sponsored the request. She said she wants to hear "from the horse's mouth what their analysis of that site is. What their discussions with GE have been. ... And I want to send a message to them that it is our expectation that the EPA and the (state) Department of Environmental Protection represent the community. They are an agency of the government and they need to work on our behalf."

The federal government banned PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in 1977.

The investigation into the pollution in Pittsfield and the river is decades old, and seems to have lost the interest of many residents who live on Newell Street and in other contaminated areas.

Tyer said she has received no phone calls of concern or inquiries from constituents about the pollution. Asked why that might be, she said, "They don't have any expectations. They feel like this is another in a long list of PCB problems, and it doesn't matter what they say or do. GE is just going to do what they want; they will negotiate with the EPA and get what they want. I think there is a lot of mistrust."

Saturday, September 17, 2005 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Sept. 24, 2005

Dear Honorable Mayor Jim Ruberto:

I ask that you please address the issues put forth in the following letter to the Editor of the Berkshire Eagle today. I believe that my mother, among many other cancer victims and survivors, had cancer over 15 years ago due to her being born and raised in Pittsfield and being exposed to the PCBs dumped by the General Electric Company and other polluters. My mom is a cancer survivor, but I have witnessed many other Pittsfield residents die of cancer. PCBs cause cancer. People who lived or still live in Pittsfield will suffer from cancer due to the PCB toxins in Pittsfield. Please respond and do something now to address these issues.

My best regards,

Jonathan A. Melle

Web link: http://berkshireeagle.com/letters/ci_3058003

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

A cleanup for Toxic Town

Letters

Saturday, September 24, 2005

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:-

I must take issue with The Eagle's Sept. 20 editorial comment that the danger posed by undiscovered barrels of toxic waste still left in the ground along Newell Street is "just speculation." This comment trivializes the dangers of PCB pollution, and puts a Band-Aid on a gaping wound that needs surgical repair.

The danger posed by continuing, unmediated PCB pollution is not speculation. Former GE workers and elderly Newell Street residents have reported that barrels were dumped in the filled-in oxbows along Newell Street for years before PCBs were outlawed. The public health will remain at risk, and the river will be recontaminated unless the EPA orders a massive and comprehensive cleanup. This should include an exhaustive effort to excavate all remaining debris fields, including soils contaminated by leakage, at any depth, where barrels, transformers or capacitors are found.

Does The Eagle really think that a few test pits and metal detector checks will take care of the problem? If so, the poison will remain in the ground to threaten future generations, and Pittsfield will be known as the town that fouled its nest and did a partial cleanup on the cheap. If the EPA approves anything less than an exhaustive and comprehensive cleanup, it's abdicating its responsibility to protect the public health.

It's ironic that the next day's Eagle contained a pamphlet full of ideas from the public about revitalizing Pittsfield. Although one contributor mentioned the need to dredge Silver Lake before making a park around it, everyone else seemed to think it'll just take a few good ideas to turn the corner to a brighter future.

Pittsfield will be known as Toxic Town until GE and the regulators decide to do the right thing: a massive and thorough cleanup. Then we'll be known as the Town that Reclaimed its Future. Otherwise, you can forget about economic rebirth; it's a house of cards built on poisoned ground.

ANDY GORDON

Lenox, Sept. 21, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005 2:29:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

October 3, 2005

Dear Berkshire Bloggers:

I DISSENT against The Berkshire Eagle’s ignorant and partial editorial, “Realism about PCBs” (Saturday, October 1). My own mother (a cancer survivor since 1990), among many other former and current Pittsfield residents, acquired CANCER because of the very high concentrations of PCB toxins left behind predominantly by the General Electric Company (GE) and other polluting companies. I grew up in Pittsfield and lived in the area for over 28-years, and I saw countless number of people either die from cancer caused by the high concentrations of PCB toxins or survive after expensive and painful treatments borne by the cancer victims. The Berkshire Eagle is unconscionable to write that citizens should be contented by the late 1990’s consent degree signed by a then-alcoholic Mayor that drove the city into the ground and concomitantly very high taxes, a wealthy, greedy and polluting corporation that abandoned the city with everything but rotting buildings and PCB toxins, and corrupt government bureaucrats that later took private sector plum jobs. The Berkshire Eagle is a third-rate, corporate-owned newspaper without a conscience!

Sincerely,

Jonathan A. Melle

PLEASE, please, please…PUBLISH this LETTER!

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
Realism about PCBs
Editorial
Saturday, October 01, 2005

The discovery in August of hundreds of 55-gallon drums suspected of containing PCBs near the intersection of Sackett and Newell streets concerned Pittsfield residents, as well it should. The hearing last week before the City Council in which representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection served its purpose in providing up-to-date information on the discovery and cleanup to the council and residents. Information is the best antidote to the hysteria that has too often marred the PCB debate.

While disturbing, the discovery of the toxic barrels was not surprising, as residents of the neighborhood have said for years that General Electric regularly dumped PCB waste in the neighborhood. GE has agreed to investigate the site with metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar and if it finds more barrels it will dig them up and dispose of them. The discovery of more barrels should not shock anyone. Eventually much of the site and a nearby parking lot will be covered with clean soil and capped with a rubber-like material.

Councilors, most notably Ward 3's Linda Tyer, who proposed the meeting after the discovery of the barrels within her ward, asked good questions, though they seemed vaguely disappointed with the inability of Dean Tagliaferro, the EPA's project manager for the Pittsfield cleanup, to give them the guarantees of success they sought. Mr. Tagliaferro asked at one point for "realism," and a healthy dose of realism is required when dealing with any aspect of the PCB issue in Pittsfield.

The landmark PCB cleanup agreement did not include promises that every speck of pollution would be removed from the city and Housatonic River. That would be unrealistic. After about six years of an aggressive cleanup, however, Pittsfield is cleaner than it has been in decades and so are the upper reaches of the Housatonic River. This does not mean that the city and river are spotless, nor does it mean that some PCBs will not leach back into the river. As Mr. Tagliaferro pointed out, however, there are safeguards in place to prevent the river from being re-contaminated.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, John Cronin, the river keeper of the Hudson River for 17 years, said industry can no longer be "permanent adversaries" on pollution issues and warring parties must instead work together for a solution. Unhappily, that realization is coming late in New York state, where plans to clean the Hudson have been stalled in courts for years. In contrast, Pittsfield, the commonwealth, the DEP, the EPA and GE realized the need for cooperation in the late '90s, and the result was a model cleanup program that has greatly benefited the city. The discovery of the Newell Street barrels doesn't change that.

Monday, October 03, 2005 7:55:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

Cleanup is just common sense

Letters

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:-

The Berkshire Eagle has a funny idea of what hysteria is. Asking for the best cleanup of PCBs and other chemicals possible so they don't continue to flow into our river is being hysterical? Perhaps The Eagle thinks it won't happen. In 1998 GE "cleaned" Dorothy Amos Park. Those who were "hysterical" wanted a more complete cleanup. Now that tests show high levels of PCBs are still getting into the west branch and polluting the water all the way down to where it joins the east branch — there will have to be another cleanup of Dorothy Amos Park.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Housatonic River Initiative and Housatonic Environmental Action League and others, asked that after removing the barrels at the Newell Street site, GE test the soil beneath the barrels and remove any soil found to be highly contaminated in addition to the amount already scheduled for removal. I don't see this as hysterical. I see it as responsible.

The Eagle says we knew all along that the barrels were there. Yes, the citizens did. However, there was no proof and no one was looking to see if the barrels were there. No one intended to find or remove the barrels. It was unintentional. The plan was just to cap over all that mess and hope it would not end up in the river.

The Eagle's editorial said, "This does not mean that the city and river are spotless, nor does it mean that some PCBs will not leach back into the river. As Mr. Tagliaferro pointed out, however, there are safeguards in place to prevent the river from being recontaminated." Excuse me, but PCBs leaching back into the river is re-contamination. The city is lucky to have advocates like Tim Gray, who keep pushing for the most complete cleanup possible. Thank you to the City Council, who also decided to keep an eye on what is happening.

The Housatonic River Initiative's constant pushing for the best cleanup possible is why Pittsfield has as much remediation as we have so far. I support the Housatonic River Initiative's push to have as much contamination removed from Newell Street as possible. I also support their continued push to have the hills of contamination put somewhere other than immediately next to an elementary school. I do not see this as hysteria. I see it as common sense.

JANE WINN
Pittsfield, Mass., Oct. 3, 2005

The letter-writer is one of the founding directors of Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

Don't protect the polluter

Letters

Thursday, October 06, 2005

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:-

The Berkshire Eagle editorial, "Realism about PCBs," (Oct. 1) couldn't have been written better by Jack Welch.

The EPA risk assessment said children who lived next to the river have a thousand-times greater chance of contracting cancer. Hormone disruption, thyroid problems, lymphoma, learning disabilities, Parkinson's disease, animals sick all over the world, and many adverse health effects come from exposure to PCBs. Not to mention all the other chemicals behind our houses.

We look out our windows and see barrels oozing with chemicals 50 feet from our houses. When we take issue with this, we're being labeled hysterical by The Eagle? GE contractors protected themselves with respirators and hazmat suits but left us to breathe in the toxic vapors. Indeed, because it is impossible to clean all of Pittsfield, it's exactly why we will be exposed our entire lives.

So what if hundreds or thousands of barrels remain? So what if Pittsfield will never be able to use its aquifers? So what if GE puts all the PCBs next to children at Allendale Elementary School? Let's all look the other way, protect the polluter and not try to get a better cleanup. The Eagle says we should all accept this as business as usual.

The Eagle proclaims we should accept recontamination of the river. Hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars are being wasted in cleaning the river while the storm drains allow PCBs back into the river. As far as the impermeable liner goes: The last time we checked the manufacturer's warranty, there was no warranty for the chemicals that the EPA is protecting us from. There is also no warranty against stones poking through the liner. So how does GE propose to care for this 3.6-acre liner in perpetuity if there's a foot or more of dirt over it? This same type of cap was used at Allendale school, but PCBs continued to show up. Finally, the cap was removed and the PCBs were cleaned up after the Housatonic River Initiative kept the pressure up.

It is unbelievable that The Eagle says a "healthy dose of realism" is required. Unfortunately, this dose of realism is extremely unhealthy. Stop using your editorials to try to limit the cleanup next to our property.

DAVE GIBBS

Pittsfield, Oct. 3, 2005

The writer is a resident of Newell Street.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 4:18:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Facts demand a real clean-up

Letters

Monday, October 10, 2005

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:-

On Oct. 1, in an editorial titled, "Realism about PCBs," The Eagle supplied the following wisdom: "Information is the best antidote to the hysteria that has too often marred the PCB debate." I fully concur and only wish to pass on to you some information about the most recent PCB-related issue to befall the city of Pittsfield.

Fact. As preparations were being made to cap (out of sight, out of mind) yet another chunk of Pittsfield real estate, workers unearthed first 40, then 60, now most recently well over 200 (and counting) barrels and barrel fragments suspected of containing PCBs and other toxic substances, disposed of by your neighbor, General Electric.

Fact. This newest barrel field is in a residential neighborhood.

Fact: The excavation was conducted by workers clad in protective hazardous material suits. However, families living adjacent to the site were never notified of the ongoing excavation. They were never given the opportunity to protect themselves.

Fact: After analysis, barrels were found to contain PCBs and TCE in higher concentration than had been measured anywhere else during the 30 years that samples have been taken.

Reasonable conjecture: It is unlikely that GE would have buried empty barrels. The barrel fragments and rusted remnants strongly suggest that their dangerously toxic contents have seeped into the ground and that the area is quite likely to be highly contaminated. Perhaps as contaminated as anything yet encountered during the entire, multi-year cleanup.

Fact: Presently, the EPA is using metal detectors to determine whether any additional barrels are underground. If discovered, they will be removed.

Why does that make many people concerned?

Fact: Years ago, hysteria prone residents of Pittsfield told stories about hundreds of GE's barrels having been buried in the landfill. To satisfy the radical alarmists, Pittsfield agreed to search for the mythical barrels, to use metal detectors and other high-tech tools, hoping to once and for all put the rumors to rest. No barrels were discovered, the alarmists were silenced and plans for capping the landfill were put in motion.

All was going smoothly until a bulldozer operator noticed what appeared to be a barrel in front of his blade. Six or seven hundred barrels later, are you also becoming a bit concerned?

Fact: In Pittsfield, hundreds of homes and back yards have been tested for PCB contamination. Those found with greater than several parts per million were cleaned up.

Fact: This section of land under current examination may be contaminated at levels thousands of times higher than the safe residential standard of two parts per million. And now for a fact that defies reason and violates common sense.

Fact: Embracing the "healthy dose of (sur)realism" the Environmental Protection Agency has been adamant in its refusal to consider testing the soil around the barrels for PCB or TCE contamination. To paraphrase recent statements, "Why test," they say, "because even if high, very high, or astronomical levels of PCBs were detected in the earth, even then, we are not planning to remove one spoonful."

Fact: The pitiful, inexcusable answer given is that their computer model doesn't call for either testing or removal. It is truly bizarre when a computer model, an abstraction trumps a barrel of pollution! This, from an agency designated to protect our health and safety?

Pittsfield, where is the outrage? It is certainly not coming from this newspaper, mumbling about "realism."

This is not about an exploratory mission to satisfy unproven concerns. This is about real, high level poisons and its potential effect on real people. This is about a connection between knowledge and responsibility, a moral imperative to act that has been allowed to lapse.

Your neighbor Dave Gibbs whose home is 50 feet from this toxic wasteland, needs your help. And Dave's neighbors needs your help. A majority of Pittsfield's councilors have understood that need and their obligation to get involved. The time is long overdue for this paper to do more than defend the status quo and the mistakes both man and machine may have made.

BENNO FRIEDMAN

Sheffield, Oct. 6, 2005

The writer is a member of the Housatonic River Initiative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 8:40:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Council asks for PCB action

By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

PITTSFIELD — By unanimous vote, the City Council last night approved sending a formal request to both the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection asking them to advocate for a modified clean-up of the Newell Street site where hundreds of 55-gallon drums of PCB-laced oil were discovered in August.

Ward 3 councilor Linda M. Tyer said she filed the petition asking that the matter be pursued after representatives of both environmental agencies addressed the council on Sept. 28. Newell Street lies within Tyer's jurisdiction.

"Based on the information that was given, I felt that it was important that the council take further action," Tyer said.

This is the first time since the 1999 settlement with General Electric regarding the cleanup of PCBs throughout Pittsfield that the City Council has taken an official interest in the process. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a chemical suspected of causing cancer and developmental disabilities in people.

The council is asking that that both the federal and state environmental agencies continue discussions with General Electric "for a modified clean-up plan in that location."

Tyer said that the council requests the following:

That all remaining barrels be removed from the entire site, including areas that have yet to be excavated.

That additional tests be administered to determine if the level of PCBs and other contaminants has increased since the discovery of the barrels.

That a more extensive excavation of the entire area be implemented if the soil tests indicate an increased level of contamination.

That consideration be given to capping the entire area once all of the contaminated soil has been removed.

Several other councilors also spoke in favor of Tyer's petition.

"I would be in full support of this," Councilor at large Tricia Farley-Bouvier said. "I know that this is a complex issue, but we have a responsibility to assure our citizens that their health will be protected."

"It's not just us asking this," Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. said. "A lot of people in the city are very concerned about this. I think that we are their vehicle to make sure that this is protected."

"I'm hopeful that we can improve upon the decrees," Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi added. "I think it's important to send a message that there should be a change in the process."

While the cleanup has progressed in the Housatonic River, the GE plant and in residential yards around Pittsfield, city government had mostly stayed on the sidelines until the barrels were found. Of the 250 barrels that were discovered, 21 were still intact and contained oil that was as much as 78 percent PCBs.

A GE contractor first discovered the barrels on a piece of land located near the intersection of Sackett and Newell streets two months ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2005 2:28:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Results reveal no PCBs in school
Different findings from watchdog group

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Berkshire Eagle

Thursday, December 08, 2005

PITTSFIELD — Two regulatory agencies released results yesterday of studies performed at Allendale Elementary School, concluding that the school has not been contaminated by a nearby PCB dump that has stirred controversy in the community.

Meanwhile, an environmental group, the Housatonic River Initiative, said it has tested air filters from Allendale, and that its tests showed they contained PCBs.

The three tests come after parents and teachers at Allendale pressured the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate whether the school building and its grounds have been contaminated by Hill 78, a 5.6-acre PCB dump that sits 50 feet from the school yard.

The state Department of Public Health conducted tests inside the school, taking samples of dust, air and air filters that were analyzed by a private company, Spectrum Analytical Laboratory in Springfield.

Of the 44 dust samples, two air samples and tests of six air filters, not a single one showed any detectable amount of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, the DPH said. The toxin has been banned since 1977 and is believed to cause cancer.

The Housatonic River Initiative countered DPH's results with its own samples of six air filters it obtained from the school. HRI Executive Director Tim Gray said tests revealed PCB levels of 0.12 parts per million and 0.14 parts per million.

While those levels are well below the 2 parts per million that are allowed in residential yards, the scientist who performed the tests, Dr. David Carpenter, said they are "not trivial." However, he said it was "a fairly crude result, and it doesn't help you to quantify how much PCBs are in the air" at the school.

Regardless, Carpenter said, there is "no question of the presence of PCBs," and he questioned whether the state's tests were adequate. He said commercial tests for PCBs often use a method that is less sensitive than the tests in his lab.

At the Department of Public Health, Assistant Commissioner Suzanne Condon said its tests followed "standard protocol."

She declined to discuss the results of HRI's samples.

"In order for me to respond to what their test results are, I would like to see what was done and how it was done so I can determine what it means," Condon said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released separate test results yesterday of 20 soil samples taken from the school yard. Eighteen samples showed no detectable levels of PCBs. Two showed very low levels of 0.07 and 0.06 parts per million, or 29 and 33 times, respectively, below the level of 2 parts per million that is acceptable for a playground.

GE spokesman Peter O'Toole welcomed the EPA and DPH test results, saying they reaffirmed what GE has said all along.

"There is absolutely no risk," O'Toole said. He declined to comment on the Housatonic River Initiative's test, saying he had not seen its results.

Last night, a group of Allendale teachers met with EPA officials to review the results. While they expressed satisfaction with the EPA's testing, they also had serious concerns about the Department of Public Health's work inside the school. The teachers said those concerns were only reinforced by the Housatonic River Initiatives' competing samples.

The teachers said the DPH had refused to even test the air filters until a science teacher convinced them. They said they also had to encourage the DPH to take dust samples from areas of the school closest to the landfill.

Following the meeting, Susan Dapson, a fourth-grade teacher at Allendale, spoke on behalf of the group, and said they continue to have questions about the DPH testing. She also released a written statement from the Allendale School Council saying it still has unanswered questions and is opposed to keeping toxic waste next to an elementary school.

State Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. has already called for Hill 78's removal. That would mean, however, convincing General Electric, the EPA, the city of Pittsfield and several additional state and federal agencies to reopen the consent decree — a settlement that was finalized in 2000 and sets forth the cleanup of the Housatonic River and the GE plant. GE has already said it would be opposed to such a move.

Nuciforo, D-Pittsfield, said yesterday that he remains opposed to Hill 78.

"An elementary school should not be next to a toxic dump," he said. "I continue to believe that is true from a public health standpoint."

Thursday, December 08, 2005 3:24:00 PM  
Blogger Constance325 said...

I was born in Pittsfield, Ma. I lived on Parker Street most of my childhood. I attended Crane Elementary and John Reed Middle School.

My mother, Barbara Louise Amerio (maiden namee) Barbara Sirignano (married name) died of ovarian cancer in 1986. In 1995 my doctor found a tumor on my thyroid which turned out not to be cancer. It was removed, but my thyriod function has not been normal since. As a child I was in and out of the hospital for asthma, from which I almost died.

My youngest sister Pam was diagnosed with Hodgkins which ate the 9th veribye in her spine. The cancer has now returned a second time after a stem cell transplant.

My grandfather, Jack Quinlan retired from GE. His wife developed stomach cancer in her 40's.

We lived around the plant for years and rode bikes around Silver Lake, but always knew not to go near the water.

I am sad about all of this and have not been able find any information about what proceedures are being taken to help the victoms in all this. My sister was given no hope last week at a doctor's appointment.

This whole situation is frustrating and wide spread. I have not lived in Pittsfield since 1976, but it is still home.

Constance

Monday, January 23, 2006 2:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Monday, July 31, 2006 5:14:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

School PCB results on hold

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Article Launched:10/06/2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

PITTSFIELD — Children once again fill the hallways of Allendale Elementary School, but parents and teachers are still awaiting the results of PCB tests conducted in the building last spring and summer.

Seeking to quiet fears about PCB pollution in the school, the state last spring collected dust, air and filter samples from the building and, over the summer, blood from some students and teachers. Instead of easing concerns, the test results have been delayed for months, making some members of the community impatient and others suspicious.

"We are just waiting," said Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, an environmental advocacy group. "Everybody is in the waiting stage. Why there is this big hold up, and why they can't release some of the data is a mystery."

The samples from the school were to be tested by a consultant to the state Department of Public Health and by a lab in New York. It was a carefully brokered deal, with the state results checked by a lab that has the trust of environmentalists.

The blood samples were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which has state-of-the-art equipment and the nation's biggest database of medical information on children, an essential tool to put the results in context.

In an e-mailed response to questions yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, Donna Rheaume, said the blood tests have been delayed by a flood at the CDC lab. She suggested that the results of tests performed on the school building will not be released until the blood results are in.

"We do not have the result of the blood tests," Rheaume wrote. "The CDC apparently had a flood in a lab. We are waiting for the CDC to give us the results. As soon as we get the results of the blood tests, we will issue a report with the results of both the blood and indoor sampling tests."

Rheaume did not return calls seeking further comment, and a call to the CDC was not returned in time for this report.

It is not clear why the Department of Public Health would link the release of the building results to the blood study. The two tests were conducted independently; the building samples were taken after parents, teachers and advocacy groups questioned an earlier round of tests. The blood samples were only collected from children and teachers who were concerned they might have high levels of PCBs, a suspected carcinogen that has also been linked to developmental disabilities like autism and dyslexia.

Dr. Philip Adamo, chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health, said the state wants to hold a single meeting to discuss both sets of results. While he has not been informed of the outcome, Adamo said he is confident the building tests will show the school is safe.

"What I am told is that the results do not present any danger to the health and safety of students and staff," Adamo said.

Allendale Elementary School has been besieged by controversy as parents and teachers have grown increasingly concerned about a large PCB dump that is growing next door.

The dump, known as Hill 78, was included in the PCB cleanup settlement among General Electric, the state, the city and the federal government. As GE has been removing PCB-contaminated soil from its 250-acre plant and dredging sediment from the Housatonic River, it has been depositing some of the dirt in the landfill, which sits 40 feet from the schoolyard.

The state Department of Public Health conducted a first round of tests inside the school in 2005, taking samples of dust, air and air filters. In December 2005, it released the results: Of the more than 50 samples taken, none showed any detectable amount of PCB.

Those results were immediately challenged by the Housatonic River Initiative, which had collected air filters from a dumpster at the school and sent them to the lab in New York. Those tests showed small amounts of PCBs in the filters, which had been used in classroom heating units.

Saturday, October 07, 2006 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Dear Berkshire Bloggers, Berkshire Eagle & News Media, Politicians, & the People:

Re: "GE, city have long shared a bond of success, failure" (The Berkshire Eagle, 1/11/07): The TOXIC levels of PCB pollution left by GE in Pittsfield will stay in Pittsfield long after the terms of the "Mayor Gerry Doyle" Consent Decree are finalized and go into the historical "Hall of Shame."

GE's Pittsfield PCB clean up will only last for 25 years!

Most of the clean-up of PCB pollution in Pittsfield has been "capped." What this means is that the government and GE put some kind of rubberized plastic caps in polluted areas of Pittsfield where high or toxic levels of PCB pollution exist -- and will always exist until someday they are cleaned up. After about 25 years, these caps crack and tear, and they will no longer be useful. The same problem existed in North Adams on the site of Mass MoCA. Like Pittsfield, all that the government and applicable business entity did there was cap the PCB pollution -- and in the year 2023 or so Mass MoCA will be toxic to museum workers and visitors until the Mass MoCA site is decapped and then recapped all over again.

I asked my mom, who is now twice (and currently) a cancer patient and, of course, native of Pittsfield and therefore victim of its toxic PCB pollution, about both Pittsfield and North Adams' environmental problems. My mother's response was that it was cheaper for Mayors Doyle (& now Ruberto) and Barrett to cap the pollution for 25 year periods than to clean up the toxic sites in both cities. My mom said that when Pittsfield and North Adams are due for their decapping and recapping, the past and current Mayors will be long retired and the costs of the toxic PCB pollution will fall on a whole new generation of Pittsfield and North Adams residents.

My conclusion for Pittsfield anyway is that Mayor Doyle and now Ruberto don't give a damn about the toxic PCB pollution problem and all of its resulting cancer victims. About 2 decades after Pittsfield's consent decree, the residents of Pittsfield will be faced with the same cruel realities of cancer that faces my mother and many countless other native Pittsfield residents. Boy, am I so glad I don't yet have a family and won't be leaving any of my possible future children to the hands of a corrupt city government that has allowed GE to temporarily cap toxic levels of PCB pollution that will again cause cancer to future generations of Pittsfield residents!

-Jonathan A. Melle

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GE, city have long shared a bond of success, failure
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Berkshire Eagle

Thursday, January 11, 2007

PITTSFIELD — There are streets named after former General Electric employees, playgrounds built by its volunteers and entire neighborhoods that sprouted to feed the giant GE plant.

Now, the company that once employed 14,000 people in Pittsfield could be on the brink of vanishing, with reports that it is seeking bidders for GE Plastics, its last toehold in the community.

Even if a new owner keeps the 420 research and development jobs on Plastics Avenue, the long divorce between Pittsfield and GE will finally be over. The only trace will be a handful of employees left to oversee the cleanup of the company's PCB pollution. After 104 years, Pittsfield will be on its own.

"That doesn't even sound real," said Norman Symonds, 66, of Pittsfield. "That sounds like a joke. That's like selling the U.S. Army to the Soviets."

The marriage began in 1903, when GE bought the William Stanley transformer plant on East Street. Its presence peaked during World War II, when an estimated 14,000 people worked at the 250-acre facility.

From the war through the 1980s, GE's decisions shaped the city. The company held annual community briefings to inform civic leaders, businesses and residents of its plans for the coming year, and Pittsfield shifted to accommodate.

"They stimulated so much," said Remo DelGallo, Pittsfield's mayor from 1965 to 1967 and owner of DelGallo's Restaurant in the shadow of the GE plant. "All the businesses around GE did extremely well. If (GE) needed hardware supplies or lumber supplies, that's where they got it."

A dozen neighborhood bars once surrounded the facility, DelGallo said. In the days before banks had branches, workers would stop in, cash their checks and get a beer or a sandwich, sending the plant's wealth trickling into the city.

The job numbers steadily declined after World War II, and the losses accelerated in 1986, when the company moved its transformer operations to Louisiana in search of cheaper overhead. As thousands lost jobs, the population of Pittsfield declined, from 57,879 in 1960 to 48,622 in 1990 and roughly 43,800 today, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

In 1992, GE sold its aerospace division to Martin Marietta, leaving GE Plastics as the company's lone Pittsfield presence.

"After all the years they've been here, I wish to hell they weren't doing it," said Don Kasuba, 77, who loaded freight trains in GE's shipping department between high school and college. "It's like having something that you own at home, and you know it's going to be taken away from you, and you wish it wasn't and you are going to miss it."

To Sandy Phelps, GE is already the bogeyman; graduating to ghost will hardly make a difference.

Phelps, 57, said she has lived near the plant for most of her life. She watched while its parking lots went from full to empty. Ten years ago, her husband was laid off after more than 24 years with the company, she said, when he was six months shy of qualifying for a pension.

"It's very sad that it's going to happen to the other people. I've been there, done that. It's a heartache," Phelps said.

The PCB cleanup has moved closer and closer to her house, she said, and now the home has virtually no resale value. She wishes GE would buy her property as it has others nearby "and give us our life back."

"GE, we bring good things to life," she said, quoting the company's former advertising slogan. "Whose life are they bringing it to? Not Pittsfield's."

Thursday, January 11, 2007 7:50:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Silver Lake cap contentious
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The Berkshire Eagle

Saturday, January 13, 2007
PITTSFIELD — General Electric Co. is watching and waiting at Silver Lake, trying to determine how it will cap the bottom and, hopefully, seal in pollution in the lake bed.

Last fall, GE installed four different caps on the bottom of a one-acre slice of the lake, which sits between the polluted GE plant and East Street. As with most of GE's plant and the nearby Housatonic River, Silver Lake is heavily polluted with PCBs.

The company is trying to derive the best means to cap the entire, 46-acre lake. It is now monitoring the four caps to see which will best withstand the elements and keep the PCBs contained.

The plan is to cover the bottom with clean material — be it sand, stone, a man-made substance or a mix of all three. GE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hope that the cap will isolate the polluted sediment and prevent it from being stirred up by storms or carried into the Housatonic by the current.

The cap is opposed by environmental groups, which fear it is a short-term solution that will eventually fail, exposing the cleaned river to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, all over again. They want the EPA and GE to dredge the bottom of the lake, removing the pollution entirely.

GE spokesman Peter O'Toole said the company is monitoring the performance of the four caps and expects to report its results to the EPA by late summer. GE and the EPA will then try to determine the best cap for the lake, which GE expects to install in the summer of 2008.

The goal is to make the lake a safe, swimmable body of water in which fish and other animals can thrive. And with improvements to the banks, the EPA hopes that it will be an attractive feature next to the William Stanley Business Park, a 54-acre slice of the GE plant that the city of Pittsfield is now trying to redevelop.

But the lake will always be a time bomb, according to the Housatonic River Initiative and other environmental groups that monitor the cleanup.

GE used PCBs until 1977, when the chemical was banned by the federal government. PCBs are known to have a harmful impact on wildlife, including fish, and are suspected of causing cancer and developmental disabilities in people.

Opponents line up

HRI Executive Director Tim Gray said that leaving the pollution in the lake is not going to protect the environment.

"We haven't seen the results of the pilot study, but my group has never thought that three feet of clean fill over a huge amount of contamination results in a true cleanup," he said.

Further, the cap itself could hurt the environment, he argued. His group claims that, when GE installed the pilot study in the fall, silt saturated the lake, creating turbid water that can kill fish and other animals. Gray said his group reported the condition to the EPA but was not aware if any action was taken.

"The entire lake was muddy, there was an impact on the biological community in the lake, not to mention that we could visually see a plume (of mud) where the lake enters the (Housatonic) river," Gray said.

EPA officials familiar with this project were not available for comment.

Cap is part of deal

The cleanup of the Housatonic, the GE plant and Silver Lake are all being performed under the terms of a settlement that was finalized in October 2000. GE has dredged a half-mile of the river that flows past its plant, and the EPA has cleaned the next 1 1/2 miles. The cleanup of the 250-acre plant is ongoing.

The decision to cap Silver Lake was made when the settlement was negotiated, and, although environmental groups are calling for a different method of handling the pollution, any change would require the EPA and GE to reopen the agreement, something the two have seldom done.

Thursday, January 18, 2007 3:55:00 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

NEWS MEDIA ARTICLE:

Site may expose PCB risk

Building could cost taxpayers

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff

The Berkshire Eagle

Friday, February 02, 2007

PITTSFIELD — The city wants a blighted building gone or cleaned up, but officials worry that taking and demolishing it could expose an environmental mess that could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The 40,000-square-foot brick building at 1277 East St. has been condemned by the city and is off-limits to everyone, including the owner, Kevin Pennell. According to the city tax assessor, Pennell owes the city roughly $27,000 in unpaid taxes. On Wednesday, a housing court judge ordered him to pay an additional $2,000 in fines for fire code and safety violations.

Officials say the property has become the most prominent eyesore in a city dedicated to an economic renaissance. The graffiti-covered building is visible from the Merrill Road bridge, a popular commuting route into Pittsfield. It sits a half-mile from the William Stanley Business Park, a 54-acre campus that Pittsfield is tying to convert from a polluted wasteland to an industrial hub.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said that the property is among the three worst in the city. The other two — one on Wahconah Street and the other on East Mill Street — have been abandoned; in what may be a prelude to demolition, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is conducting environmental studies at both.

Pennell, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, wants to sell his building to another man, Earl D. Austin, so it can become a "family fun center" and trolley museum. Ward 3 Councilor Linda Tyer called those plans a pipe dream. More realistic, she said, is demolition.

"When I think about the William Stanley Business Park, and bringing potential business owners to the city, I hate the idea of having them drive by this disaster," Tyer said. "It does not reflect the image that this community wishes to give the world."

Pennell's property is included in the PCB-cleanup settlement among General Electric Co., Pittsfield, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a host of additional state and federal agencies.

It is identified in the settlement as "East Street Area 1 — North," and GE is responsible for any necessary cleanup of the five-acre parcel. If the property is polluted, GE would have to reduce PCB levels to 25 parts per million. That is far above the residential standard of 2 parts per million and would not be low enough to allow the land to be used as a playground.

It is not clear, however, how much contamination — if any — is on the site. That worries Pittsfield officials, who don't want to be saddled with additional cleanup costs if the city takes control.

"If the city takes it, the city becomes the property owner," Tyer said, "and all the obligations could become the responsibility of the city. That includes demolition costs and environmental issues that may exist there now."

Needs 'responsible ownership'

Timothy Conway, an EPA attorney, said it is possible that a new owner of 1277 East St. could be responsible for cleanup costs. Likewise, he said, the federal Superfund law includes exemptions that might protect Pittsfield if it took the property in lieu of unpaid property taxes.

"EPA would be glad to talk to the city and clarify anything about Superfund or about liability," Conway said.

Ruberto said he would like to see "responsible ownership."

"The building is a dump. It is covered with graffiti, and it shows absolute disregard to all of the neighbors and to the community. More importantly, the building is unsafe," he added. "Mr. Pennell, do the city a favor, do the neighborhood a favor, do the community a favor: Sell that property for its realistic value and leave."

Pennell did not return a message left Wednesday night; yesterday, there was no answer at his listed phone number.

Friday, February 02, 2007 2:00:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Melle said...

Question council on Hill 78

Letters

The Berkshire Eagle

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It astounds me that the candidates for at-large City Council are not discussing how we can work to rid Pittsfield of the huge toxic waste dump in the middle of town, Hill 78.

The local pols congratulate themselves on the transfer of toxic sediment from the Housatonic River to a massive hill next to an elementary school and call it a "cleanup." We are lulled into accepting this dump by assurances that it is "safe" and that the EPA and GE are now "communicating better" about how safe it is.

However, it is simply not acceptable to have a toxic dump next to an elementary school. It is full of newly placed PCBs on top of decades of other, even more hazardous material dumped by GE.

I witnessed members of my son's baseball team climb the fence of Hill 78 to retrieve foul balls. When I told them not to go over there, my son asked why is it safe on this side of the chain link fence and not safe a few feet on the other?

Yet we are told it is safe and that there is nothing that can be done to rid ourselves of Hill 78 because politicians signed a consent decree.

Wake up Pittsfield! Let's demand some leadership from our politicians to think of creative and new ways to get rid of this eyesore and danger. Let's make it a number one issue and ask each council candidate what strategies and ideas he or she has for getting rid of it.

VALERIE A. ANDERSEN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 1:50:00 PM  

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