GE: Will do some dredging to clean up Mass. river

AP News
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Posted: Oct 13, 2010 5:07 PM
GE: Will do some dredging to clean up Mass. river

General Electric Co. said Wednesday it now agrees that some dredging of PCBs in the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts could help clean the river, but again recommended leaving the carcinogens buried.

In a revised report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, GE said so-called "monitored natural recovery" is the least intrusive method, doing little damage to the riverbed and forests in the floodplains.

Critics have said leaving PCBs in the river would be little more than watching and waiting.

The Fairfield, Conn., industrial and financial conglomerate also said that taking into account EPA's assessment of public health and ecological risks and other factors _ "even though GE strongly disagrees" _ removing sediment "will provide the greatest benefit with the least ecological harm."

Wednesday, Tim Gray, a local environmental activist, said GE's latest proposal will still leave industrial waste in the river.

"We want them to get out the most PCBs from the river that you can get out," he said. "The plan shouldn't be to leave the river polluted forever, which is what their plan would do," said Gray, who heads the Housatonic River Initiative.

Jim Murphy, an EPA spokesman in Boston, said the agency will study GE's proposal and will schedule a public comment period. The EPA will issue its proposal early next year, he said.

GE used PCBs, now known to cause cancer, as fire retardants in the manufacture of transformers from 1932 to 1977 at its 254-acre plant in Pittsfield, Mass.

Under a federal consent decree about two decades after it stopped making transformers, the company began cleaning up PCBs that for years had leaked into a residential neighborhood and a two-mile stretch of the Housatonic, which winds 149 miles through western Massachusetts and Connecticut and into Long Island Sound.

For GE, the first phase of cleanup cost more than $400 million, O'Toole said. EPA also paid about $50 million, he said.

The project now backed by GE will require substantial sediment removal over five miles of the river in the next cleanup phase, GE said. With plans to remove floodplain soil, the proposal has been designed to minimize harm that will result from more invasive measures and meet all public health goals of the EPA, except concerns regarding fish consumption, the company said. GE said the remedial efforts will not make the fish safe to eat.