Lenox meeting rehashes options for GE’s PCBs clean-up proposal

LENOX —Just about everyone agrees that PCBs in the Housatonic River are harmful to the environment and to people. That’s not news.But what to do with them once they’ve been dredged from the river bottom is a constant source of debate.

A Dec. 3 meeting in the Duffin Theater at Lenox Memorial High School, along with members of neighboring  communities, was called to hear from John Bickerman, a mediator from Washington, D.C to discuss  the issue of General Electric’s remediation of the Housatonic River pollution and whether their efforts were satisfactory.

Bickerman, the mediator brought in by the EPA is head of Bickerman Dispute Resolution. Among those who attended the meeting there seemed to be a consensus on only one thing: the chemicals should be extracted from the river and General Electric should pay for it.

But where to put the dredged-up contaminated soil is the overarching question

“Before we take another question, I want to stop for a second. We’ve been at this for about an hour,” said Bickerman. “I would say that the comments have been universally the same, with some variations, of course. I wonder if there’s anybody who has a different point of view, other than what we’ve heard, in this auditorium?”

Phil Gellarty of Pittsfield, raised his hand and proposed an alternative view. “I grew up about a block away from Allendale School, I played ball at Allendale, I’ve kayaked the Housatonic, I’ve seen people swimming there and I’ve seen people ice fishing in the winter time. I live about three blocks away from the Housatonic and Pine Knoll Road. I don’t know why, if the precedent has been set that if they put a landfill in the middle of Pittsfield, and it’s been there for 20 years and hasn’t caused a lot of problems, I’m not sure why people are worried about putting the PCBs in a landfill outside the river. The problem I see is, if [PCBs] are in the river it’s bad because it moves. If you get [PCBs] out of the river and park it on dry land with a tarp around it, it’s a lot better than being in the river.”

The primary concerns of residents centered on how General Electric will clean up of the Housatonic River, which has been polluted with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) since earlier in the twentieth century. General Electric dumped the chemical waste into the river for years. Fish from the river are not recommended to be eaten due to the PCB contamination.

Many residents stood up and spoke about their past experiences with the Housatonic River. One Lenox resident spoke about her three young children who would play in the river in the 1970s and 1980s and she wondered aloud whether her children will suffer any negative health effects.

State Senator Adam Hinds was also at the meeting to listen to the viewpoints of his constituents. “I think a lot of us have been concerned about a process that goes into remediation, a community could be asked to endure something that it hasn’t had a part of,” said senator Hinds.

“It’s important, as part of the process, that the community continues to get updates and give input. I was coming to listen for one thing in particular, which is, and the mediator addressed it, that there will continue to be an opportunity to get community responses and reactions, and making sure that the community sentiment is a big part of that outcome,” said Hinds.

“I will say,” the senator continued, “In my previous experience in remediation reveals that you often don’t know where you’re going to land, so it’s encouraging that a range of ideas, including ways to invest in alternative bio-remediation, so those are the creative solutions that can often help move a process forward, so that was encouraging to hear,” said Hinds.