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EPA Cleanups: GE-Pittsfield/Housatonic River Site

Cleaning up the Housatonic

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Why cleanup the GE Site and the Housatonic River?

Since the early 1900s, GE operated a large-scale industrial facility including the manufacturing and servicing of power transformers, defense and aerospace (ordnance) and plastics, and used numerous industrial chemicals at its Pittsfield facility. From 1932 through 1977, General Electric manufactured and serviced electrical transformers containing PCBs. Years of PCB and industrial chemical use, and improper disposal, led to extensive contamination around Pittsfield, MA as well as down the entire length of the Housatonic River.

The Housatonic River is approximately 150 miles from its headwaters on the East Branch in Hinsdale, MA and flows through Connecticut into Long Island Sound.

Upon learning of the chemical’s ability to harm wildlife and human health, EPA banned the production of PCBs in 1979. The cleanup areas in Pittsfield join numerous PCB sites throughout the country in size and clean up challenges.

After testing groundwater, river sediment, soil, and wildlife, it was clear that the contamination needed to be addressed. PCBs do not readily break down in the natural environment, if left untouched at this site they would continue to pose a risk.

The build-up of PCB levels within animals is known as 'bioaccumulation'. PCBs do not break down quickly once consumed; instead they are carried up the food chain. Health effects from PCBs have been linked to cancer and other serious effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other organs.

EPA's greatest concern in the area is the possibility of coming into direct contact or ingesting PCB contamination. Since 1977 there has been a ban on fishing / consumption of fish from areas of the Housatonic River. These restrictions will remain in place until PCB levels decrease. Data are collected to ensure that the current restrictions protect human health. EPA information about PCBs.

In addition to PCBS, other industrial compounds present at the site pose an unacceptable risk to people and the environment.

The entire site consists of:

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What progress has been made?

Non-River Cleanup Areas

  • Cleanup is complete at 18 of the 20 non-river areas.
  • The two remaining areas are anticipated to be cleaned up in 2014 – 2016 (Unkamet Brook Area and Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence).

To date, 144,000 cubic yards (cy) of soil has been was removed from the 18 completed cleanup areas.

50 acres of cleaned up property has been transferred to PEDA for redevelopment. PEDA currently has two tenants; a two-acre solar array and a financial services company.

Upper 2-Miles of river sediment and bank

  • Cleanup is complete for the Upper ½-Mile Reach. 18,400 cubic yards (cy) of contaminated material removed
  • Cleanup is complete for the1.5 Mile Reach. 91,700 cy of material removed.


A total of 254,100 cy of soil/sediment was generated during the cleanups completed to date. The disposal of these materials, along with building demolition debris, is summarized below.

  • On-Site Consolidation areas
    • Approximately 101,500 cy of soil/sediment plus approximately 33,000 cy of building demolition debris was placed in the Hill 78 On-Plant Consolidation Area (OPCA). This OPCA is capped, closed and is subject to long-term monitoring.
    • Approximately 67,000 cy of soil/sediment plus approximately 43,500 cy of building demolition debris placed in the Building 71 OPCA. This OPCA is capped, closed and subject to long-term monitoring.
    • Total quantity of material disposed at the OPCAs was 245,000 cubic yards.
  • Off-site disposal.
    • Approximately 85,550 CY of soil/sediment from cleanup actions was transported off-site for disposal.
  • Engineered Barrier Construction
    • Installation of approximately 14 acres of engineered barriers (excluding the OPCA capping acreage).

Groundwater Management: 5 Areas

  • Baseline monitoring complete at all 5 areas
  • Interim monitoring ongoing at 2
  • Long-term monitoring ongoing at 1
  • Monitoring substantially complete and terminated at 2 areas
  • NAPL containment and collection activities on-going at 2 GMAs.

Over 1,000,000 gallons of NAPL (or "oil") removed from the groundwater and transported off-site for disposal.

Rest of River

  • Completion of an extensive site investigation, modeling and evaluation of cleanup options. EPA is currently discussing cleanup options with GE, State agencies and the public and intends to announce a proposed remedy in 2014.

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How much longer will the total cleanup take?

The two remaining cleanup actions outside the river (Unkamet Brook and the Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence) are expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

Groundwater monitoring and NAPL recovery at two of groundwater monitoring areas (GMAs) is anticipated to continue into the foreseeable future. The treatment of groundwater at some GMAs may also be required. Periodic monitoring of the three other GMAs will also be conducted for the foreseeable future.

A remedy proposal for the cleanup of Rest of River is anticipated to be announced in 2014. The proposal will include an estimate of how long the actual cleanup of the river will take.

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