Cleaning up the Housatonic
- Why cleanup the GE Site and the Housatonic River?
- What progress has been made?
- How much longer will the total cleanup take?
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 regarding PCBs in fish and shellfish.
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:
- 20 cleanup actions of areas outside the River
- 5 Groundwater Management Areas
- Upper 2 miles of the River
- Rest of River
Cleanup of PCBs and other hazardous substances in Pittsfield and the Housatonic River has progressed under an October 2000 Consent Decree entered into by EPA, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the City of Pittsfield, the General Electric Company and others. Cleanup was required for twenty contaminated areas outside the River, five groundwater management areas, and three River segments—the Upper ½-Mile Reach, the 1.5 Mile Reach, and Rest of River.
Non-River Cleanup Areas
- Cleanup is substantially complete at 19 of the 20 contaminated areas outside the River. See link to a Figure showing the location of the areas and the current status (PDF) (1 pg, 1.1 MB, About PDF). The Unkamet Brook Area remediation was substantially completed in October 2016. A Final Completion Report is expected to be submitted in late 2017 for the Unkamet Brook Area followed by EPA's issuance of a Certification of Completion.
- Remediation at the remaining area, called Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence, began in the summer of 2017 and is currently ongoing. This project involves soil removal from lawn or potential lawn areas from 9 residential properties. Remediation and restoration activities are scheduled to be completed in 2018.
To date, approximately 181,000 cubic yards (cy) of soil and sediment have been removed from these 20 cleanup areas.
50 acres of cleaned up property has been transferred to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (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 cy of contaminated material was removed from River sediment and bank soils.
- Cleanup is complete for the 1.5 Mile Reach. 91,700 cy of contaminated material was removed from River sediment and bank soils.
- Post-remediation depositional sampling has shown a 99% reduction in surficial sediment and macroinvertebrate PCB concentrations, with average post-remediation surface concentration of 0.20 ppm PCBs.
Approximately 290,000 cy of soil/sediment has been generated during the cleanups through 2016. 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, was placed in the Building 71 OPCA. This OPCA is capped, closed and is subject to long-term monitoring.
- Total quantity of material disposed at the OPCAs was 245,000 cubic yards.
- Off-site disposal.
- Approximately 122,500 cy of soil/sediment from cleanup actions was transported off-site for disposal. Currently it is estimated that an additional 5,000 cy of material will be removed from the Residential Floodplain Properties and transported off-site for disposal over the next two years.
- Engineered Barrier Construction
- Approximately 22.8 acres of engineered barriers designed to contain remaining contamination have been installed (excluding the OPCA capping acreage).
Groundwater Management: 5 Areas
- Baseline monitoring is complete at all 5 areas.
- Interim monitoring is ongoing at 1 area.
- Long-term monitoring is ongoing at 2 areas.
- Monitoring is substantially complete and terminated at 2 areas.
- Non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) containment and collection activities are on-going at 2 areas.
Over 1,000,000 gallons of NAPL (or "oil") has been removed from the groundwater and transported off-site for disposal.
Rest of River
Extensive site investigation, modeling and evaluation of cleanup options have been completed. EPA issued a proposed plan/Draft RCRA Permit modification in June 2014 for public comment. EPA held a public comment period from June - October 2014. EPA received roughly 2,000 pages of comments from 140 commenters. Following its review of the public comments, in September 2015, EPA issued an Intended Final Decision (intended final remedy) to GE, which GE disputed under the Decree. An EPA dispute resolution official ruled in support of EPA's intended cleanup on October 13, 2016. On October 20, 2016, EPA issued a RCRA Permit Modification that selected the Remedial Action for Rest of River. In November 2016, GE, and four other entities appealed the Permit to EPA's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). Massachusetts, Connecticut, and four amicus parties also submitted arguments, largely in support of EPA's cleanup plan. In June 2017, the EAB conducted oral arguments. A decision from the EAB is currently pending. In the interim, GE is preparing design plans associated with uncontested portions of the final Permit.
The remediation of the Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence is underway and is expected to be completed in 2018, although the schedule is dependent on discussions with individual property owners.
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.
The EPA cleanup plan for Rest of River is currently under appeal to EPA's Environmental Appeals Board. The final cleanup decision will depend on the outcome of the appeals. If the current EPA cleanup plan is upheld, its cleanup is estimated to take 13 years of active remediation. Remediation is expected to begin 2 to 3 years after all appeals are resolved.