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 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:

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What progress has been made?

Non-River Cleanup Areas

  • Cleanup is substantially complete at 19 of the 20 non-river areas. See link to a Figure showing the location of the areas and the current status. The Unkamet Brook Area remediation was substantially completed in October 2016. A Final Completion Report is expected to be submitted in 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, is expected to begin in 2017.

To date, 158,000 cubic yards (cy) of soil and sediment have been was removed from these 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 cy of contaminated material was removed.
  • Cleanup is complete for the 1.5 Mile Reach. 91,700 cy of material was removed.

Disposal/Containment

Approximately 268,000 cy of soil/sediment was 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 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 100,000 cy of soil/sediment from cleanup actions was transported off-site for disposal. Currently it is estimated that an additional 25,000 to 35,000 cy of material will be removed from the Unkamet Brook Area and the Residential Floodplain Properties and transported off-site for disposal over the next several years.
  • 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 is ongoing at 1 area.
  • Long-term monitoring is ongoing at 2 areas.
  • 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") has been removed from the groundwater and transported off-site for disposal.

Rest of River

An 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 2014 through October 2014. EPA received roughly 2,000 pages of comments from 140 commenters. In September 2015, EPA, as required by the Consent Decree, issued an Intended Final Decision (intended final remedy) to GE. In October 2015, GE, pursuant to the Consent Decree, invoked administrative dispute resolution on EPA’s Intended Final Decision. The dispute is currently pending.

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How much longer will the total cleanup take?

The Unkamet Brook Area remediation is expected to be substantially completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017. The remediation of the Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence is expected to be initiated in 2017 and completed by 2019, 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.

EPA issued a Proposed Cleanup Plan (also referred to a Draft Modification to GE’s Reissued RCRA Permit) in June 2014 for Rest of River. In October 2015, EPA, as required by the Consent Decree, issued an Intended Final Decision (intended final remedy) to GE. Both the Proposed Cleanup Plan and the Intended Final Decision estimate that the cleanup will require 15 years of active remediation.

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