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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 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?

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 the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. 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 all 20 contaminated areas outside the River. See link to a Figure showing the location of the areas and the current status (PDF) (1 pg, 1.2 MB, About PDF).

  • For 19 of the contaminated areas outside the river, referred as removal action areas (or RAAs), GE has submitted a Final Completion Report, and EPA has approved the Report and issued a Certificate of Completion. Also, at these RAAs, GE is conducting all required post-removal site control activities, including inspection, monitoring, and maintenance activities

  • Remediation is substantially complete at the 20th RAA, which is the Floodplain Residential Properties Downstream of the Confluence RAA. Remediation began in the summer of 2017 and seven properties were remediated by the end of year, with maintenance and replanting of some trees scheduled for the spring of 2018. There are ongoing discussions with one property owner, and remediation at a second property is deferred until the adjacent Rest of River remediation occurs.

  • To date, approximately 186,000 cubic yards (cy) of soil and sediment have been removed from these 20 cleanup areas.

  • Fifty acres of cleaned up property have 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. There are development proposals in the works for two other PEDA parcels.

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. Post-remediation depositional sampling has shown a greater than 99% reduction in average surficial sediment (top six inches) PCB concentrations, with post-remediation average concentrations less than 0.5 parts per million (ppm) PCBs compared to a pre-remediation average concentration of 112 ppm PCBs.

  • 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 98% reduction in average surficial sediment (top six inches) and macroinvertebrate PCB concentrations, with an average post-remediation surface concentration of 0.15 ppm PCBs.

Disposal/Containment

Approximately 296,000 cy of soil/sediment has been generated during the cleanups through 2017. 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.
    • Post-closure air monitoring is continuing at 5 stations around the perimeter of the OPCAs for PCBs. All results are well below action levels.
  • Off-site disposal.
    • Approximately 127,500 cy of soil/sediment from cleanup actions was transported off-site for disposal.
  • Engineered Barrier Construction
    • Approximately 22.4 acres of engineered barriers designed to contain remaining contamination have been installed (excluding the OPCA capping acreage).

See link to a table showing a summary of the cleanup actions to date and the disposition of waste material (PDF) (1 pg, 696 K, About PDF).

Groundwater Management: 5 Areas

  • Baseline monitoring is complete at all 5 areas.
  • Long-term monitoring is ongoing at 3 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

Following extensive site investigation, modeling and evaluation of cleanup options, EPA, in June 2014, issued a proposed plan/Draft RCRA Permit modification 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.

On January 26, 2018, the EAB issued its decision. The EAB denied the appeals of the parties on all issues related to the extent of the cleanup. Additionally, the EAB remanded for further consideration by EPA two issues: the limitations placed on GE’s responsibility to address PCB contamination related to projects or work performed by third parties, and the location of disposal of PCB-contaminated material excavated in the cleanup.

EPA is currently evaluating the issues remanded by the Board, and will notify the public at the completion of its evaluation.

Meanwhile, GE is submitting design plans associated with uncontested portions of the final Permit, and EPA is currently reviewing those submittals.

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How much longer will the total cleanup take?

The remediation of the 20 non-river cleanup areas and the first two miles of the Housatonic River are substantially complete.  GE is conducting all required post-removal site control activities, including inspection, monitoring, and maintenance activities at these cleanups. 

Long-term monitoring is ongoing at 3 groundwater management areas (GMAs). At two of these areas, NAPL recovery is ongoing and is anticipated to continue into the foreseeable future. The treatment of groundwater at some GMAs may also be required.

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.

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