Jul 17 2008
According to the EPA:
The 254-acre GE plant in Pittsfield has historically been the major handler of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in western Massachusetts, and is the only known source of PCBs found in the Housatonic River sediments and floodplain soils in Massachusetts. Although GE performed many functions at the Pittsfield facility throughout the years, the activities of the Transformer Division, including the construction and repair of electrical transformers using dielectric fluids, some of which contained PCBs (primarily Aroclors 1254 and 1260), were one likely significant source of PCB contamination.
According to GE’s reports, from 1932 through 1977, releases of PCBs reached the waste and storm water systems associated with the facility and were subsequently conveyed to the East Branch of the Housatonic River and to Silver Lake.
During the 1940s, efforts to straighten the Pittsfield reach of the Housatonic River by the City of Pittsfield and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) resulted in 11 former oxbows being isolated from the river channel. The oxbows were filled with material that was later discovered to contain PCBs and other hazardous substances.
A fish consumption advisory for the Housatonic River was issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MADPH) in 1982 from Dalton, MA, to the Connecticut border as a result of the PCB contamination in the river sediments and fish tissue. It was later amended to include frogs and turtles. The State of Connecticut also posted a fish consumption advisory for most of the Connecticut section of the river in 1977. In addition, in 1999, MADPH issued a waterfowl consumption advisory from Pittsfield to Great Barrington due to PCB concentrations in wood ducks and mallards collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from the river.
Click here to go to: EPA Site History and Description.
In August 1997, the EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection produced a small brochure, “Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) A Fact Sheet.” They wrote:
WHAT ARE PCBs?
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a family of man-made chemicals that contain 209 different variations, or congeners. PCBs are typically found in the environment as mixtures of different congeners. These mixtures are also known as “Aroclors”, a trade name of the Monsanto Corporation. There are no known natural sources of PCBs. PCBs are typically oily liquids, ranging from colorless to light yellow in color. They have no smell or taste. Because they do not burn easily and are a good insulating material, PCBs have been widely used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment. Consumer products that may contain PCBs include old fluorescent lighting fixtures, hydraulic ffuids and electrical devices or appliances containing PCB capacitors made before PCB use was stopped. The manufacture of PCBs was stopped in the United States in 1977 because of evidence that PCBs build up in the environment and cause harmful effects.
HOW DID PCBs GET FROM GE INTO THE ENVIRONMENT?
PCBS are present in Housatonic River sediments, in soil, and in fill. There are also plumes of PCB-contaminated oil underneath the General Electric (GE) facility in Pittsfield. The plumes underneath the GE facility are masses of PCB contaminated oil, several feet thick, that are present as a separate layer and do not mix with the groundwater.
Over the years several environmental groups have disputed the claim that the underground plumes of PCB-contaminated oil have been contained. They have raised the issue that the plumes are a continuing source for PCB-contamination of the river. They note, in addition, that much of Pittsfield’s groundwater is now unsuitable for drinking water, and that a significant aquifer that lies beneath Brattlebrook Park and the current site of Vincent Sand and Gravel is unusable due to PCB-contamination.