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Pollution Found in Housatonic River

December 10, 1999

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Experts have found PCB pollution in a second branch of the Housatonic River, suggesting chemical pollution in the city may be more widespread than believed.

``The general public perception was that PCBs were an east Pittsfield problem,″ state environmental regulator J. Lyn Cutler said Thursday.

The city is already a cleanup target for one of the country’s worst toxic messes left by a private polluter. General Electric Co., which used PCBs in making transformers, has agreed to a cleanup estimated by the government at at least $250 million.

Government scientists say PCBs are suspected of causing cancer and other illnesses.

Officials had planned to use tests of the west branch of the Housatonic as a benchmark for the cleanup of the east branch. Instead, they found levels of the chemicals much like those in the east branch, Cutler said. She has ordered GE to plan additional tests.

``We’re going to have to take a look at the findings, and review the data before we can draw any conclusions,″ said Gary Sheffer, a GE spokesman.

General Electric’s closed transformer plant, which used PCBs for decades before they were banned, lies on the east side of the city. The east branch of the river, which runs past the 250-acre plant, has been known to be contaminated for decades.

GE excavated tons of soil in a local park after high levels of PCBs were discovered in 1997 in the dirt under a jungle gym and other playground equipment. At the time, groundwater pollution was not suspected.

Still, Cutler said, the new discoveries show that there may be other areas where PCB-laden fill or other items are polluting the groundwater.

She said the state is still operating a special hot line for tips from residents and former plant workers. Over the past two years, the tip line has led regulators to dozens of contaminated locations, including more than 70 residential properties where PCB-laden material from the plant was used as yard fill.

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