Under a settlement with the United States, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, GE will remove contaminated sediment from the half-mile stretch of the Housatonic River nearest the GE plant by May 2001, cleaning both riverbanks and property in the river’s flood plain. GE will also clean up contamination at the Pittsfield plant and other sites in Berkshire County, including a school and several commercial properties.

A complaint filed at the same time as the settlement alleges that the contamination resulted from GE’s use of PCBs and other hazardous substances at its plant in Pittsfield, Mass. From the 1930s until 1977, when PCBs were banned, GE manufactured transformers and other equipment containing PCBs in Pittsfield, causing widespread contamination of the 101ha site and the river, the complaint says. Today, PCBs are found in the Housatonic from western Massachusetts to its mouth in the Long Island Sound.

“This consent decree means GE will clean up the Housatonic River,” said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. “Today’s settlement is a major step by GE toward ending the legacy of pollution in the river.”

Through a cost-sharing agreement, GE also will pay much of the cost for the US EPA to clean up an additional 2.4km stretch of the river. GE will perform a further cleanup for downstream portions of the river after EPA draws up a cleanup plan. The cost of cleaning these downstream areas will be on top of the $200M plus cost of cleaning the river closer to the plant and the plant site.

Apart from the cleanup, the settlement requires GE to carry out a $50M brownfield plan designed to revitalise Pittsfield. The company will transfer part of its facility to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, after demolishing certain buildings and cleaning the underlying soil.

“This agreement is the most significant step yet for our common goal of the environmental and economic restoration of Pittsfield,” said John P. DeVillars, administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “It reflects enormous effort and the shared commitment of EPA, GE and many public agencies to the future of Berkshire County.”

The settlement also addresses claims that GE damaged natural resources in the Housatonic River downstream from the site, extending through Massachusetts and into Connecticut. GE has agreed to a natural resource package that includes a $15M cash payment, several projects to acquire or improve wildlife habitat, and habitat enhancement at the plant. The company will make the $15M available to natural resource trustees – the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and agencies of Massachusetts and Connecticut – to restore or acquire habitat and promote the recovery of fish and birds in the area.

“This settlement ensures the restoration of essential habitat and the health of the area’s economy,” said Terry Garcia, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. “It is a good example of fairness in a pollution settlement, holding the company responsible while attending to the natural resource needs and continuing to bring an economic benefit to the people of the states involved.”

The settlement package also includes a provision in which up to $4M in future revenue from redevelopment of the GE site would be made available for additional natural resource projects by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

The agreement ensures that the cleanup of the river, the GE site, and other properties in Berkshire County will proceed on a schedule outlined by EPA. Cleanup of contaminated sediment in the first one-half mile of river will begin immediately.

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