LEE, M.A. (NEWS10) — Environmental activists plan to flood a public meeting Thursday night to argue against a toxic waste landfill in Berkshire County.
Tim Gray, director of the Housatonic River Initiative, says the current plan to take pollutants out of the river looks to him more like a step backwards than forwards.
“Take it out of the river and dump it on the side of the river, that’s what they want to do. It’s absurd,” he says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Gray says the Housatonic River Initiative has pushed for proper cleanup after it was discovered harmful PCB chemicals escaped from the former General Electric plant into the surrounding environment. There’s now talks of moving the contaminated river soil into a landfill in Lee.
“It’s not good for our schools. There are three schools in the proximity of this dump. Our property values around here are already dropping. Realtors have already told us that people have backed out of sales for homes around this neighborhood because they find out about the toxic dump,” he explains.
The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry confirms Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) caused skin conditions and liver damage in workers exposed to the chemical in high quantities, as well as cancer in animals exposed to the contaminated environment.
“My neighbor just up the road here has already gone through two battles with bladder cancer, and even her doctors thought it was odd that she developed it the way she did because she’s always been healthy,” Gray explains. “I feel like they don’t care about the health effects to us to be honest, they just want to push this toxic dump down our throats.”
The EPA is in charge of holding GE responsible, both for the cost and the effectiveness of the cleanup. Bryan Olson, director of the EPA’s Superfund Program, claims they’re confident a landfill is the best method.
“We are more concerned about their exposure to the river itself right now and the floodplains and the people living in the floodplain than we are with the landfill itself,” Olson explains. “We feel that the landfill can be absolutely safe, because we will completely eliminate exposure.”
Olson says only the minimal concentration of PCB contaminated river soil will be put in the landfill. Higher concentrations meeting federal regulations will be shipped to containment sites out of state. The proposal calls for double layers of drainage collectors and liners to stop any chance of ground contamination.
“It’s designed as if there were 10,000 to 50,000 parts per million PBCs in there, as opposed to the 20 parts per million that we’re putting in there,” Olson says.
He also says once the cap is put on top of the landfill, it will “resemble more like a grassy field.”
“We have hopes that this area can be repurposed once we’re finished with it. This isn’t like where you’ll have to throw up a fence and forget about it. The containment will ensure it’s safe enough to put a park or solar panels or generate some use of the space,” he says.
He adds even after Thursday’s public session, the EPA will spend the rest of the year collecting more public comments before they clear the site for construction.
“Because we signed onto this agreement, we think what we’re doing is the right thing, but certainly public comments could change our minds,” he says.
“My group is going to fight this tooth and nail with the neighbors. We’re all going to try to stop this thing even if it comes down to the end of it that we have to lie down in front of the bulldozers,” Gray challenges.
The public forum meeting organized by Berkshire County officials and inviting EPA and GE representatives to answer concerns from the public will be from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Herberg Middle School.
NEWS10 reached out to GE representatives, but did not receive a response.