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EPA Issues Final Cleanup Plan for the Housatonic River "Rest of River" Project in Western Mass. and Conn.

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Emily Bender (

BOSTON - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its final decision on its Rest of River permit, which outlines a final cleanup plan for a 125 mile stretch of the Housatonic River from Pittsfield, Mass. through Connecticut. The final cleanup plan is also referred to as the Final Permit Modification for Rest of River.

EPA's cleanup plan follows an extensive public comment period and a dispute by the responsible party, General Electric Company (GE). The plan takes all of the comments received through those processes into consideration. The final cleanup will utilize a combination of targeted soil and sediment removal, riverbed capping and monitored natural recovery to address risks posed by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The cleanup plan requires GE to address PCB contamination that poses a health risk to the river and the impacted communities. This cleanup plan outlines that GE will cleanup contamination in river sediment, banks, floodplain soil and biota that pose unacceptable risks to human health and to the environment. EPA estimates that the cleanup will cost an estimated $613 million and will take approximately two years for initial design activities and 13 years for implementation. It's important to note that the majority of the sediment and floodplain cleanup is targeted within the first 11 miles in the City of Pittsfield and the towns of Lee and Lenox. Phasing the work will also disperse the effects of the construction activities over time and locations.

In addition to addressing public health risks, the plan when fully implemented will reduce downstream transport of PCBs, relax or remove fish consumption advisories, and minimize harmful impacts to state-listed species and their habitats regulated under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

Because this will be a lengthy and complex cleanup, EPA has written the cleanup plan to ensure it is performed using the best available technologies and methods. This is called an "adaptive management" approach. Further, EPA's plan calls for contaminated material to be shipped off-site to existing licensed facilities for disposal. The plan also allows for the use of innovative technologies to treat the PCBs if these technologies are proven to be effective at meeting the project's requirements.

"EPA remains firmly committed to taking actions in Berkshire County that help protect public health and restore the ecological integrity of the land and water in these communities. Issuing this balanced and comprehensive Rest of River final cleanup plan brings us another step closer to restoring environmental health and bolstering community prosperity along the Housatonic," said EPA regional administrator Curt Spalding.

The cleanup plan was first proposed in June 2014 after extensive consultation with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (MassDFG), and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), as well as a lengthy series of technical discussions with GE.

Following a four month public comment period and EPA's consideration of those comments, EPA notified GE of its intention to finalize the Permit in 2015. Then, in October 2015, GE initiated a formal dispute process regarding the cleanup of the river.

On October 13, 2016, after considering the parties comments, a 10-page Final Administrative Decision was issued regarding the cleanup plan. In upholding the plan, Carl Dierker, EPA Regional Counsel, addressed multiple criticisms that GE made to EPA's proposed cleanup decision. Ultimately, he decided that "Given the scope and variability associated with a site of this size and complexity, EPA's development of a cleanup approach overall is entirely reasonable and is supported by the data and information in the administrative record." The cleanup plan prescribed by the Final Permit Modification relies on a combination of cleanup approaches that apply to specific "reaches" of the river, as described below:

  • Removing and capping PCB-contaminated sediment in select reaches in the Housatonic River. Monitoring natural recovery in select reaches in the river.
  • Removing PCB-contaminated soil from some areas in the 10-year floodplain adjacent to the river, including vernal pools, and restoring affected areas.
  • Stabilizing PCB-contaminated erodible river banks that are a source of PCBs that could be transported downstream, focusing on the use of bioengineering techniques in restoring any disturbed banks.
  • Using an amendment such as activated carbon in some portions of the river and vernal pools to reduce the bioavailability of PCBs.
  • Transporting and disposing of all excavated contaminated soil and sediment off-site at existing licensed facilities approved to receive such soil and sediment.
  • Placing restrictions (Institutional Controls) on eating fish, waterfowl, and other biota where PCB tissue concentrations pose an unacceptable risk unless/until such consumption advisories are no longer needed, as well as restricting other activities that could potentially expose remaining contamination.
  • Establishing procedures for GE to manage and dispose of PCB contamination in the future, if needed.
  • Maintaining remedy components and monitoring over the long-term to assess the effectiveness of the cleanup and recovery of the river and floodplain.
  • Establishing mechanisms for additional response actions if land uses change (e.g. dam removal, changes in floodplain land use)
  • Conducting periodic reviews following the cleanup to evaluate the effectiveness and adequacy of the cleanup in protecting human health and the environment.

The Final Permit Modification becomes effective in 30 days unless a party petitions for review of the decision with EPA's Environmental Appeals Board. Regulations governing such a challenge can be found at 40 C.F.R. Section 124.19.

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