- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) - General Electric Co. has sharply criticized the federal government’s $619 million proposal to clean chemicals from the Housatonic River in Pittsfield and other communities downstream.

GE’s 128-page response this week to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the Rest of River plan “is far larger and more destructive than remedies that have already been rejected … as doing more harm than good,” The Berkshire Eagle (https://bit.ly/1wJiqpn ) reported.

The 13-year cleanup is needed because GE released PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a probable cancer-causing agent, into the river from its Pittsfield transformer plant from 1932 until 1977. The other downstream towns affected are Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield.

While the company acknowledged that “the Rest of River remedy must be fully protective of human health and the environment,” any solution also “requires a delicate balancing of the positive and negative impacts of such an effort.”

The Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE said the chemicals have been in the river for decades, but its forested banks, floodplains and wetlands continue to support a rich variety of plant and animal life. Indeed, the Rest of River is “home to many state-listed rare species that have not been able to maintain their footholds elsewhere,” GE said.

GE described the river as a “vulnerable and even a fragile place” and warned that virtually any effort to clean up the PCBs will cause damage.

“Any aggressive cleanup effort will disrupt it beyond recognition and repair - clear cutting its forests, removing its delicate vernal pools, dredging the riverbed and wetlands, eliminating rare steep riverbanks carved by time and nature - destroying the habitats provided by these sensitive areas and destroying or displacing their many animal and plant inhabitants,” the document said.

The EPA had no immediate official response. An agency spokesman says GE’s response and all other public comments received by the Oct. 27 deadline will be studied and evaluated over the next few months.

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Information from: The Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle, https://www.berkshireeagle.com

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