A Cleaner Housatonic River

Mass Audubon has submitted two court documents in support of the responsible cleanup of the Housatonic River.

For several decades through the 1970s, General Electric (GE) manufactured and serviced electrical transformers containing toxic and persistent PCB chemicals. During those years, GE polluted the Housatonic River and surrounding lands over several decades with hundreds of tons of PCBs, which pose threats to human health and wildlife. Efforts to mitigate this environmental disaster have been ongoing since the 1980s, and the “Rest of River” (an administrative term designating the river below Pittsfield) cleanup under this permit will take an estimated 13 years.  Even after the cleanup is completed, PCBs will remain present throughout extensive lands along and near the river. The chemicals will persist for many decades, likely even hundreds of years.

Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

The Housatonic River Valley features tremendous ecological, scenic, tourism, and community values and it is vital that these be protected and restored. As a directly impacted landowner—our Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river in Pittsfield—Mass Audubon has been closely engaged in the planning process for the cleanup for many years. Canoe Meadows is located at the head of the “Rest of River,” where the methods for the cleanup will first be applied, and this sanctuary contains habitat that supports numerous rare and common species of plants and animals.

Mass Audubon submitted two Amicus Briefs – one of our own, and one in partnership with the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee – supporting a strong Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit governing the implementation of this crucial environmental cleanup project. This includes a requirement for off-site disposal of PCBs at a licensed, hazardous waste facility, and the dredging of Woods Pond in Lenox, where PCBs have settled for generations behind a dam on the river. We also support the permit requirements for compliance with the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, as cleanup activities will impact habitats of several state-listed rare plants and animals.

Housatonic River. Photo credit: mass.gov

We’ve urged that the final EPA permit make it clear that GE will be responsible in perpetuity for managing the persistent environmental contamination that will remain even after the cleanup, and that affected communities and landowners have input into the cleanup plan.

Read our full position statement on the Housatonic PCB cleanup.