By ecoRI News staff
The Toxics Action Center annually “celebrates” the Dirty Dozen Awards, profiling 12 of New England’s egregious polluters who have failed to take appropriate action to address their pollution problems.
As the Toxics Action Center recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, it released a report entitled “25 Years of the Dirty Dozen: Past and Current Pollution Threats in New England” (pdf) that profiles 12 of the most notorious pollution threats in the region and proposes solutions to long-term trends.
These Dirty Dozen Awards spotlight repeat offenders who have still not cleaned up their messes, along with several developing threats, and generally highlights an array of toxic hazards ranging from leaking landfills to power plants, trash incinerators and hazardous waste sites. All of the sites pose a significant threat to public health and the environment and need immediate action by industry and/or government officials, according to Toxics Action Center.
Here is an edited look at the report’s 2012 Dirty Dozen (response was added by ecoRI News staff):
Central Landfill, Johnston, R.I.
Why: The Central Landfill was awarded a 2012 Dirty Dozen Award due to its ongoing contamination of air and water resources, and the lack of progress made by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) to commit to reduce, reuse and recycle and getting Rhode Island on a path toward zero waste.
Threats: This active landfill takes in about 55 percent of Rhode Island’s solid waste. This means it processes about 2,500 tons of waste daily. The landfill is currently comprised of five distinct areas. One of these areas, a 121-acre area — sometimes called Phase 1 — was used prior to 1980 for the disposal of municipal and hazardous waste. Located within the 121 acres is a half-acre area where more than 1.5 million gallons of documented hazardous wastes were disposed of between 1976 and 1979. Bulk liquid waste was dumped into trenches that had previously been excavated into bedrock. The wastes disposed of in this area included latex waste, acid waste, corrosive waste, water soluble oils and waste solvents, including methylene chloride, toluene, trichlorethane and tetrachloroethylene.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that, prior to 1976, a large quantity of non-manifested liquid hazardous waste also was disposed of in this half-acre area. In 1982, the owner complied with a state order to close the areas that had received hazardous material. These areas have been excavated, backfilled and capped to minimize further contamination of the groundwater and surface water, and re-vegetated as part of the closure plan. On-site groundwater is contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, chlorobenzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, bisphthalate and dichlorobenzene, and heavy metals including arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, manganese and vanadium. Adjacent surface waters, sediments and wetlands have been affected by low levels of contamination. The bedrock aquifer underlying the site has been contaminated. This site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1986.
This past summer, residents in surrounding communities reported smelling a putrid odor emanating from the landfill, detectable in many new areas that had previously been sheltered from the smell. About 4,000 people live within 3 miles of the site.
Action: Government bodies have taken some action to mitigate effects from pollution and odors on local residents, but the history of the landfill also includes a pattern of failure by the landfill operator to comply with government mandates. In December 2002, the RIRRC was ordered to pay more than $5 million to install mandated odor reduction technologies. This included $321,000 worth of fines for numerous Clean Air Act violations. Specifically, the landfill was ordered to install 14 horizontal landfill gas collection trenches, install cover and capping materials to trap 15 escaping landfill gas, limit water infiltration into the waste, increase the efficiency of already existing collection and control systems, and install an ultra-low emissions flare that would burn landfill gas substantially more cleanly than most flares on the market.
Ten years later, in February 2012, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) fined the landfill operators $55,000 for failing to completely follow these mandates and prevent objectionable odors from escaping the site. In May 2012, a special legislative committee met to discuss ways to reduce odors at the site after many residents complained and expressed anger at having to deal with the smells day after day. Lawmakers ordered the landfill to install gas flares and wells to eliminate some of the odors, but were working towards a more permanent solution. Since the addition of these gas flares and wells, resident complaints have decreased. In June 2012, lawmakers mandated that air quality detectors be installed near the landfill.
Solutions: All landfills eventually leak, according to the EPA, and what they leak, both into groundwater supplies and into the air, is toxic. Rhode Island needs to take steps away from burying its trash, and flaring off gas, which pollutes air and water and threatens public health. In addition to increasing recycling, state agencies must reduce waste at its source. Rhode Island should implement a “zero-waste” plan and set an ambitious goal for waste reduction that includes aggressive recycling, commercial composting programs, and education programs focused on reducing waste. Zero waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption, and helps ensure that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace. Economic incentives should promote closed-loops, bringing consumer discards back to manufacturers and contractors to reprocess and reuse.
For Rhode Island, this means making a firm commitment to no incineration, reversing shortsighted legislation that results in wasteful practices, such as the landfilling of glass and extremely low tipping fees.
Response: The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation noted that the hazardous waste was dumped when the landfill was privately owned. Today, as a quasi-state agency the Central Landfill is the state’s “most highly regulated site, and as such, is properly subjected to intense scrutiny,” said Sarah Kite, director of recycling services for the RIRRC. This oversight includes submitting regular testing reports to the state Department of Environmental Management and the EPA, she said.
The Toxics Action Network report’s recommendations of a zero-waste policy and tipping fees will be considered as part of a comprehensive solid waste study performed by RIRRC, DEM and state Division of Planning, according to Kite.
“RIRRC is proud of the work our employees do day in and day out to ensure that Rhode Island’s waste is properly managed in a safe, environmentally compliant and economically sound manner.”
Brayton Point Coal Power Station, Somerset, Mass.
Why: Even after Dominion spent more than $1 billion in mandated environmental improvements, installing new mercury scrubbers and closed-cycle cooling towers, the company continues to violate the Clean Air Act and the facility continues to be the biggest toxic polluter for all of New England, according to Toxics Action Center. In 2008, Brayton Point emitted more than 37,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the air, according to the EPA. Studies show this pollution doesn’t only affect Somerset; the majority spreads and settles in cities and towns across a 30-mile radius from the power plant. Mercury is a major concern because it’s a neurotoxin with no safe levels of exposure, and, in 2010, Brayton Point was responsible for nearly half of all mercury emissions for the state of Massachusetts.
This past spring, in its State of the Air 2012 Report, the American Lung Association gave Bristol County, where Somerset is located, a failing grade for ozone air pollution — the only county in the state to go from bad to worse.
Threats: Besides being home to the most polluting power plant in New England, the town also hosted, until recently, a small and ancient coal-burner called Somerset Station, known in town as the “Montaup Electric Plant.” NRG Energy, the owner of Somerset Station, had committed to clean up or close its old coal plant by 2010 to meet clean air regulations. Instead, in 2008, the company applied to retrofit the plant with gasification technology and burn a toxic mix of coal and waste for fuel. Local residents launched the Coalition for Clean Air South Coast to call on the company to uphold its promise. In March 2011, NRG announced it would close the coal plant for good.
Brayton Point, however, continues to spew pollution. The station, built in 1963, is on 306 acres of land at the head of Mount Hope Bay. The largest fossil-fuel power plant in New England, it burns primarily coal. At peak capacity, the plant burns 40,000 tons of coal every three days.
Brayton Point’s location off Mount Hope Bay places it at the mouth of the Taunton River. Mount Hope Bay rests along Rhode Island and Massachusetts, feeds into Narragansett Bay, and provides important spawning, nursery and migratory habitat for many species of fish. Mount Hope Bay is a designated estuary of national significance under the federal Clean Water Act. Before upgrading to modern pollution controls, each day Brayton Point withdrew more than a billion gallons of water from the bay and circulated it through the facility to condense the steam used to produce electricity. This amount of water is equivalent to the entire 53 billion gallons of Mount Hope Bay circulated through the facility seven times a year. The water was then discharged back into the bay at elevated temperatures of up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, laced with chemicals from metal cleaning waste. This pollution turned part of Narragansett Bay into a dead zone. The final agreement to install closed-cycle cooling was the result of years of advocacy and pressure by environmental organizations and state environmental agencies.
The facility creates 300,000 tons of fly ash annually. Until the 1980s, this fly ash was dumped in a lined landfill owned by National Grid on Brayton Point Road. In March 2008, erosion from rain and dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles caused a tear in the lining, resulting in about 2,500 pounds of fly ash to wash out into a nearby wetland.
Action: Since 2005, Dominion has spent more than $1 billion on mandated pollution controls at Brayton Point, including technology to remove mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, devices to capture fly ash, and two massive $500 million 500-foot-tall cooling towers that reduced by 95 percent the amount of water drawn from Mount Hope Bay to cool the plant. The cooling towers were a result of an agreement Dominion reached in 2007 with the EPA to lessen the facility’s environmental impact on the bay. Dominion and the EPA had attempted to negotiate a settlement since 2003, when the EPA required the plant to make significant reductions in the amount of water it pumped from and into the bay. The company appealed the order because it claimed other factors were contributing to problems in the bay, such as overfishing and pollution from runoff.
Solutions: There are signs that the winds are changing and coal is on its way out: Montaup shut down in 2010; the Salem Harbor Coal Plant — also owned by Dominion — will close in 2014; and the Mount Tom coal plant in Holyoke operated at less than 10 percent capacity in 2011. Brayton Point has recently operated at less than one-third of its capacity. Massachusetts can and should continue to be a leader on clean energy and efficiency. The Department of Energy Resources estimates that it’s technically feasible and economically viable by 2020 to add more than 3,000-megawatt capacity to the grid from wind, solar, river and ocean sources, more than double the amount generated at Brayton Point.
Gov. Deval Patrick has made Massachusetts a national leader on energy efficiency, and he has committed to vastly expanding renewable energy, especially solar power. Now he should support a Coal-Free Massachusetts by 2020, and use all the tools in his toolbox to get there: fully enforce the Global Warming Solutions Act, a bill he signed into law in 2008 that gives him power to hold polluters like Brayton Point responsible for their pollution; and ensure communities like Somerset have a just transition with support for workers, property redevelopment and municipal revenues. Dominion and other coal companies should be responsible for decommissioning and cleanup when coal plants shut down.
Response: Dominion noted that pollution dropped dramatically since it assumed ownership of the natural gas and coal power plant in 2005. The $1 billion investment in pollution controls has reduced mercury emissions from 148 pounds annually to 27 pounds. This reduction has been aided by a drop off in coal burning and an increase in natural gas power production, according to Dominion.
Emissions such as hydrochloric acid are expected to be cut further with the installation of a third scrubber this year. Carbon emissions are curtailed by re-burning coal ash before it shipped off for cement production.
Harbor Superfund Site and Parker Street Waste Site, New Bedford, Mass.
Why: Companies locating facilities in New Bedford included Cornell-Dubilier, which opened an electronics manufacturing plant in the city’s South End in 1940 that used polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs are mixtures of manmade chlorinated compounds used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment. They were banned from manufacture in 1977 in the United States because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects. Today, New Bedford remains the most profitable fishing port in the country, and manufacturing continues to play a role in the local economy, but the toxic legacy of New Bedford’s industrial past, in particular from electrical manufacturing, has left the harbor so polluted that fishing within it has been banned for decades.
Threats: The city is riddled with toxic pollution, and one major site of concern continues to be the Parker Street Waste Site, a former city burn dump that was located at the current site of New Bedford High School and Keith Middle School. The site accepted industrial wastes containing PCBs and heavy metals during the 1930s and ’40s, and contaminated ash from the dump was later used as fill for surrounding wetlands. The filled-in wetlands were later developed for housing, churches, businesses, schools and athletic fields. Today, contamination sits within a roughly 104-acre hazardous waste site underneath residential and commercial properties, two schools, athletic fields and wetlands. The hazardous waste includes PCBs, dioxins, cadmium, nickel, chromium, lead and arsenic.
New Bedford Harbor is an 18,000-acre urban estuary with sediment highly contaminated with PCBs and heavy metals. From 1940 until 1970, two manufacturing facilities improperly disposed of industrial wastes containing PCBs, contaminating the harbor bottom for about 6 miles from the Acushnet River into Buzzards Bay. The harbor was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List in 1982, and continues to be one of the largest and most contaminated Superfund sites in the country. After extensive testing of water quality, harbor sediment, air quality and locally caught fish and shellfish, it was clear that the PCBs in the sediment posed a serious risk to human health and the environment.
Action: One problem with cleaning up the Parker Street Waste Site is that no one really knows the exact boundaries of the contamination. Significant testing and remediation still remains to be done. In 2008, the City Council voted in favor of buying six contaminated homes for demolition, but hazardous waste remains across the neighborhood, including nearby public housing. In 2011, City solicitor Irene Schall argued that individual property owners should take responsibility for industrialized pollution rather than the city, and the New Bedford Standard-Times reported that the city refused to support EPA’s continued testing for contamination removal unless the agency pays for it. The state Department of Environmental Protection has named the city as a responsible party in the Parker Street dump cleanup, and the city has identified several companies as potentially responsible, suing Cornell-Dubilier and Monsanto.
The EPA says its goal is to make a harbor that has been off-limits to fishing since 1979 fishable again, and its primary strategy for cleaning up the harbor has been hydraulic dredging, removing some of the highest levels of PCB contamination in hot spots. About 200,000 of the total 900,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment has been addressed as required by a 1998 clean-up plan. In October 2012, the EPA announced a $366 million settlement with AVX, the largest company responsible for PCB pollution in the harbor to provide most of funding needed to clean the harbor over the next seven years.
Solutions: Polluters shouldn’t be able to walk away without cleaning up the mess they made. EPA’s settlement with AVX is a step in the right direction, but it may not be enough money to fix the problem. Furthermore, PCB-laden waste should be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill rather than being reburied in the harbor or placed along the shoreline, both temporary fixes rather than a long-term solution.
Likewise the city of New Bedford and EPA need to work together to authorize more testing to determine the exact footprint of the Parker Street Waste Site. Significantly more testing must happen on both school grounds and perimeter of New Bedford High School and Keith Middle School.
Entergy Nuclear, Plymouth, Mass. and Vernon, Vt.
Why: In the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recommended that Americans within a 50-mile radius of a power plant complex evacuate in case of disaster. The recommendation came after a review of radiation data by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and was based on what the commission chairman at that time, Gregory Jaczko, said the NRC would recommend “in a comparable situation in the U.S.” The average population within 10 miles of an American nuclear plant is 62,000; within 50 miles, it is about 5 million. Nearly 5 million people live within the 50-mile mark of Pilgrim Nuclear power plant.
Officials from Entergy have stated several times in sworn testimony that the Vermont Yankee reactor had no subterranean pipes capable of leaking radioactive material. In early 2010, however, investigators discovered radioactive tritium in groundwater near Vermont Yankee. Initial findings were small, but test wells eventually revealed concentrations of up to 2.7 million picocuries/liter in certain areas — 135 times the federal safety standard for drinking water. In early 2011, test wells again detected elevated levels of tritium, suggesting further contamination from an as-yet-undiscovered leak.
Threats: Pilgrim Nuclear is in the Manomet section of Plymouth on Cape Cod Bay. Like many similar plants, it was constructed by Bechtel, and is powered by a General Electric boiling water reactor and generator — a General Electric Mark I reactor of the same type and flawed design as the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. In the early 1980s significant releases of radioactive products occurred at the site, as did evidence of increased cases of radiation disease. This prompted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to test the probability of adult leukemia in people near Pilgrim — the study showed a four-fold increase.
Entergy’s operation of a once-through cooling water system is harming Cape Cod Bay. Pilgrim takes more than a half-billion gallons a day of seawater from the bay daily — that’s 14,000 gallons a second. In the past 40 years, Pilgrim’s cooling water operations have used an amount of water equal to the entire volume of the bay. Cooling water is discharged back into the bay at high temperatures and polluted with chemicals. Pilgrim has been leaking radioactive tritium into the groundwater since at least 2010, according to its own reports and Massachusetts Department of Public Health investigations. Entergy also discharges pollution into Plymouth’s Sole Source Aquifer from an on-site waste disposal facility.
Opened in 1972, Vermont Yankee power station sits on the banks of the Connecticut River. As of 2010, it was reported that Vermont Yankee has 690 tons of spent fuel rods onsite.
Action: State and federal regulators aren’t adequately addressing Entergy’s pollution of air, surface water and groundwater with radioactive materials and other pollutants, according to Toxics Action Center. Citizen activists have identified and documented defects in regulatory oversight at Pilgrim. In October 2012, local residents notified the EPA and state regulators that they intended to bring suit to clean up water pollution if the agencies didn’t take action to enforce more than 33,000 violations of Pilgrim’s existing Clean Water Act permit. Members of the Pilgrim Coalition are pursuing appeals before the NRC on the insufficiency of the commission’s “Post-Fukushima Orders” that would enhance safety.
In May 2006, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed Act 160, which gave the power to decide the future of the Vermont Yankee plant to state’s elected representatives. Act 160 stipulates that detailed and independent studies must be conducted and that there be significant public input throughout the process. In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 to block operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant after 2012, citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials and other problems.
In March 2011, the NRC granted Vermont Yankee a 20-year operating extension, and Entergy sued state officials in April in an effort to keep the plant open.
Solutions: Both nuclear power plants should be taken off-line and decommissioned. The decommissioning fund currently being amassed by Entergy should safely dismantle these nuclear plants. Spent nuclear rods should be encased in the highest standard concrete dry casks and held in earthen berms. Entergy should take responsibility for its aging nuclear plants and not pass the buck in order to protect profits.
Connecticut Environmental Council, Marlborough, Conn.
Why: Each year the Connecticut Environmental Council (CTEC) has tried to convince the public and state officials that they should roll back the landmark legislation that protects children’s health by banning the use of EPA-registered lawn-care pesticides on the grounds of day-care centers and all Connecticut schools grades K-8. Before this law went into full effect, groundskeepers had three years to move from toxic pesticide use on athletic fields to using organic methods.
Threats: The trade association’s members include the Connecticut Tree Protective Association, Connecticut Association of Golf Course Superintendents, Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association, Connecticut Pest Control Association, Connecticut Irrigation Contractors Association and Connecticut Farm Bureau Association. Pesticides are chemicals or mixture of chemicals intended to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any pest. Lawn-care pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Pesticides are toxic by design and persist in the environment, threatening public health and groundwater resources.
Keeping pesticides off school grounds is vitally important. Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 have studies linking them with cancer, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects and 15 with neurotoxicity or abnormal brain development. Children are particularly susceptible because of their rapid growth and decreased ability to detoxify toxins. Lawn pesticides can be tracked inside of schools, where they can persist for long periods of time contaminating air, dust, surfaces and carpets and exposing children to these toxic chemicals even if they are not in contact with the grass.
Action: A number of Connecticut municipalities have successfully switched to pesticide-free organic lawn care.
Solutions: It’s important for public health that this law be upheld. Toxics Action Center faults the CTEC for trying to reverse it.
Advanced Disposal Services Inc., South Hadley, Mass. and Moretown, Vt.
Why: Advanced Disposal Services was awarded a 2012 Dirty Dozen Award for its ongoing contamination of air and water resources and aggressive pattern of dangerous landfill expansions. As landfills continue to expand and accept more and more waste, the potential hazards to surrounding communities also multiply.
Threats: The South Hadley landfill spews noxious odors and excessive dust into the nearby community, and trash trucks often spill debris along nearby roads. The landfill is owned by the town of South Hadley and operated by South Hadley Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Advanced Disposal Services. South Hadley Landfill was fined more $20,000 in 2012 for “willful” odor violations and a “pattern of non-compliance.” Residential neighborhoods abut the landfill on three sides, and within a 2-mile radius are a day-care center, elementary school and middle school. Even by landfill standards, the South Hadley site is dirty. In the 1960s and ’70s, it was a dumping ground for barrels of the industrial solvent 1,4 dioxane, which causes cancer in lab animals and has resulted in several fatal workplace accidents around the country. In 1992, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that the unlined landfill was leaking 1,4-dioxane into groundwater. The landfill is on the Massachusetts state Superfund list.
The Moretown Landfill sits adjacent to the Winooski River and is projected to reach capacity this March. The landfill operator recently proposed construction of a fourth cell that would allow the landfill to operate for another 15-18 years, a plan initially denied by regulators in 2011. Years of dumping into an old unlined cell led to groundwater contamination with high levels of arsenic and manganese. The water is currently under review by the Groundwater Classification Committee for possible reclassification to non-potable Class IV water. Methane and fugitive odors are pervasive. The landfill accepts municipal sewage sludge from several out-of-state sources. Dust created through blasting operations has greatly affected air quality, aesthetics and property enjoyment for nearby residences. A proposed new cell would create a mountain of trash 746 feet tall.
Action: In April 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection began monitoring the crack in the landfill berm. The landfill operator subsequently filled the 20-foot crack with grout. Surface waters are being monitored and signs have been posted at the nearby Buttery Brook warning of the contamination. In September 2012, the South Hadley Board of Health questioned the landfill operators and motioned to schedule a tour of the landfill for town residents.
Instead of cleaning up the Moretown landfill, Advanced Disposal is proposing a massive expansion. Cell 3 of this landfill currently operates without an updated landfill certification, and has done so for more than two years. The inability to secure renewed certification is primarily due to the inability of the applicant to demonstrate compliance with both groundwater and off-site odor standards. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is reviewing application for landfill certification.
Solutions: Advanced Disposal Services needs incentives to reduce waste rather than continuing to profit off of more and more waste being dumped.
Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Hartford
Why: The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) has continued to burn and bury trash at the expense of public health. In 2008, CRRA sought to build a new, 150-acre ash landfill in Franklin on the banks of the Shetucket River. Local residents and a local community group called Residents of the Last Green Valley vehemently opposed the project. CRRA abandoned its proposal. This should have been a wake-up call to CRRA to stop producing incinerator ash and start working in earnest to reduce waste generation. Instead, CRRA began trucking its ash to a private landfill in Putnam. In 2010, CRRA’s Wallingford incinerator — operated by New Jersey-based Covanta — released dioxins in excess of permitted levels, the second time this had occurred at this plant in three years.
Threats: Reliance on incinerators has become one of Connecticut’s chronic toxic ailments. Incinerators emit a smorgasbord of toxins including heavy metals and dioxins. It is impossible to know exactly what will come out of the smokestack on any given day because the composition of the trash varies based on what is thrown away. Another by-product of trash incineration is a concentrated residue referred to as incinerator ash. Burning trash does not eliminate waste; it releases part of the waste into the air and concentrates the rest in ash landfills. Ash landfills leak, and because the ash is so concentrated, the effect of ash landfill leaks on water quality can be highly toxic.
Action: In 2008, CRRA’s closure of Hartford’s landfill to new trash was announced. The Host Community Agreement in place ensured that Hartford would receive millions of dollars from CRRA to retrofit diesel vehicles, fund recycling programs, and re-develop the landfill site into a safe, green public space.
Solutions: It has been nearly 40 years since Connecticut’s last waste management “revolution” and the time is ripe for a new paradigm. Individuals, corporations and municipalities across the world are moving towards zero waste. Hartford’s 2012 zero-waste resolution announced its commitment to a sustainable future. CRRA, meanwhile, refuses to treat its trash addiction. Connecticut should follow the example of Hartford by making zero waste its priority and creating and implementing a plan for how to reach it.
General Electric, Pittsfield, Mass.
Why: In 2010, General Electric went to court, arguing that the Superfund law violated the company’s constitutional rights. A federal appeals court decided unanimously against the company. In 2012, GE refused to pay a $1.56 million clean-up fee to EPA for work done at the site. The cleanup has been slow and underfunded. In more than a decade, only 2 miles of the Housatonic River have been remediated. More than a hundred miles of the Housatonic remain contaminated, from the vernal pools and rivers of Berkshire County to the Bridgeport harbor. GE believes the residents of the Housatonic River Valley should wait for the river to heal itself naturally with minimal human interference to remove the contaminated sediments — a process EPA says could take “hundreds of years.”
Threats: In 1903, General Electric began manufacturing electrical transformers at its 254-acre manufacturing complex on the banks of the Housatonic River. During the next 70 years, GE released as much as 1,500,000 pounds of PCBs into the Housatonic, which flows 139 miles from the Berkshires to Long Island Sound.
Action: In 1997, the EPA placed the site on its Superfund National Priorities List. To date, clean-up efforts have removed 240,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil and sediment from the river and 16 other locations around Pittsfield. However, much of that contaminated soil, more than 100,000 cubic yards, now resides in the infamous Hill 78. Hill 78 is a massive, unlined PCB dump covering 5 acres, and situated just 50 feet from the playground at Allendale Elementary School. To make matters worse, the cap on Hill 78 was also contaminated, with PCB levels exceeding 2 parts per million. The EPA and GE contend that the site is safe, and air tests performed at the school by EPA in 2009 and 2011 have not found airborne PCBs above the notification level.
Solutions: GE needs to take full responsibility for its actions and should sponsor a comprehensive cleanup of the Housatonic River and surrounding areas. Instead, it is shirking the blame for its mess and cutting corners at every opportunity. The people of Pittsfield, not to mention the other hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts and Connecticut residents who live along the river, deserve to be able to fish, swim, hike and otherwise enjoy the river and Long Island Sound without fearing for their health and safety. Young children especially ought to enjoy a risk- and worry-free environment, and Hill 78 near Allendale Elementary School should be excavated and treated or disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.
Raymark Superfund Site, Stratford, Conn.
Why: Since 2001, the EPA and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have offered only one proposal for cleanup, and their plan would fail to clean up the toxic Raymark waste, fix the problem or help Stratford. Instead, their proposal involves dumping large quantities of asbestos, lead and PCBs, and consolidating them on a contaminated ballfield, creating a massive toxic waste dump in the middle of densely populated residential neighborhoods.
Threats: People who have lived in Stratford for a long time can remember digging up shredded brake pads in their backyards. Raymark Industries — formerly Raybestos and also known as Raytech — operated in the town from 1919-89, manufacturing gaskets, clutches and asbestos brake linings for the automobile industry. Raymark employed thousands of town residents and generated millions of dollars of revenue for the town, but its facade began to crumble in the 1980s when the public became increasingly aware of the health problems associated with asbestos exposure, including the lung disease asbestosis and increased risk of mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer.
In fact, company documents show that longtime president Sumner Simpson had been aware of these health effects for decades without taking measures to protect employees from toxic exposure or even to notify them of the threat. Workers began to file lawsuits against the company in the 1980s. Instead of taking responsibility for its misdeeds, Raymark filed for bankruptcy and reorganized its financial assets to avoid the consequences of its actions.
In the wake of its multiple bankruptcies, Raymark mixed waste from its industrial processes with soil and began distributing it to residents of Stratford for use in gardens and on lawns.
Action: In 2001, after 12 years of bankruptcy, Raymark made history as the first company to be held liable for civil conspiracy in an asbestos case. Raymark paid $6.8 billion in personal injury claims and unpaid retirement benefits to workers and hundreds of millions in environmental liabilities. However, even this hasn’t been enough to clean up all of the contamination. The EPA has spent more than $200 million from its Superfund identifying toxic sites in Stratford and demolishing and cleaning up Raymark’s former factory site.
Solutions: SaveStratford successfully banned the dumping of asbestos-laden wastes in residential neighborhoods as part of Connecticut’s landmark 2008 environmental justice law. SaveStratford also proposed alternatives to EPA’s one and only proposal for dumping toxic waste in residential neighborhoods.