February 09, 2018

Warren, Markey, Neal Urge Scott Pruitt to Ensure General Electric Deposits Housatonic River Toxic Waste Out of State

Local Disposal Would Be Incompatible with Massachusetts State Law

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and Representative Richard Neal sent a letter to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt calling on him to uphold the EPA's 2016 decision that contaminated material removed during the Housatonic River "Rest of River" clean-up project must be "shipped off-site to existing licensed facilities for disposal."

"Rest of River" is an EPA-approved plan requiring General Electric (GE) to clean up the tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) it spilled into the river over four decades, beginning in the 1930s. PCBs were later banned from use in the United States in 1979 because of their high probability of being a cancer-causing agent. The EPA has estimated that up to 600,000 pounds of PCBs remain in the river and continue to pose a significant wildlife and human health risk.

The clean-up plan was initially proposed more than three years ago and it was meticulously vetted by the EPA and the Commonwealth - and determined to be in the best interest of the people of Western Massachusetts. Under this plan, GE would significantly reduce levels of PCBs found in the river. However, a critical component of the clean-up plan was recently called into question by the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), which instructed the EPA to review requirements involving the location of toxic waste disposal from the clean-up. GE has fought this clean-up every step of the way and appealed the EPA's Housatonic clean-up decision to the EAB.

"The EPA and Commonwealth have repeatedly stated that the contaminated material must be shipped off-site to existing licensed facilities for disposal - and there is no such a facility in Massachusetts," wrote the Members of Congress. "To allow local disposal of GE's toxic waste scraped from the riverbed would be incompatible with Massachusetts state law and a complete disregard of the affected Massachusetts communities who have been plagued with this corporate pollution for far too long."

GE has long insisted that the toxin-infused material to be dredged from the riverbed should be stored in landfills near the river - and dumping the toxic waste locally would save GE up to $250 million. The Members of Congress urged the EPA to insist that GE be a responsible corporate neighbor by cleaning the Housatonic River. In doing so, the EPA should respect existing Massachusetts laws regarding toxic waste disposal, hear and respect the concerned voices of Western Massachusetts, and require that the carcinogenic PCBs be deposited in a federally licensed out-of-state disposal site.