Department of Justice Seal




EPA: (617) 918-1008

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General Electric will spend more than $250 million in a settlement with the United States, Massachusetts, and Connecticut to resolve claims it polluted the Housatonic River with PCBs, the EPA and Justice Department announced today.

A complaint, filed today along with the settlement, alleged that the contamination resulted from GE's use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous substances at its plant in Pittsfield, Mass. Under the settlement, GE will remove contaminated sediment from the half-mile stretch of the Housatonic River nearest the GE plant by May 2001, cleaning both river banks and property in the river's flood plain. GE also will clean up contamination at the Pittsfield plant and other sites in Berkshire County, including a school and several commercial properties.

"This settlement ensures that the environment and public health of the residents in the Pittsfield area will be protected," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "The restoration of the Housatonic River will lead to the economic and environmental revitalization of the Pittsfield area."

From the 1930s until 1977, when PCBs were banned, GE manufactured transformers and other equipment containing PCBs in Pittsfield, causing widespread contamination of the 250-acre site and the river. Today, PCBs are found in the Housatonic from western Massachusetts to its mouth in the Long Island Sound.

"This consent decree means GE will clean up the Housatonic River," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. "Today's settlement is a major step by GE toward ending the legacy of pollution in the river."

Through a cost-sharing agreement, GE also will pay much of the cost for the EPA to clean up an additional one-and-a-half mile stretch of the river. Later, after the EPA selects a cleanup plan for downstream portions of the river, GE will perform that cleanup as well. The cost of cleaning these downstream areas will be in addition to the $200 million-plus cost of cleaning the river closer to the plant and the plant site.

Apart from the cleanup requirements, GE will carry out a "brownfield" plan under the settlement worth an estimated $50 million, designed to bring new commercial life to Pittsfield. The company will transfer part of its facility to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, after demolishing certain buildings and cleaning the underlying soil. Brownfields are abandoned pieces of land contaminated from industrial use. Because of the stigma of contamination and legal barriers to redevelopment, businesses may not buy these pieces of property, which can remain unproductive and vacant.

"This agreement is the most significant step yet for our common goal of the environmental and economic restoration of Pittsfield," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of EPA's New England Office. "It reflects enormous effort and the shared commitment of EPA, GE and many public agencies to the future of Berkshire County."

The settlement also addresses claims that GE damaged natural resources in the Housatonic River downstream from the site, extending through Massachusetts and into Connecticut. GE has agreed to a natural resource package that includes a $15 million cash payment, several projects to acquire or improve wildlife habitat, and habitat enhancement at the plant. The company will make the $15 million available to natural resource trustees - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and agencies of Massachusetts and Connecticut - to restore or acquire habitat and promote the recovery of fish and birds in the area.

"This settlement ensures the restoration of essential habitat and the health of the area's economy," said Terry Garcia, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. "It is a good example of fairness in a pollution settlement, holding the company responsible while attending to the natural resource needs and continuing to bring an economic benefit to the people of the states involved."

The settlement package also includes a unique provision in which up to $4 million in future revenue from redevelopment of the GE site would be made available for additional natural resource projects by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

The agreement ensures that the cleanup of the river, the GE site, and other properties in Berkshire County will proceed on an expedited schedule outlined by the U.S. EPA. Cleanup of contaminated sediment in the first one-half mile of river will begin immediately.

The consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass., is subject to a 60-day public comment period. A U.S. District judge must approve the settlement before it becomes final.