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EPA Responds to Peer Review Panel's Comments on Human Health Risk Assessment for GE Pittsfield/Housatonic River Site

Release Date: 04/16/04
Contact Information: Contact: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office (617-918-1064)

For Immediate Release: April 16, 2004 Release # 04-04-26

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its response to the pPeer Review pPanel comments on the draft Human Health Risk Assessment, and is available for public review at the information repositories (listed below).

The area evaluated in the assessment, known as the “Rest of River,” includes the Housatonic River and floodplain alongside the river from the confluence of the river’s East and West branches in Pittsfield downstream to Long Island Sound. The assessment is one in a series of reports being prepared by EPA as part of the Consent Decree negotiated three and a half years ago between EPA, General Electric and other government agencies.

The responsiveness summary contains the complete text of all comments raised by the Peer Review Panelall significant public comments received and EPA’s responses to those comments. It also contains a grouping of the fourteen most significant issues raised by the Panel, along with EPA’s grouped responses. A complete listing of all public comments received by EPA on the Human Health Risk Assessment is included. Many of the issues raised by the public have been captured through EPA’s responses to the Peer Review Panel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be holding public information meetings on Wednesday, June 18, in Pittsfield, MA and Thursday, June 19, in Kent, CT to present and discuss a recently-completed Human Health Risk Assessment for a major section of the Housatonic River in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The assessment is also being released for public comment and peer review.

The Peer Review Panel consisted of seven independent members of the scientific community who reviewed the full contents of the draft Human Health Risk Assessment, along with a presentation of the assessment by EPA, and considered concerns from General Electric and the community in developing their individual comments.

The risk assessment characterizes potential cancer and non-cancer risks to adults and children who are exposed to PCBs and other contaminants while living or working near the Housatonic River, or using the river and floodplain for recreation or agricultural purposes. The report evaluates three primary routes through which people may be exposed to PCBs and other contaminants.
These include:

    • Direct contact with soil and sediment during recreational, residential, commercial or agricultural activities in the floodplain.
    • Consumption of fish and waterfowl caught in the Housatonic River.
    • Consumption of agricultural products produced in the floodplain such as milk, eggs, or plants.
Although the draft report was relatively well received by the Peer Review Panel, several significant issues were raised. These issues have been grouped by EPA into the following fourteen major categories for The major comments presented by the Peer Review Panel which will require further consideration by EPA included:
    • Future land-use along the riverBackground information on the rest of river population. Includes providing better demographics and information on local health studies.
    • Highly exposed populationsLand Use. Identification of future uses of municipally and privately owned property.
    • Fish and waterfowl consumptionHighly Exposed or Susceptible Sub-populations. Closer evaluation of nursing infants, very young children and subsistence anglers.
    • Looking at the effects from combined exposure pathwaysCalculation of Exposure Point Concentrations. Review methodologies and data trends to more accurately determine the distribution of site-wide media-specific concentrations.
    • Selection of Contaminants of Potential Concern (COPCs). All agree that PCBs are an appropriate COPC. Further evaluation of the selection of toxic-equivalency (TEQ) as a contaminant of concern and consideration of other chemicals is requested.
    • Direct Contact Exposure - Screening Risk Assessment. Further evaluation of the approach used to select various target risk levels (TRLs) which are used as a screening tool.
    • Direct Contact - Phase 2 Assessment. Further evaluation of exposure areas to assess impacts from relatively high or low concentrations and a review of exposure parameters used to quantify risk assessments.
    • Fish Consumption Point Estimate Exposure Parameters. Further evaluation of consumption parameters including ingestion rates, exposure duration and cooking loss.
    • Waterfowl Consumption. Further consideration of meal type, meal size and resident verses migratory fowl.
    • Probability Bound Analysis for Fish and Waterfowl. Application of a probability analysis to various parameters for each exposure pathway.
    • Agricultural Product Consumption. Further consideration of soil to plant transfer factors and application of quantified uncertainties.
    • Toxicity/Dose Response. Expanded description of toxicity factors and associated uncertainty.
    • Risk Characterization and Presentation. Address concerns regarding compounding conservatism and revise the graphical presentation of risks.
    • Combination of Exposure Pathways. Further evaluation and better presentation on the combination of multiple exposure pathways.
EPA’s responses contained in the responsiveness summary directly address many of the general and more detailed specific issues. Others will require further evaluation. A revised Human Health Risk Assessment will be released this Fall which will incorporate the findings contained in the responsiveness summary. Although some changes will be made to individual exposure routes, the overall conclusions are not expected to change significantly.

Copies of the responsiveness summary can be reviewed at the following locations:
    • Berkshire Athenaeum Public Library Reference Department, Pittsfield, MA
    • Simon’s Rock College of Bard Library, Great Barrington, MA
    • Cornwall Public Library, Cornwall, CT
    • Kent Memorial Library (Kent Library Association), Kent, CT
    • Housatonic Valley Association, Cornwall Bridge, CT
    • EPA Records Center, One Congress Street, Suite 1100, Boston, MA
A complete copy of the Responsiveness Summary, a presentation summarizing the responsiveness summary, the draft Human Health Risk Assessment Report and Aadditional information on the Human Health Risk Assessment can be found on EPA’s web site at: