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EPA Releases Human Health Risk Assessment for GE Pittsfield / Housatonic River Site

Release Date: 06/10/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON - 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 public information meetings will be held on Wednesday, June 18th at 6:30 p.m. in the Pittsfield High School Auditorium, 300 East Street in Pittsfield, MA and on Thursday, June 19th at 6:30 p.m. at the Kent Town Hall in Kent, CT.

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 years ago between EPA, General Electric and other government agencies.

The 30-day public comment period will run from June 13 through July 14. Consistent with EPA's goal to involve interested parties, and as part of the agreement between EPA and GE, the risk assessment will also be reviewed by a panel of independent experts in a formal peer review. During the comment period, the public is encouraged to:

    • Submit comments on the Human Health Risk Assessment for consideration by the peer review panel.
    • Submit nominations for people to be considered to serve on the peer review panel.
The risk assessment characterizes 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.
The major conclusions of the Human Health Risk Assessment are:
    • Risks from eating fish from the Housatonic River, from the confluence in Pittsfield to Lake Zoar in Connecticut, exceed the EPA risk range. The risks from consumption of waterfowl are also above the EPA risk range. (Fish consumption advisories regarding the Housatonic River have been in place in Massachusetts since 1982 and in Connecticut since 1977. In 1999, Massachusetts issued a consumption advisory regarding waterfowl.)
    • Risks associated with backyard gardens with PCB soil concentrations of 2 ppm (parts per million) are not elevated, either alone or combined with residential exposure. However, properties with concentrations above 2 ppm may pose a risk.
    • Risks from backyard beef, dairy, and/or poultry operations that occur 100% within the floodplain, assuming an average PCB soil concentration of 2 ppm, are within the EPA risk range. However, where the average concentrations exceed 2 ppm, there may be unacceptable risks.
    • Risks to commercial farmers who eat their dairy products and vegetable crops (assuming that all the feed and crops are grown in soil with an average of 2 ppm PCB) are within the EPA risk range for cancer risk and below the EPA benchmark of 1 for non-cancer hazards. However, where the average concentrations exceed 2 ppm, both cancer risks and non-cancer hazards may be greater than the EPA risk range.
    • On a parcel-specific basis, there may be some risks exceeding EPA benchmarks from direct contact exposures.
The release of the report starts the 30-day public comment period, during which individuals, organizations, and other interested parties are encouraged to comment on the Risk Assessment and / or submit nominations for individuals to be considered to serve on the peer review panel. Comments or peer review panel nominations can be sent to:

Alison Wolfe, Marasco Newton Group
2801 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22201

Or by email to:

Copies of the full report 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
Additional information on the Human Health Risk Assessment, and the peer review charge, which provides guidance to the peer review panel for their review of the document, can be found on EPA's web site at: