Almost two months after a breakdown in negotiations, the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered General Electric Co. to clean up a polluted section of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Mass., home of GE Plastics' world headquarters.
GE and EPA officials are discussing a possible return to the negotiating table. EPA New England regional administrator John DeVillars requested further talks in a June 3 news release, which accompanied the cleanup enforcement order.
``EPA should either follow a negotiating process or an adversary process,'' GE officials said in June 3 response. ``It can't have it both ways.''
EPA said GE must act on the cleanup order by Aug. 14.
``If GE fails to move forward or if they waiver, we will use the full force of federal law to get the job done,'' DeVillars said in the June 3 release. ``And then we'll send them the bill.''
GE Plastics employs 700 in Pittsfield. The contamination in question resulted from polychlorinated biphenyl, which GE used at an electrical tranformer plant that closed in the mid-1980s.
EPA officials claimed in the June 3 statement that the site still is emitting PCB, but GE spokesman Bruce Bunch said in a telephone interview that the claim is false.
EPA also is attempting to add the site to its Superfund list of most-polluted locations in the United States, which would make it eligible for federal funding.
GE Plastics officials, including Gary Rogers, president and chief executive officer, have said a Superfund designation would damage severely the company's ability to recruit employees to work in Pittsfield.
GE also criticized health-risk information that EPA linked to the Housatonic as a result of the PCB contamination. GE officials said the levels of PCBs in the bloodstreams of Pittsfield residents has been found to be at or below the national average. GE also pointed out that the river and its flood plain have been declared safe for canoeing and other recreational activities by state officials and the EPA.
Since 1981, GE has spent more than $110 million to clean the site. Recently, the firm removed contaminated soil from several homes and a school, officials said.