Pittsfield Fined for Bright Green into the Housatonic River

Green Stuff that was released into the Housatonic RiverBEAT received an email with a photograph showing a bright green liquid flowing into the Housatonic River at the Elm Street bridge in Pittsfield. We grabbed our camera and cell phone and ran to investigate. Indeed, there was still bright green liquid coming out of the storm drain outfall pipes. We called 1-888-VIOLATE, the Massachusetts Environmental Strikeforce.

UPDATE: Dec. 1, 2010

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fined the City of Pittsfield for this violation. Here is the information from the DEP:

10/5/10: MassDEP entered into a Consent Order with a $6,325 Penalty involving the city of Pittsfield for Water Pollution Control violations. MassDEP found the city discharged chemically-treated boiler water to the Housatonic River.  On 6/18/10, MassDEP staff responded to a notification of the appearance of a green discharge to the Housatonic River from an outfall in the vicinity of Deming and Elm Streets in Pittsfield, and traced the discharge to Pittsfield High School.  School maintenance personnel were draining three boilers to a floor drain.  Sampling of the river indicated a pH greater than 10 at the discharge, a violation.  A review of the school’s records (material safety data sheet) provided by the school maintenance personnel for the boiler treatment product indicated that it contained a number of chemicals, including sodium hydroxide and sodium nitrite.  Up to 4,700 gallons were discharged prior to MassDEP’s verbal order to cease the discharge on that date.   Upon being made aware that this boiler treatment chemical discharge was impacting the river, the city took immediate action to clean out the impacted floor drain and storm drainage system.   Under today’s Order, in addition to the Penalty, the city has agreed to eliminate the floor drain discharge.

Previous UPDATE June 24, 2010

The gentleman at the Strikeforce said that the liquid could be just dye testing of storm drain lines, but he would call and find out if the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Springfield had been notified of any dye testing in Pittsfield.

While he did that, BEAT called the City of Pittsfield Department of Public Works. We told the person who answered that we were concerned about this bright green liquid and wanted to know if there was dye testing happening in that location. “Not that I am aware of,” was the response. That answer was not enough, so we explained that either this was innocuous dye testing or a major environmental violation. “It is being dealt with,” was the new response. That was not sufficient! Eventually the person from Public Works stated unequivocally that the liquid was not from a dye test.

As soon as we hung up with the City, we received a follow up call from the DEP. They confirmed that the green liquid was not a dye test but instead from someone cleaning out a boiler. The DEP said that the person who disposed of the liquid thought it would go to the sewer treatment plant. It is unclear that even that would have been permissible.

Our understanding is that this started perhaps last night? Why didn’t anyone stop the liquid from continuing to enter the Housatonic River? Will anyone fine the facility for this violation? Will the illicit connection to the storm water system be removed? Will the public ever know exactly what happened?

This was not the first violation BEAT called about today. Work at Clapp Park was polluting the west branch of the Housatonic River this morning – a violation that we had warned the Pittsfield Conservation Agent might happen several days ago, before the river turned mud brown for miles. Again, BEAT first became aware of this violation because a concerned citizen called us to say that there was work going on in the river.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to give us a call! Thank you for protecting the environment in the Berkshires and beyond!

UPDATE June 24, 2010

Here is an update from MassDEP’s Photostream:

Green stuff going into Housatonic River

Green stuff going into Housatonic River

June 18, 2010

Pittsfield High School boiler chemical release, East Street, Pittsfield (WERO)- MassDEP staff responded to a notification of the appearance of a green discharge to the Housatonic River from an outfall in the vicinity of Deming and East Streets in Pittsfield. The initial notification was provided on 6/17 and Pittsfield Fire Department hazardous materials team members responded to sample the liquid and determine a potential source. The discharge of the green liquid had ceased, and sampling was inconclusive as to the material. On the morning of 6/18, MassDEP was again notified by the Pittsfield Police that the discharge was occurring, and responded to the scene. With assistance of the Pittsfield Department of Public Works, the discharge was traced to Pittsfield High School. MassDEP personnel were informed that school maintenance personnel were draining three boilers to a floor drain. School personnel believed the floor drain discharged to the sanitary sewer. The first boiler had been drained on 6/17, resulting in the notification on that date. The second boiler was drained on 6/18, and the MassDEP response prevented the draining of a third boiler. Sampling of the river indicated a pH >10 at the discharge. The school estimates that approximately 1200 gallons were discharged. A review of the Material Safety Data Sheet provided by the school for the boiler treatment product indicated that it contained a number of chemicals, including sodium hydroxide and sodium nitrite. MassDEP ordered the City to retain an emergency response contractor to vacuum the storm drain system and prevent further discharge of the material to the Housatonic River. MassDEP also surveyed the river and verified that no fishkill had occurred as a result of the discharge. USEPA and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection were notified of the incident.

MassDEP RTN: 1-17879 (BEAT Note: this is the MassDEP Release Tracking Number.)

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