Allendale Elementary School
50 feet from two toxic waste dumps - Hill 78 & Building 71
Once again, PCBs to be removed from schoolyard (12/2007)
Pittsfield Pediatricians Protest PCBs (3/7/2006)
Filters that were to be jointly tested, thrown away (3/2/2006)
12/22/05 Mass. Dept. Public Health met with Advisory Group
State Department of Public Health to come to Pittsfield (12/17/2005)
Mass. Department of Public Health found no PCBs - but HRI did! (12/07/2005)
PCB Health Effects Forum 12/12/05
Once again, PCBs to be removed from schoolyard - 12/19/2007
Somehow BEAT thought that all the soil around Allendale school, except the deeper soil right next to the foundation of the school, had been removed and replaced with clean soil. Looking back at the Final Completion Report
for the Allendale School
Removal Action, by the
General Electric Company,
February 2000 (pdf), we can see that was not the case. (Look at Figure 3) There is a lot of area east and west of the main school yard that was left alone. The reason soil in these areas was not removed was that grid sampling gave no indication of high levels of PCBs in these areas.
PCB Testing Shows High Levels
However, recently, GE had to sample on its property right near the school yard as part of the Consent-Decree-required grid sampling for the "Hill 78 Remainder Area".* (The "Hill 78 Remainder Area" is the entire area bounded by Tyler Street extension/Allendale School to the north, the General Dynamics Parking lot to the east, Merrill Road to the South, and New York Ave to the west. It excludes the Hill 78 and Building 71 On-Plant Consolidation Areas (OPCAs - or toxic waste dumps depending on your terminology)).
During the testing, high levels of PCBs were found near the fence separating the Hill 78 Remainder Area from Allendale School. EPA then tested the soil on the Allendale School side of the fence. These tests showed PCBs at levels as high as 33 ppm in the top 1-3 feet, but below the surface soil which had tested below 2 ppm. EPA required GE to remove all the soil down to 6 feet deep around the high level sample, out to where samples showed all below 4 ppm. (Notice of removal action with map 2 pages )
Aerial Photo Comparison
BEAT asked the EPA why they believe that all the other areas at Allendale School, that had not previously had soil removed, did not contain high levels of PCBs. EPA's answer was that they looked at maps of pre and post 1950s. The area that is now to be removed appears to have been low lying - sort of like a trench, that in later photos appears to have been filled in. The other areas of the school yard that have not had soil removed, did not appear to have changed in a similar way.
BEAT suggested that a good project to figure out where in Pittsfield should be tested for PCBs would be to have someone examine aerial photos pre and post 1950 to look for low lying areas that are then filled in. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection contacted us to say that they have done this and would BEAT like to find out more about what was actually done. Yes! We will discuss this with the DEP in 2008.
In October, 2007, when EPA first mentioned it would be conducting more soil sampling on the Allendale School grounds, they also announced (pdf) that GE would be installing 4 new small wells on the Allendale School grounds to
measure groundwater elevation below the school property. There appears to be very high ground water here - which means that Hill 78 is sitting in groundwater? Not a good place for an unlined landfill. Ground water moves downhill - toward the river. There are monitoring wells around Hill 78.
* This sampling was NOT in conjunction with installing new sewer and stormdrain pipes to go around Hill 78, to replace the ones that currently carry storm and sewer water under Hill 78 as BEAT had previously reported. Sorry.
These pipes were never designed to have a huge, very heavy landfill built on top of them. BEAT and other environmental groups asked about the integrity of these pipes. We were also worried about the outside of the pipes acting as a preferential pathways for PCB contaminated water to flow along. To address our concerns the pipes were examined and so was the soil and sediment at the outflow of the stormwater pipe where it emerges from under Hill 78 and its water flows off of GE property, under Merrill Road and through a pipe along Commercial Street into the Housatonic River. The soil and sediment showed very low levels of PCBs. The pipes integrity was suspect. However, the sampling for the layout of the new sewer and storm drain lines did not detect elevated levels of PCBs. During the winter of 2007-2008, the pipes under Hill 78 will be closed off, and new pipes will be laid to go around the Hill 78. (background on Hill 78)
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Pittsfield Pediatricians Protest PCBs - 3/7/2006
All of the Pittsfield's pediatricians have signed a letter to Mayor James M. Ruberto urging the community to speak out against two PCB dumps that sit next to Allendale Elementary School.
The dumps — known as Hill 78 and Building 71 — were included in the PCB remediation settlement finalized in 2000. The dumps, one lined and one unlined, are being filled with contaminated soil and sediment taken from contaminated areas around Pittsfield and the Housatonic River.
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Filters that were to be jointly tested, thrown away (3/2/2006)
The Director of the Pittsfield Board of Health, Dr. Philip Adamo, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) assured the public that the remaining untested air filters at Allendale Elementary School would be kept so both the DPH's lab and the lab preferred by the Housatonic River Initiative, Housatonic Environmental Action League, and BEAT could each run independent tests on the same filters. This agreement was made after filters that HRI obtained and had tested showed PCBs while those that DPH tested showed none. Now joint tests won't be possible.
Previously HRI had obtained filters from the air circulating machines at the Elementary School and had them tested. The tests showed PCBs. DPH and the Pittsfield Board of Health had filters from the same machines tested, and those tests showed no PCBs. The groups had agreed on both testing the remaining filters by the same protocols to assure the public of the results. Now there will be no way to do that. It seems that HRI was definitely justified in quickly taking action to get filters by what ever means necessary to have tested by a lab we all trust. Otherwise, all the evidence would be gone that indicated a problem.
Tim Gray, the executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, and others including representatives of BEAT, were told in December that the air filters inside the school would be saved to test for levels of PCB-contamination.
Tim Gray said Board of Health Director Philip Adamo said last week when the state Department of Public Health held a meeting at the school that the filters would not be changed.
According to the Berkshire Eagle article: Superintendent of Schools Katherine E. Darlington said that the air filters inside the school were supposed to be changed in December, and that school custodians changed them during school vacation last week as part of their regular maintenance. "It was part of the routine maintenance that was going to be done," Darlington said. Darlington, who did not attend last week's meeting, was unaware of any agreement to save the filters.
David Martindale of California Avenue, whose daughter attends Allendale, said he was both "angry" and "incensed" that the air filters had been disposed of. "This is a travesty," he said. "Everybody talks about data, and now the last piece has been thrown out. It seems very convenient that this happened. It's not like it was a big secret that we didn't want the filters changed."
School staff members known as the "Allendale Safety Committee" released a written statement yesterday expressing their frustration at the most recent turn of events.
"We are frustrated and disturbed by the lack of communication between our city officials and state agencies," the committee's statement read. "There is no one person overseeing the PCB issue at Allendale school. As a result, different groups are unaware of what others are doing.
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State Department of Public Health meeting with Housatonic River Health Advisory Committee
Thursday, December 22, 2005, the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) held a meeting with the Housatonic River Area Advisory Group in the little meeting room upstairs in the Pittsfield Library. The DPH refused to move the meeting to the auditorium. The room was very full, but everyone who wanted to attend could fit.
BEAT had been trying to find out the date, time, and place that the Mass. Department of Public Health (MDPH) would be meeting out here. First we were told that MDPH would be meeting with the Housatonic River Health Advisory Committee and they would decide on when to have a meeting to talk with "parents, teachers, and other folks with concerns". They would let BEAT know when that public meeting was scheduled. BEAT replied that under Mass. Open Meeting Law, the meeting with MDPH and the Housatonic River Advisory Committee IS a public meeting. The public may not be invited to talk, but we can listen - and where and when would the meeting take place? BEAT received an answer that "Of course, periodically folks who are not actual members do attend."
On December 21, BEAT received official word that this meeting would be on the following day. The Housatonic Environmental Action League of CT (HEAL) pointed out that legally this meeting needed to be posted for 48 hours. HEAL has other commitments and cannot attend.
As far as we can determine, this group is supposed to meet quarterly. The last time they actually met was two years ago - on December 21.
This is not how our government should operate.
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State Department of Public Health finally agrees to come to Pittsfield
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who were supposed to be meeting with Berkshire County residents quarterly, has finally agreed to come to Pittsfield. However, they now want to restrict who can come to that meeting.
Part of the reason BEAT was founded was to force our government to be transparent and accountable. That is why we try to videotape and broadcast so many meetings. BEAT believes that this very important meeting should be open to the public and should be videotaped and broadcast.
BEAT finds it incredible that the people who are well informed on this issue and have been asking for such data as the detection limits used in the allendale School PCB tests, could be excluded from this meeting. Actually they cannot legally exclude the public from this meeting according to the Open Meeting Law.
BEAT has been asking for information on how these tests were performed since Dec. 8 from both the Pittsfield Health Department, including Dr. Adamo, and the state Health Department. We have received NO ANSWER from the Pittsfield Health Department nor Dr. Adamo. The state would not give us answers by email or phone, but said they put it in the mail a week ago. We have not received anything. [received Dec. 23, 2005 ]
This is not how our government should operate.
From the Berkshire Eagle article:
Dr. Philip Adamo, chairman of Pittsfield's Board of Health, said he wants to arrange a face-to-face meeting between the DPH and the Allendale community. He said parents and teachers should be able to pose questions and air concerns directly to the scientists who tested the air in the school.
Adamo said he wants that meeting to exclude outside groups, like the Housatonic River Initiative, that he said "have another agenda." He criticized an environmentalist meeting on Dec. 12 at which an activist called on parents to pull their children out of Allendale until either the dump or the school has been moved.
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Let's start with the basics - in October, 2000 many parties including the City of Pittsfield and the General Electric company entered into a legal agreement called a Consent Decree, about how the remediation of the Housatonic River and lands polluted with PCBs would be handled. Among other major problems with the Consent Decree is one - they didn't start at the top of the contamination to begin cleaning. Unkamet Brook, where it flows through the GE plant area, is a HIGHLY contaminated swamp that was used as a dumping ground for all sorts of toxic waste. Unkamet Brook runs into the Housatonic River upstream of the entire "clean up" that has been done so far.
Part of the Consent Decree was leaving a heavily polluted dumping area that GE had been using for many, many years in place and adding material they would remove from the river to this hill - Hill 78.
Hill 78 and Building 71 are called "On-Plant Consolidation Areas" (OPCA's).
How deep does Hill 78 go and what is down there? We don't know. It is now an Unlined landfill where GE dumps waste that has less than 50 parts per million PCBs on top. It will cover 5.6 acres and rise no higher that 1050' above sea level (about 36' above the Allendale Elementary School playground which it is 50' from).
How far away would you have to site a landfill from an elementary school if you were siting it today? 1,000 feet away for a regular land fill that is not supposed to accept toxic waste.
What is Building 71? It is not a building! It is where there once was a Building called Building 71. It is a High Level toxic waste dump. It is lined and GE pumps the leachate (water with toxic chemicals) out of the bottom of the growing mound. Eventually it will be capped. It is also right next to Allendale Elementary School.
Allendale Elementary School was built on top of contaminated fill. GE was first required to "cap" the school yard in the early 1990s, and later (1999) required to clean the entire school yard. Now it turns out there are dirt crawl spaces under the school with trap door leading up to the classrooms and hallways.
The dust from Hill 78 and Building 71 blows toward Allendale Elementary School.
EPA's site about Allendale Elementary School
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|Mass. Department of Public Health found no PCBs - but HRI did! - 12/2005
In a very bizarre situation, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) came to Allendale School and took air, dust, and filter samples to test for PCBs. (Berkshire Eagle story) At first they were only going to do their routine tests - not for PCBs - to make the teachers, parents, and students feel safe, but when the public found out that DPH did not intent to test for PCBs they objected. DPH agreed to test for PCBs. The some teachers, including a science teacher, were present when DPH came to test. They report that DPH planned to do wipe samples from the teachers' and students' desks, that are cleaned all the time. The teachers needed to insist that samples be taken in rooms near the toxic waste hills and in places that weren't cleaned as often.
In the meantime, Housatonic River Initiative (HRI) obtained a filter or two from the school as well, and sent them to a lab in New York to be tested. This lab in New York does PCB research. This lab gave initial results from these air filters of 0.12 parts per million and 0.14 parts per million. While those numbers would be low if they were testing soil, BEAT finds them alarming for PCBs in air filters!
The DPH tests all came back as Non-Detect. But they failed to mention what tests they ran, what procedures they used, what their detection limits were, and whether they were testing for total PCBs or specific congeners.
Until BEAT sees all the results we can't determine what these results might mean. The doctor whose lab ran the HRI tests will be in Pittsfield on December 12th, 2005. (See the next story.) Hopefully, the Department of Public Health will make its information public so we can evaluate all the results.
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The Housatonic River Initiative presents
**PCBs and Your Health**
About 120 people attended the forum on Monday, December 12, 2005.
(attendance estimate from the Berkshire Eagle article)
What are the up to date known health effects of PCBs?
Many! According to Dr. David Carpenter. And just living with in 3 miles of a PCB site increases your risk, statistically speaking.
How do we get exposed to PCBs?
Many pathways - eating contaminated fish is one of the worst, but breathing contaminated air seems to be one of the most common.
Do PCBs volatilize into the air? YES!
How do PCBs affect children?
Probably one of the scariest sets of data shows that PCBs lower children's IQs.
Should Hill 78 be near an elementary school?
Dr. Carpenter said that having a PCB dump 50 feet from an elementary schoolyard is "asinine"!
Lois Gibbs stressed the need for the community to take the fight into their own hands, find a new location for the school, and demand that the officials move the school - (at GE's expense).
Dr. David Carpenter is an internationally recognized expert in PCBs and public health. He is a neurotoxicologist and professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology in the School of Public Health at State University of New York, Albany. He has worked successfully with many communities across the country to help them assess the degree of human exposure to a range of contaminants, including vast experience with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Dr. Carpenter has been an editorial advisor to many scientific journals, hosted a 170 station syndicated Public Health Radio Show, and former Chair of the School of Public Health at SUNY Albany. Prior to joining the University at Albany, Dr. Carpenter was a Research Physician at the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research. Dr. Carpenter received his M.D. at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. He has 220 publications, 37 reviews and book chapters and 12 other publications to his credit.
Lois Gibbs, founder and executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), has been at the forefront of the environmental movement in the United States for over two decades. CHEJ is a grassroots environmental crisis center that has provided information, resources, technical assistance and training to more than 8,000 community groups around the nation. Currently CHEJ is conducting a “Be Safe” in schools campaign. In 1978 Gibbs, a housewife with two young children, became concerned about reports of chemical waste in her neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. She wondered if her children's unusual health problems and those of her neighbors were connected to their exposure to leaking chemical waste. Gibbs later discovered that her neighborhood sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried chemical waste, the now infamous Love Canal. She is the recipient of an honorary Doctorate from SUNY at Cortland, New York, the 1990 Goldman Environmental Prize, the 1998 Heinz Award, and the 1999 John Gardner Leadership Award from Independent Sector.
Co-sponsored by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and the Housatonic Environmental Action League (CT)