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Cleaning Up A Dirty River And A Legacy

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In many ways, the Housatonic River has borne most of the brunt of General Electric’s legacy in this city.

The river is filled with cancer-causing chemicals. For nearly four decades, GE used chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its transformer plant on the banks of the river.

What’s more, GE gave contaminated soil to people in Pittsfield — to use in their lawns and gardens.

The surrounding neighborhoods are filled with people whose families have been touched by the contamination. People such as former GE worker Dave Gibbs.

“My mom died of breast cancer. She worked at GE,” Gibbs says.

“My uncle died of pancreatic cancer and he used to run the swamp which feeds the Housatonic. My sister, in her early 40s, had both her breasts cut off, because the doctor told her it would cut her chances in half. She worked at GE. There are just stories like that all through the neighborhood.”

Gibbs was a litigant against GE and eventually reached a settlement with the company.

Under agreement with the EPA, GE has just finished the first phase of a massive clean-up of the Housatonic.

We got a first-hand look at the clean-up with Joe Overlock, of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, and Tim Gray, of the nonprofit Housatonic River Initiative. Gray took us to a Pittsfield park and led us to the river.

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