Article Last Updated: Thursday, March 27,
2003 - 8:30:03 AM EST
Environmentalists meet on
Congress begins today
at Fairfield U.
Approximately 100 environmental activists will
take part in the first PCB Congress today and Thursday at Fairfield
The delegates, representing dozens of community groups from as
far away as Alaska and Seattle, plan to work on a white paper
focusing on health issues related to the dumping of PCBs. But the
group is also planning a rally at the gates of Fairfield-based
General Electric Co., which is now in the process of cleaning up PCB
contamination in the Hudson and Housatonic rivers.
The congress, which begins at 8:30 a.m. today in the cafeteria of
the Dolan School of Business, is open to the public.
The congress also brings together groups founded along the Hudson
and Housatonic rivers, both heavily contaminated. However, said one
delegate, the location is more about convenience to airports and
finding a site than it is about working in the backyard of GE, which
has spent $700 million in recent years cleaning up PCBs.
Timothy Gray, of the Pittsfield, Mass.-based Housatonic River
Initiative, came up with the idea for the congress in September,
said Judy Herkimer of the Cornwall Bridge-based Housatonic
Environmental Action League.
By bringing the groups together, Herkimer said, Gray hopes to
gain the attention of health agencies and put pressure on polluting
companies. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified PCBs,
a byproduct of some manufacturing, as a probable carcinogen and has
warned against eating fish from contaminated rivers. Dr. David
Brown, an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, is one of the
co-sponsors, said Herkimer. Brown, she said, is a former Connecticut
Department of Health commissioner and issued the first advisory
against consuming fish from the Housatonic River.
Dr. Lisa Newton, head of Fairfield University's environmental
studies department and another co-sponsor, said the group called her
and asked if she knew of a place in Fairfield they could use.
"GE in town, their corporate headquarters that was somewhat
secondary, because this is not a gathering of all GE-contaminated
sites," said Herkimer.
But the group does plan to travel to GE's headquarters later
today, to deliver what she called a symbolic "Declaration of
Independence from PCBs."
"Most of the PCBs are not cleaned up," said Herkimer, because
they are not being totally destroyed. Instead, they are placed in
landfills or incinerated in Texas, which she said results in further
pollution. "We're just somewhat shifting them," she said.
"While they certainly have a right to their opinion it appears
that we're doing what they want us to do, which is clean up these
sites," said GE spokesman Gary Sheffer. "We have met every
commitment we have made as part of those cleanups."
According to Sheffer, GE respects their concerns over the health
issues related to PCB exposure, but "The people most exposed to
PCBs, our own employees, have been tested many times" and show no
greater incidence of death from cancer or any other disease.
Sheffer knew about the planned rally, and that the congress plans
to present something to the company, but did not know details.
"No one has requested a meeting," said Sheffer.
Pam Dawkins, YourMoney editor, can be reached at 330-6351.