It’s David vs. Goliath time once again. GE vs. the fish, the birds, the animals and us.

GE has just issued its Corrective Measures Study (CMS). Having been forced by the United States EPA to clean up a two-mile section of the Housatonic River, GE was tasked with coming up with a plan to clean up the “Rest of the River” south of Pittsfield. 1200 pages of highly technical scenarios and charts which explain why GE should leave its highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the river.

It’s the best GE study I’ve read so far. There’s even a poetic touch to it:

most of this 10-mile stretch of the River has been untouched by development. It includes a unique, relatively unfragmented corridor of forests and wetlands that provide critical habitat for an extraordinary assemblage of plants and animals, including dozens of species listed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as threatened, endangered, or of special concern.

In case you’re happily imaging that GE has been affected by its Ecoimagination TV commercials, this is basically a prologue. Next comes the extraordinary claim that after decades of rigorous PCB science, the scientists are bonkers and PCBs aren’t really a threat to the environment or to people.

Like the Jacobsons who found that children of mothers who ate contaminated fish from the Great Lakes have lower IQs and learning disabilities. Like the Maryland scientists who found that people with high PCB levels have a much greater likelihood of developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

GE assures us that even with all the PCBs in the river sediment and floodplain soil, everything is hunky-dory in the Housatonic:

even the highest historic levels of PCB contamination have not destroyed or degraded the ecology of the Rest of River; PCBs have been present for more than 70 years and yet the indigenous flora and fauna have flourished.

Not only do the fish swim and the birds fly. But they flourish.

What if you’re still concerned that fish in the Housatonic River have some of the highest PCB levels in America; that PCBs in the breasts of Housatonic ducks are 200 times higher than the national tolerance level; or that baby mink who were fed Housatonic fish just happened to die. Well, God forbid, you make GE clean up its PCB mess. Why? Because, according to GE, cleaning the river will only make it worse:

The more aggressively you work to remove PCBs from this ecosystem, the more you damage it in the name of ‘remediating’ it … The more sediment you dredge, the more you displace fish and change the nature of the riverbed and its hospitability to aquatic life.

GE calls this “less is more.” That you will destroy the river if you try to clean it.

I’ll bet there are BP executives all over the world kicking themselves that they didn’t think of this campaign: “Save the Gulf. Don’t Clean It. There isn’t a shrimp in the world that doesn’t appreciate a little oil.”

You’ve got to hand it to them: PCBs aren’t really a problem and there’s absolutely no reason to clean them up. And if you force us to clean them up, we’re going to destroy your river, and riverbank, and make sure no fish and birds will ever want to live there.

GE has known how dangerous PCBs are since the 1930s. But they allowed profit to transcend ethics and responsibility. Now they will do everything in their power not to spend the billion dollars to really clean them up. The morally right and scientifically necessary job of restoring a river they ruined.

GE is betting their doomsday scenario of truck traffic and PCB dumps and ruined river banks and vernal pools gone forever will convince some people to accept the argument that the short-term disruption of the river system doesn’t justify restoring its long-term health.

Do yourself a favor and Google “vernal pools and restoration.” Google “river clean-ups.” GE doesn’t want you to know that these are just problems and that biologists and engineers have been working on these problems for years. And that they have solved them. You can clean a river and restore it. It will take time for a ecologically-responsible clean-up. But then GE took decades to destroy our river.

So GE and the people it scares will tell you to leave them in the river. But if you live within twenty miles of the river; if you breathe the air; if you have kids or might have them, you need to clean the Housatonic.

And if you’re not particularly fond of people, how about you save the life of a baby mink. Tell GE “more is more.” Clean our river.

The Berkshire Record, Thursday October 21, 2010. © Mickey Friedman. All rights reserved.