Good Things To Life

“Good Things To Life: GE, PCBs, and Our Town,” a feature length documentary, tells the tale of GE, PCBs, and the small city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Mickey Friedman: Producer, Director, Director of Photography, and Editor. Original Music by John Sellew. September, 2002.

While most Americans associate GE with kitchen appliances and light bulbs, and more recently with life-saving medical equipment, there is another, darker side to the GE story. Pittsfield is one of GE’s hometowns. Pittsfield was home to GE’s transformer and capacitor divisions, and electrical generating equipment built and repaired in Pittsfield powered the electrical utility grid throughout the nation.In the early 1930s, GE began to use PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, a man-made chemical manufactured by Monsanto, as a non-ignitable insulating fluid in its transformers, capacitors, and regulators.

Even though there was mounting evidence that workers exposed to PCBs were experiencing noticeable negative health effects, it took until the mid-1970s for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to announce that there was enough scientific evidence that PCBs posed a significant threat to the environment and human health to ban their use.

But by that time more than a billion and half pounds of PCBs had made their way into the earth’s environment, and today measurable amounts of PCBs are found in the bloodstream and fatty tissue of every human being, and much of our wildlife.

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Silver Lake – Pittsfield MA
“Good Things To Life” tells a complex story. It begins with the GE workers, who on a daily basis, were exposed to extremely high levels of this toxic chemical without proper protective clothing; and without fully understanding the risks they, and their families, were taking.

[caption id="attachment_622" align="aligncenter" width="383"]Ed Bates and Charles Fessenden - GE Managers Ed Bates and Charles Fessenden – GE Managers[/caption]

 

PCB-contaminated oil routinely migrated from GE’s 250-acre industrial plant located in the very center of the city to the surrounding groundwater, nearby Silver Lake, and to the Housatonic River, which flows through Massachusetts to Connecticut on down to the Long Island Sound.

Faced with ever mounting amounts of PCB-contaminated material, and with a growing need to dispose of this material, GE and its contractors hauled and dumped PCB-contaminated material anywhere they could. They still had too much. So GE in the 1940s and 50s launched a giveaway program. GE employees and their neighbors and local contractors, in return for signing a letter stating that they were receiving clean fill and that they would not hold GE liable for any subsequent problems, were given truckloads of PCB-contaminated material to use as fill in their backyards and construction projects.

The sheer magnitude and varied scope of this contamination has made the Pittsfield/Housatonic Site one of America’s most complicated PCB sites.

2003 Lost Film Festival, Philadelphia, PA;
2003 FilmColumbia Festival, Chatham, NY;
Civic Cinema 2004, Los Angeles

Mickey Friedman received the “Outstanding Achievement for Editing” Award at VisionFest 03.


Good Things To Life

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