Gm Massena Plant Cited As Major Source Of Pcb Contamination

In an effort to break a decades-long stalemate on a major environmental problem in the North Country, Attorney General Spitzer today notified the General Motors Corporation that he may sue the company for its longstanding failure to clean up two PCB dump sites at its Massena plant.

Citing public health studies and research on fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the GM plant, Spitzer charged that the company's two dump sites pose an imminent and substantial danger to public health and the environment, including to the neighboring St. Regis Mohawk reservation.

In a letter to the company, Spitzer said he prefers to resolve the issues concerning the dump sites without resorting to litigation, but he will pursue the case in federal court if substantial progress is not made within 90 days.

"General Motors has been on notice since at least 1980 that PCBs were being released into the St. Lawrence River and onto the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation from its two hazardous waste dumps," said Spitzer. "The company has also known for the past 15 years that the landfills may endanger public health and the environment. Despite this knowledge, General Motors has failed to control the release of these toxins from its property. This legal action is necessary to protect the environment and the people who live in the area."

Mohawk Tribal Chief Paul Thompson said: "General Motors' illegal industrial waste dump has been poisoning the Mohawk people for over 50 years. Despite all of our efforts, the GM facility continues to discharge toxic contaminants into the Akwesasne environment. I believe that General Motors is guilty of environmental injustice and they have been completely negligent in overlooking the damage to the health, well being, economy and lifestyle of the Mohawk people. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council commends Attorney General Spitzer for joining the Mohawks in this effort."

The two dump sites at the GM plant are part of the company's 270-acre industrial site, which is bordered by the St. Lawrence River, the Raquette River, and the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

General Motors constructed and operated its dump sites in violation of state and federal environmental laws.

Spitzer said that although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered GM in 1992 to clean up the sites, the company has failed to proceed with a cleanup. Studies have shown that PCBs, a neurological toxin and potential human carcinogen, are entering local groundwater and are contaminating fish and wildlife. Both New York State and St. Regis Mohawk health authorities have issued fish advisories warning the public not to eat several species of fish from the St. Lawrence River. State conducted studies have found PCBs in the breast milk of nursing Mohawk mothers and in their infants.

Spitzer's letter notes that the state has entered into a Joint Prosecution Agreement with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe concerning contamination at the two dump sites. A similar notice letter is being sent to GM by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Christopher Amato and Karen Kaufmann, and Environmental Scientists Alan Belensz and Judith Schreiber.