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PCB-laden spraying may be widespread

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randall@poststar.com

FORT EDWARD - Within a stone's throw of the Fort Edward train station, Robert LeFebvre looked over a plot of land where he said hundreds of thousands of gallons of PCB-laden oil was handled during the 1960s before it was sprayed on area dirt roads.

"GE would call us, ask us to send up a tank truck when their PCB waste oil tank was full, and we'd go get it, bring it here and transfer it into one of our tanks," he said, pointing towards a lot off 3 Center Street.

LeFebvre, a former supervisor and plant manager of the now-defunct Defiance Asphalt, said his company routinely picked up PCB waste oil at General Electric's Fort Edward capacitor manufacturing plant, and that his company would later dispatch trucks to spray the toxic substance on dirt roads in Washington, Warren and Saratoga Counties as a dust-control measure.

The practice occurred in the 1960s, he said - in an era before the public knew that PCBs, or polychorinated biphenyls, were toxic, persistent in the environment and linked to a variety of health problems.

The PCB oil was given to Defiance Asphalt by GE at no charge, LeFebvre said.

LeFebvre, who has recently been battling throat cancer, said he wanted to come forward now with information about potential PCB contamination sources to prompt government agencies and General Electric to move forward faster on regional PCB cleanup efforts.

GE and government agencies have spent many millions of dollars excavating soil where PCB levels are as low as several parts per million, but apparently no cleanup efforts or soil tests have been conducted at the former the Defiance Asphalt depot, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation records.

General Electric spokesman Mark Behan said Wednesday that it might take a month or more to confirm whether GE indeed donated PCB waste oil to Defiance Asphalt.

"I don't have any information on this," he said. "We're talking about something that may or may not have happened 40 years ago."

DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said Wednesday that while his agency had conducted hundreds of soil tests during the past two decades along roadways and on properties in the region, the former Defiance Asphalt site was not among those on record as tested for PCBs. The property at 3 Center Street is now residential.

"Our agency is not aware of any work conducted at the former Defiance Asphalt site," Constantakes said. "We're passing this information along to our enforcement people who will be interviewing people, and depending on what we find out, we'll be investigating."

LeFebvre said Defiance Asphalt had contracts with area municipalities to spray dozens of dirt roads for dust control as needed during the warm months.

After the PCB waste oil was loaded into one of the tanks at the Defiance depot, a company employee would blend the PCB waste oil 50-50 with fuel oil so it would spread easier, LeFebvre said.

When Defiance received calls for dust control, LeFebvre would have the mixture loaded into one of his company's tank trucks, which would then spread the PCB-laden oil onto roadways.

Among their contracts, he said, was to spray the access roads to the Fort Edward and Kingsbury town dumps weekly, he said.

The South Glens Falls Dragstrip in Moreau was also sprayed weekly, he said.

That dragstrip was subject to a $11 million PCB cleanup effort conducted by DEC and completed in 1997, with 15,000 tons of soil treated. In that effort, the top 6 inches of soil was stripped and fed into a mobile high-temperature furnace, and PCBs were then extracted.

"We used to spray up to 100,000 gallons of that 50-50 PCB oil mixture each season on area roads, he said. "We sprayed dirt roads all over Washington and Warren counties, and Saratoga County too - we'd lay down about one-third of a gallon per cubic yard."

At the time, he lived on one of those roads - Putnam Avenue. In addition, he also sprayed the road where he moved in the late 1960s and still lives - Hillview Drive.

He said these spraying practices may have extended into the early 1970s, based on past conversations with other former Defiance employees.

During the past several decades, the DEC has investigated several dozen reports of PCB contamination, including nearly three dozen sections of roadway in Warren County and Moreau that were believed to be sprayed with PCB-laden oil. Almost all of the roads, made of dirt through the early 1970s, since have been paved. DEC hasn't ordered that the asphalt on the roads be excavated to test for PCBs, but instead chose to test soils at the edge of the roadways.

PCB levels in samples collected during the early 1980s at these locations showed concentrations of PCBs ranging from .8 parts per million to 21.2 parts per million. Cleanup projects have been triggered at levels as low as 1 part per million. The state handles dirt as hazardous waste if it contains more than 50 parts per million. DEC published a summary of known sites of PCB contamination in July 2001.

But places where PCB waste oil was stored and transferred - as LeFebvre says occurred off Center Street in Fort Edward - may host considerable contamination, due to routine spillage while loading and unloading tanks, DEC sources said.

Near the oil tank farm on GE's Fort Edward factory where PCBs were handled, considerable amounts of PCBs have been found. A cleanup effort there, now in the engineering phase, calls for tens of thousands of gallons of PCB oil to be extracted from the ground. Since 1993, GE and DEC have been devising and negotiating cleanup plans for the site.

Michael LaPan, of the citizen's environmental group HudsonCARE, said the news of new sites of contamination is alarming.

LeFebvre's statements on the PCB handling and spraying - including a sworn affidavit of LeFebvre's - reveal that PCB pollution in the region may be far greater than is now assumed, he said.

"It is disturbing how several thousands of gallons of PCB-containing oil were apparently spread through areas in the community," he said. "The DEC needs to take aggressive action to investigate every report of potential contamination."

DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the agency would look into such reports.

"When we find out about things like this, we do look into them," he said. "Information like this can be very helpful in our work."

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