By Mickey Friedman
October 21, 2011
The Fish are the fish that swim the Housatonic River; the Ducks are the ducks that travel the flyway, stopping to live for a bit in the Housatonic. And the Clucks, well read on, and make your own decision.
The men and women of the Commonwealth whose jobs are to protect our environment came to town the other day to explain their plan for the Housatonic River. The fish and ducks couldn’t make the meeting. But the Lenox Town Hall was packed with people, many vigorously endorsing a more comprehensive cleanup, some enthusiastically supporting the state’s proposal for a cleanup of Woods Pond, but a plan that leaves most of the river and floodplain the way it is.
“Cluck,” by the way, as in “dumb cluck,” is a word often used on the street to describe someone who is more stupid or foolish than detestable.
Kenneth Kimmel, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Mary Griffin, the Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) brought some DFG staff scientists to help us understand their plan.
That the DEP and DFG presentation impressed some people is a testament to the fact that it is a royal pain in the ass to read all the thick and very boring scientific reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers have assembled the last twenty years. Not even the crack commentators at the Berkshire Eagle have the time to tackle those reports. Thankfully, the Commonwealth decided to offer some easy-to-digest, non-scientific non-facts.
Governor Patrick’s team made several points. One: you can’t really effectively clean the areas where most of the PCBs are because those are environmentally sensitive areas – and that’s where all the fragile, endangered species hang out. That’s the section of the Housatonic River which bends and curves – the fancy scientific term is “meanders.” It’s where 75% of the PCBs are: in the meandering river and on the riverbanks and in the adjacent floodplain. Too complicated. We can’t clean it without destroying it. The same thing GE says.
The DEP and the DFG said that again and again, and never offered any tiresome, ever-so complicated scientific evidence to support their opinion. Which could have taken some time. The EPA has wasted hours and hours demonstrating how people clean ecologically-sensitive meandering rivers all over the country. And then successfully restores them.
Two: just in case the audience was confused about what these folks did, thinking maybe the Department of Fish and Game cared about the fish and game, they talked about their mission. Turns out they don’t really concern themselves with an individual fish or individual duck. They focus on “populations.”
Good to know. Especially if you’re an individual fish, like a white sucker or largemouth bass, or your basic wood duck or mallard or osprey. If your fish or duck body is riddled with PCBs, don’t waste your time calling the Department of Fish and Game. Think about how much time and money they’re saving at DFG by dodging those phone calls? Considering we’ve got a river filled with potentially-complaining contaminated ducks with time on their feet hanging in the Housatonic.
Unfortunately, those time-wasting folks at the EPA discovered with all their tests that fish in the Housatonic have some of the highest levels of PCBs in the country, up to 100 times more than the limits set by the US Food and Drug Administration. And that our ducks have PCB levels that are 200 times higher than the national tolerance level.
That could have presented a real problem. But because there are a lot of fish still swimming and a lot of ducks still flying, DFG says we have a “population.” Which is good. So chill. Lucky for us the fish and ducks are only contaminated, not dead.
Three: the government folks told us it’s much better not to eat any fish at all, than to eat seven meals of fish a year. Because even the most stringent of GE cleanup plans wouldn’t allow us to eat unlimited numbers of fish, only seven meals. And that would be so confusing, we probably wouldn’t remember to stop at seven meals. We might eat eight meals or maybe nine meals and then we’d be in trouble. Why? Because while the “population” of fish is healthy, that individual fish is really sick, and eating that fish is a really bad idea because we’d be eating PCBs.
Seems the folks from Boston suspect we’re all a bit slow out here. Probably from eating those contaminated fish or those contaminated ducks. Maybe from breathing in the PCBs which come from the contaminated floodplain and the contaminated river sediment that we shouldn’t clean. We’re so brain-damaged, we think that the entire river system should be cleaned. Which makes us the clucks. And them, the Department of Environmental Protection.
“The Fish, The Ducks, And The Clucks” first appeared in The Berkshire Record, October 20, 2011