PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
NEW BEDFORD SITE
NEW BEDFORD, BRISTOL COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS
Based on the information reviewed, ATSDR has concluded that this site is of public health hazard because of the risk to human health resulting from ongoing exposure to PCBs via ingestion of contaminated fish within harbor waters and dermal contact with PCB-contaminated sediments in and near the "hot-spot" areas.
- Completed exposure pathways to site contaminants were identified. Individuals ingesting seafood harvested from restricted waters could be exposed to hazardous levels of PCBs, lead, and cadmium. Individuals accessing the estuary shoreline can also incur significant PCB exposure via dermal contact and inhalation of ambient air.
- Ingestion of PCB contamination levels such as those detected in harbor seafood has been associated in animal studies with increased cancer risk, decreased immune function and increased prevalence of low birth weight.
- Human studies have demonstrated an association between regular ingestion of cadmium levels such as those maximum levels detected in clams harvested from the harbor and surrounding waters with increased risk of kidney dysfunction.
- Animal studies have demonstrated adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PCB levels such as those that would be expected following dermal contact with shoreline sediments near the "hot-spot" areas. Such adverse health effects include immune system suppression, gastrointestinal cysts, decreased thyroid hormone secretion, fat accumulation in the liver and increased cancer risk.
- The planned removal of the "hot-spot" sediments as well as those in the estuary and harbor with PCB levels of 50 ppm or greater will largely remove the health risk associated with dermal contact to these sediments. This remediation will also reduce the migration of PCBs through the food chain. It can not be currently determined, however, when harbor seafood will be safe for consumption.
- The planned incineration of "hot-spot" sediments will nearly completely destroy the PCBs contained in these sediments if the incinerator operates under proper conditions. The lead contamination that was detected in these sediments will not be destroyed. If the incinerator's particulate filtration system fails to operate under optimal operating conditions, individuals frequenting areas near the incinerator including a local playground may be exposed to increased lead levels emanating form the incinerator.
- The planned dredging of Hot-Spot sediments will result in temporary elevation of PCB levels in ambient air where the dredging will occur. Individuals near the area during the dredging period will not incur an increased cancer risk since chronic exposure to elevated PCB levels will not occur.
- Levels of VOCs which enhance PCB volatilization and mobility through sediment and water have not been completely characterized at the site.
- It is extremely unlikely that local municipal water supplies will be impacted by contamination detected at the site. Private ground water usage near the harbor has not, however, been completely characterized.
- It has been reported that security at the Aerovox plant could be improved. The risk, however of individuals accessing the bluff at the plant near the "hot-spot" areas and incurring physical injury from falling is minimal since a fence is situated between the plant grounds and the bluff.
In order to protect the public health of individuals engaged in activities on or near the New Bedford Harbor Site, the MDPH in conjunction with ATSDR puts forth the following recommendations:
- The ban promulgated by MDPH restricting fishing activities in or near the harbor remain in effect. Patrolling of harbor waters for illegal fishing activities should continue until safe levels have been maintained.
- Further monitoring of seafood harvested from fishing areas proximal to New Bedford Harbor for PCB and heavy metal contamination be conducted in order to determine long term trends in seafood contamination levels.
- Given its proximity to playground sites, the location of the PCB incinerator be reconsidered or the playground relocated to an area distant to the site of the proposed remediation.
- Smoke stack output of the incinerator should be monitored for hazardous emissions especially for lead, exposure to which may pose a health risk. Monitoring of ambient air lead levels in the densely populated areas of New Bedford near the proposed incineration site should also be considered. The MDPH should determine those areas within New Bedford where the highest prevalence of childhood lead poisoning exist. This will enable environmental and health officials to determine more accurately those areas where individuals would be sensitive to further lead exposure. This crucial information would supplement environmental and meteorologic data needed for the effective placement of ambient air monitors during the recommended monitoring program. Baseline monitoring should be conducted before start-up and monitoring should be continued during the incineration period.
- Monitoring of sediment migration should be ongoing when remedial dredging is being conducted.
- The use of groundwater near harbor waters should be ascertained. If usage of such waters presents the possibility of exposure to hazardous environmental contaminants, these waters should be monitored. If such monitoring has been conducted, these results should be forwarded to ATSDR so that they can be incorporated in an addendum to this public health assessment.
- Monitoring for VOC contamination should be conducted in harbor waters and ground waters at the Aerovox plant.
- Security against trespassing at the Aerovox plant should be improved.
- The estuary shoreline near the playground at Sawyer's Cove should be secured against trespassing.
HEALTH ACTIVITIES RECOMMENDATION PANEL (HARP) RECOMMENDATION
The New Bedford Harbor Site has been evaluated by ATSDR's Health Activitie
Recommendation Panel (HARP) for appropriate follow-up with respect to health activities.
Since PCB registry and serum lead monitoring programs are currently operating within the
MDPH, the Panel determined that additional follow-up health activities are not indicated at this
The Public Health Action Plan (PHAP) for the New Bedford Harbor NPL Site contains a description of actions to be taken by ATSDR and/or the MDPH at and in the vicinity of the site subsequent to the completion of the this Public Health Assessment. For those actions taken at the site, please see the Background section of this document. The purpose of the PHAP is to ensure that this health assessment not only identifies public health hazards but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. Included is a commitment on the part of ATSDR/MDPH to ensure that it is implemented. The public health actions to be implemented are as follows:
- The Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment within MDPH will continue to monitor cancer incidence rates for the Greater New Bedford area.
- The Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment within MDPH will determine whether local, state, and federal agencies are conducting monitoring of seafood from New Bedford Harbor and associated waters of Buzzard's Bay. Review of available data will be conducted by the Bureau in order to determine if consumption of fish caught from these waters continues to pose a health hazard.
- The Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment within MDPH will review and analyse the results of annual serum lead monitoring conducted on children in the New Bedford area. This will be done in order to identify those areas where the risk of adverse health effects resulting from additional lead exposure may pose a concern.
- MDPH will apprise USEPA of any specific areas within New Bedford where childhood lead poisoning prevalence is elevated. Consideration of this information may aid in placement of monitoring devices if the suggested ambient air lead monitoring is conducted.
- If monitoring of seafood sold in local markets in the New Bedford area is incorporated into USEPA's Record of Decision for the remainder of the harbor, MDPH will provide technical assistance for such monitoring. In addition, the Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment will review the results of such monitoring in order to evaluate any health risk that may be associated with consumption of such seafood.
The public health assessment for the New Bedford Harbor site was prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the public health assessment was begun.
Gregory V. Ulirsch
Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC
The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this public health assessment, and concurs with its findings.
Robert C. Williams
Director, DHAC, ATSDR
William C. Strohsnitter
Community Assessment Unit
Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment, MDPH
Jeffrey D. Purvis
Chief, Community Assessment Unit,
Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment, MDPH
Suzanne K. Condon
Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment, MDPH
ATSDR REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE
Office of the Assistant Administrator, ATSDR
ATSDR TECHNICAL PROJECT OFFICER
Technical Project Officer
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Remedial Programs Branch
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