Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to site content

PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

U.S. ARMY MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY LABORATORY
WATERTOWN, MIDDLESEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS

SUMMARY

The U.S. Army Materials Technology Laboratory (MTL) was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) on May 30, 1994. The 47 acre MTL facility is part of what was originally the Watertown Arsenal, established in 1816. MTL is in Watertown, Massachusetts, approximately 5 miles west of Boston. The facility's inclusion on the NPL was largely based on the potential for site contaminants to migrate into the Charles River, which borders the installation on the south. (1) ATSDR involvement at MTL stems from the facility's inclusion on the NPL and requests by community members that our agency evaluate public health issues at the former Watertown Arsenal and other sites in Watertown (see Appendix A). Specific health concerns raised by Watertown residents are discussed in the Community Health Concerns section and Appendix E of this report.

Environmental contamination at MTL, and associated former Arsenal properties, resulted from a long history of munitions storage and arms manufacturing and related operations, and materials research. (1,2) Although other contaminated former Arsenal properties are not included on the NPL, they are considered in our public health assessment. Those properties include the Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) parcel, which is now the Arsenal Mall (also referred to as the Arsenal Marketplace) and Arsenal Park, and the General Services Administration (GSA) site.

ATSDR evaluated the environmental information for all properties comprising the original Watertown Arsenal (Figure 1). Appendix A describes our evaluation of these parcels. As a result of this review, we identified three situations where people currently could be exposed to contaminants, could be exposed to site contaminants in the future, or could have been exposed to site contaminants in the past. These exposure situations relate to: 1) contaminated subsurface soil and building remnants on the FUDS parcel; 2) fish contamination in the Charles River, and; 3) past air releases of depleted uranium. Other situations were evaluated where exposures might result from future use of properties that are currently contaminated. These exposure situations are grouped below by ATSDR Public Health Assessment Conclusion Categories, which are defined in Appendix B.

NO APPARENT PUBLIC HEALTH HAZARDS

We concluded that three situations pose no apparent public health hazards:

1) Subsurface Contamination - People are not currently being exposed to contaminants on the FUDS parcel, but future exposures are possible if workers unearth contaminated subsurface soil and building remnants, potentially containing radiologically-contaminated piping. The Army has completed their contaminant characterization of soils on the FUDS property and will be remediating small areas of soil. Until remediation is complete, areas with surface soil contamination are temporarily fenced. In unremediated areas where soil contamination poses no current threat, we recommend that procedures be implemented to ensure that future property owners know of potential hazards and avoid inadvertent exposure to residual contamination. We requested and the Army collected additional radiological sampling in sanitary sewers on the FUDS parcel. After review of the recent sanitary sewer sampling (Summer 1996), ATSDR ruled out utility worker exposure to radiological contamination as a potential health hazard.

2) Fish in the Charles River - In response to ATSDR's request, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) sampled fish from the lower Charles River including the area near the Arsenal and detected high enough levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in carp for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to issue a fish consumption advisory for the Lower Charles River between Hemlock Gorge Dam and the Museum of Science. If the advisory is followed, this exposure situation poses no apparent public health hazard.

3) In the situation where depleted uranium was burned at the Watertown Arsenal in the past, possible exposure to airborne contaminants was below levels of health concern. Radiation dose estimates, based on very protective assumptions, showed a lifetime cancer risk less than that expected from background radiation levels

NO PUBLIC HEALTH HAZARD

ATSDR concluded that one other situation was no public health hazard:

1) In the situation regarding MTL and GSA land use, current site conditions (e.g., access by the general public is restricted) make it unlikely that people would be exposed to contaminants at levels of health concern. Moreover, before these properties can be released for reuse, residual contamination must be cleaned up to levels considered protective of public health according to guidelines set by state and federal regulatory agencies.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Former Watertown Arsenal

BACKGROUND

SITE DESCRIPTION / HISTORY / DEMOGRAPHICS / LAND USE AND NATURAL RESOURCES USE

The background information we present here is to orient the reader to those geographic areas considered in our public health evaluation and is intended to be general in nature. Detailed site histories, relating to public health issues at individual parcels, are provided in those particular sections of the document. These issues relate primarily to Arsenal properties, which are the focus of our health assessment. Watertown residents also have environmental concerns that do not relate to the Arsenal, but are, nonetheless, of public health importance. We address these concerns in the Community Health Concerns section of our report.

The Watertown Arsenal, which was founded in 1816, is in the southeastern portion of the community. Watertown is a densely populated urban area of roughly 33,000 people, covering approximately 4 square miles. (3) Housing and population data for the town as a whole are listed in Appendix C.

The Arsenal facility has gone through numerous phases of activity throughout its nearly 200 years of operation. Peak activity was just after World War II, at which time the site encompassed 131 acres with 53 buildings and structures. (4) Figure 1 depicts all of the properties that were, at one time or another, part of the original Watertown Arsenal. Summary information about each parcel is provided below. Additional details relating to our public health evaluation of these parcels are listed in Appendix A.

An operational phaseout of the Arsenal began in 1967 and much of the property was sold at that time. (4) The Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) portion of the former Arsenal was sold to the Watertown Redevelopment Authority in 1968. The 59 acre FUDS parcel was developed and includes the Arsenal Mall, Ann & Hope department store, Harvard Community Health Plan offices, apartments, condominiums, Arsenal Park and Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) land (5). About 12 acres of additional Arsenal property, known as the Northeast Area, was transferred to the General Services Administration (GSA). Property 20, which is at the northeast tip of the GSA site, and Property 21, which is currently the site of the United Parcel Service, are parcels that were leased to the Army during the 1940s and 1950s. The MDC also controls 11 acres along the Charles River containing a public road, a public park and a yacht club (MDC) that is south of Materials Technology Laboratory (MTL). This 11 acre parcel is owned by the Army and is part of the NPL site. (6) The MTL facility, which closed September 30, 1995, is approximately 47 acres with 14 buildings and associated structures. Three of these buildings were used for military housing. (4,5,7,8)

When remediation at MTL is completed, most of the remaining land and buildings are expected to be turned over to the town. The Watertown Reuse Committee and their consultant recommend that the site become a mixed-use commercial, residential, and recreational development. The plan calls for some buildings to be renovated and used for offices, research and development facilities, and specialized manufacturing by high-technology firms, along with some ancillary restaurants and shops; some to be renovated as apartments or condominiums; and others to be demolished. Seven acres would be used as a public park/open space. The plan is subject to review by both the town and the Army before approval. (2)

During the long history of industrial operations at the former Arsenal, many areas were contaminated by use and handling of hazardous substances. The potential for the general public to contact site contaminants has been quite low because contamination is primarily associated with industrial and laboratory areas where access was, and continues to be, restricted. However, land use at the Arsenal has changed over the years. Some areas containing residual contamination are now private or public lands and reuse options are being considered at this time for the MTL facility.

The Army is continuing to characterize environmental contamination on both current and former Arsenal properties and is evaluating options for environmental cleanup in conjunction with federal, state, and local environmental and health agencies. The Watertown Public Library and the installation have detailed information about these environmental investigations and remediation plans.

ATSDR involvement includes conducting a site visit in December 1993 to evaluate situations of public health concern at MTL, other former Arsenal properties and those areas of concern to community members. We inspected site conditions and identified data needs, considering both the extent of contamination and the potential for people to come in contact with site contaminants. We also discussed public health issues with representatives from the Army, federal, state, and local environmental and health agencies, and Watertown residents. In response to citizens' requests, we held public meetings during January 1994, at which time area residents, members of Watertown community organizations, and political leaders raised a variety of health concerns.

Community members are concerned about cancer incidence in several areas of Watertown, particularly in relation to the former Arsenal and other sites that were used for disposal of Arsenal wastes. These areas are former Watertown municipal landfills (now Fillipello Park and the Watertown Municipal Skating Rink also known as Bemis Dump), Arsenal Park (part of the FUDS parcel) and the United Parcel Service Center (Property 21). Figure 2 shows the locations of these properties and delineates the census tract boundaries subdividing Watertown. Public health issues related to these areas are presented in sections of this report entitled Environmental Contamination/ Pathways Analyses/Public Health Implications, Summary of Site Evaluations (Appendix A) and Community Health Concerns.

Figure 2
Figure 2 - Census Tracts and Former Arsenal Properties



Next Section       Table of Contents

  
 
USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

A-Z Index

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #