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PETITIONED PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

BOVONI DUMP
ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS


CONCLUSIONS

ATSDR considers that the Bovoni Landfill site poses a public health hazard, primarily because of physical hazards (unstable earth and the potential for explosions and surface fires) and the combined effect of such respiratory irritants as smoke, various aldehydes, phosgene, and mercury vapor. Few of the limited environmental data available for this site lend themselves to the estimation of actual exposures to landfill contaminants. Exposures to contaminants in on-site air are expected to be intermittent and of intermediate duration, since they will depend, from moment to moment, on (1) the activity of the landfill itself in relation to surface fires; (2) the type and concentration of waste fueling the subterranean and/or surface fires; (3) the direction and wind velocity; and (4) the specific location, nature, and duration of worker activity on-site.

A past, current and future completed exposure pathway for on-site workers exists from contamination of the ambient air as the underground fire emits combustion products through fissures in the landfill surface. On-site air monitoring indicated that all contaminants, with the possible exception of phosgene and mercury vapor, were below levels that might produce adverse health effects. The concentrations of phosgene, mercury vapor, and various aldehydes may be further elevated during surface fires and, in combination with smoke inhalation, may have been sufficient to account for some of the respiratory complaints reported by on-site workers in 1996 and late 1995.

Residents living near the Bovoni Landfill are most likely to have been exposed to landfill contaminants in air during past above-ground fires, when the air concentrations of some of the substances measured on-site in 1995 and 1996 (especially various aldehydes, phosgene, and mercury vapor) might have increased significantly. Respiratory irritants, such as acrolein, formaldehyde, and phosgene, would mimic and exacerbate the effects of smoke inhalation and might, therefore, have contributed to the respiratory complaints reported by nearby residents at those times. Although air is the most likely route of exposure off-site, ATSDR was unable to estimate such exposures because there were no off-site air data.

While the on-site concentrations of individual respiratory irritants were below their respective thresholds for respiratory irritation during an 8- to 12-hour workday, the irritant effects of these chemicals may be additive. More sensitive individuals will be at a greater risk. Nearby residents and on-site workers will be at greatest risk during a surface landfill fire, when concentrations may be further elevated and their effect will be exacerbated by smoke inhalation. Some workers may also experience respiratory effects between fires, especially with prolonged exposure. Contaminants at Bovoni Landfill are not likely to produce adverse health effects in nearby residents except possibly during major surface fires.

Possibility for exposure is greatest for daily landfill workers and those residents living downwind from the landfill in the Bolongo Bay area. Although no imminent, life-threatening health effects were noted, there is a good deal of respiratory symptomatology during times of active smoke from the landfill. It is plausible that a relationship exists between the respiratory symptoms reported and the smoke, particulates, and chemical contaminants generated by the landfill fire. The landfill site is under evaluation, and engineering alternatives that would provide a solution to the underground fire are being reviewed.

Although no cistern water sampling data were available for review, ATSDR has determined that it is unlikely there would be significant exposure to volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cistern water. In the absence of cistern water sampling data, ATSDR has recommended residents practice good hygiene to reduce their exposure to potential contamination from the landfill.

RECOMMENDATIONS

A. Recommendations

  1. Extinguish the underground fire at the landfill.

  2. Conduct air sampling, particularly downwind off-site sampling, when remedial operations to extinguish the underground fire at the landfill begin.

  3. Implement stricter control of access to the landfill.

  4. Install diversion valves or roof washers to prevent foreign matter on the roof, such as bird droppings, insects, stray dirt, and particulates, from entering household cisterns.

  5. Periodically flush out sediment and sludge that collects in the household cisterns.

  6. Provide health education to community members to help them understand their risk in living and working near the site.

  7. Conduct sediment sampling in an area of the Mangrove Lagoon adjacent to the landfill.

B. Public Health Action Plan

The actions described in this section are designed to ensure that this public health assessment identifies public health hazards and provides a plan of action to mitigate and prevent adverse health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

The Department of Public Works is currently negotiating with an outside contractor to extinguish the underground fire. Recent site activities at the landfill include a training program for landfill operators, managers, directors and private waste haulers that was hosted by the EPA on August 21-22, 1997. Since the EPA training, a temporary pit was excavated to collect landfill leachate to prevent it from entering the wetland and a heavy gate has been constructed at the facility entrance to improve security.

Worker exposures at the landfill have been identified. Workers with health concerns about their working conditions may contact David Sundin; Chief, Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Branch; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (telephone 513/841-4382). Mr. Sundin can provide information about how employees can request an evaluation of possible health hazards associated with a job or workplace.

ATSDR's Division of Health Education and Promotion will provide health education to community members to help them understand their risk in living and working near this site.

If any new information or data are found to be of significant health concern, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will revise this public health assessment as appropriate.

PREPARERS OF REPORT

Danielle M. Langmann, MS
Environmental Health Scientist
Petition Response Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Frank C. Schnell, PhD, DABT
Toxicologist
Petition Response Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Robert H. Johnson, MD
Medical Officer
Exposure Investigation and Consultation Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


ATSDR Technical Reviewer:

Douglas Gouzie, PhD
Petition Response Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


ATSDR Regional Representative:

Brian VonGunten
Regional Representative
Region II


REFERENCES

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