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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

VEGA BAJA WASTE DISPOSAL SITE
RIO ABAJO WARD, VEGA BAJA, PUERTO RICO


Conclusions

The Vega Baja Waste Disposal Site is a public health hazard to children, especially preschool children because long-term exposure to elevated soil lead levels in some yards may cause harmful effects in the future. Preschool children who live in yards with elevated levels of soil lead might be exposed to small amounts of lead from accidentally swallowing soil and dust that cling to their hands. Long-term exposure could increase blood lead levels in some children in years to come and may cause a decrease in intelligent quotient (IQ), a decrease in hearing, and changes in enzyme function in the blood.

The level of lead in garden vegetables from the site is not a public health threat. It is safe for residents to grow and eat garden vegetables.

Because PRDOH's blood lead investigation did not find any children with blood lead levels above CDC's level of concern for lead, no immediate actions are necessary to protect public health. The blood lead investigation, however, cannot be used alone to decide that elevated soil lead levels in Brisas del Rosario are safe for continued, long-term exposures to lead in soil.

Forming a team that uses consensus among team members to make decisions is an effective method for meeting ATSDR's enhancement initiative and for protecting public health. Using the team method allowed ATSDR to identify and to meet the needs of other agencies and the public in a timely and effective manner. Using the team approach also allowed ATSDR to work with EPA and PREQB to design sampling plans that yielded data that could identify the chemicals that people were being exposed to. It also allowed ATSDR to identify how people were being exposed. In addition, using the team approach allowed ATSDR to enhance communication with the residents by having coordinated poster sessions with EPA, PREQB, and PRDOH. Such coordinated poster sessions allowed the residents to learn about the actions and reports that each agency had to offer.


Recommendation

ATSDR recommends that EPA prevent long-term exposure to lead-contaminated soil where lead levels are consistently elevated. ATSDR also recommends that EPA consult with ATSDR officials to ensure that Superfund activities to stop exposure to lead-contaminated soil at the site continues to be protective of public health.


Public Health Action Plan

The purpose of the public health action plan (PHAP) is to ensure that this public health assessment goes beyond presenting ATSDR's conclusions and recommendations about public health issues at the Vega Baja Waste Disposal Site. The PHAP describes actions that are designed to stop or prevent harmful effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances at the site.

Numerous PHAP activities occurred during the course of ATSDR's investigation of the site. For instance, PRDOH collected blood samples from children living on or near the site in December 1996 and April 1998. In addition, ATSDR, EPA, PREQB, and PRDOH conducted educational activities during several poster sessions to educate people about the hazards of lead, clean-up activities, and the results of several environmental sampling events.

ATSDR's current plan is for the Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, to review EPA's future activity at the site to ensure that clean-up activity is timely and protective of public health.

ATSDR will continue to review environmental data for public health purposes as it becomes available. If you have questions about this consultation, please contact Dr. David Mellard with ATSDR at 404-639-0639 (direct line) or 800-447-1544, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 800 number is a toll free call.


Authors

This public health assessment was written by the following ATSDR staff members:

Dr. David Mellard, Ph.D., Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR,
Dr. Catherine McKinney, Ed.D., Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR,
Mr. Emilio Gonzalez, Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR,
Mr. Arthur Block, Senior Regional Representative, Office of Regional Operations, ATSDR, and
Mr. Brian von Gunten, Regional Representative, Office of Regional Operations, ATSDR.


References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological profile for lead (update, draft for public comment). Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1997.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening young children for lead poisoning: guidance for state and local public health officials. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, November 1997.

Deseda, Carmen, M.D., personal communication, Puerto Rico Department of Health, June 1998.

Deseda, Carmen, M.D., personal communication, Puerto Rico Department of Health, December, 1996.

Environmental Protection Agency. Draft Expanded Site Inspection Summary Report, Vega Baja Solid Waste Disposal, Rio Abajo, Puerto Rico. Vol 1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. November 8, 1996.

Steele, M.J., Beck, B.D., Murphy, B.L., and Strauss, H.S. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 1990;11:158-190.


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