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PETITIONED PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

FRESH KILLS LANDFILL
STATEN ISLAND, RICHMOND COUNTY, NEW YORK


CONCLUSIONS

Based on a review of available data and discussions with community members and local, state, and federal environmental and health officials, ATSDR concludes the following regarding public health implications of living near the Fresh Kills Landfill:

  1. The groundwater, surface waters, sediments, and fish and shellfish in the immediate vicinity of the Fresh Kills Landfill are contaminated with pollutants from the landfill and from other sources. Restrictions and advisories prohibit or greatly limit the use of these resources. Since nearby residents are expected to rarely, if ever, come into contact with the pollutants in these media, ATSDR finds that contaminants in the groundwater, surface water, sediment, and fish and shellfish near the Fresh Kills Landfill pose no apparent public health hazard. If any of the restrictions or advisories are lifted or relaxed in the future, exposures to site-related contaminants might increase.


  2. Exposure to air contaminants emitted by the Fresh Kills Landfill has clearly occurred in the past, and will continue to occur in the future. However, based on a review of nearly 10 years of ambient air monitoring studies, ATSDR finds that the amounts of landfill-related contaminants in the air are consistently lower than the levels currently believed to be associated with adverse health effects. These air monitoring studies characterized air concentrations for toxic chemicals that the landfill emits in greatest quantities, with few data gaps. ATSDR finds that the extremely large volume of monitoring data for this site suggest that chemicals emitted from the Fresh Kills Landfill pose no apparent public health hazard. As noted in the report, however, due to the absence of past air monitoring data, ATSDR is unable to evaluate the public health implications of air contamination at this site in the past.


  3. ATSDR's recent health investigation at Staten Island, suggests that there is some evidence of a relationship between exposure to landfill emissions (as indicated by reports of odor of garbage and rotten eggs) and adverse health effects. Some residents with asthma might be more likely to experience an increase in respiratory morbidity (e.g., wheeze) on days with noticeable odors, when compared to days when odors are not apparent.. The odors and odor-related health effects (if any) are expected to decrease in the future, as NYCDOS ceases waste disposal and installs additional emission controls at the landfill.


  4. Though ozone levels at Staten Island and in the rest of the New York City metropolitan area have decreased over the last 20 years, ozone levels at Staten Island continue to reach potentially unhealthy levels periodically during the summer months. These "ozone episodes" are not caused by emissions from any one source, like the Fresh Kills Landfill, but rather are caused by the combined effect of emissions from industrial facilities, emissions from motor vehicles, and unfavorable meteorological conditions. Children, outdoor laborers, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions are at the greatest risk of suffering from adverse health effects after breathing in ozone. Potential health effects associated with inhaling large amounts of ozone include difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, aggravated asthma conditions, and decreased lung capacity--effects that are reasonably consistent with the health problems that concerned residents have communicated to ATSDR. These adverse effects might be prevented if residents remain indoors and avoid strenuous activity, to the greatest extent possible, on days when NYSDEC warns that ozone levels are likely to be high.


  5. In the future, the extent of exposures to chemicals from the Fresh Kills Landfill will largely depend on any changes to site conditions, access, and local land use. The effectiveness of emissions controls also will have a great impact on the amount of chemicals released from the landfill. If access to landfill property continues to be restricted, inhalation exposures will likely decrease, assuming the emissions controls perform effectively. On the other hand, if access to the landfill is relaxed or lifted, some residents may be in much closer contact with the many chemicals in the decomposing waste.

RECOMMENDATIONS

ATSDR recommends the following actions to ensure that Staten Island residents are not exposed to unhealthy levels of contamination that may originate from the Fresh Kills Landfill and other local sources of pollution:

  1. Given the levels of contamination in the groundwater, surface waters, sediment, and fish and shellfish near the Fresh Kills Landfill, ATSDR recommends that state and local health and environmental agencies continue to restrict the use of these resources and inform local residents of these restrictions. Residents, in turn, should abide by all relevant restrictions and advisories. State and local health and environmental agencies should carefully review any proposed modifications to the existing restrictions and advisories before adopting them.


  2. Although ATSDR's extensive evaluation of 10 years of ambient air monitoring data has suggested that air emissions from the Fresh Kills Landfill do not appear to cause a public health hazard, the landfill continues to emit toxic chemicals to the air and the recent increase in flaring activities might cause considerable changes to the composition of the landfill's emissions. A prudent measure for protecting public health, therefore, is to continue to monitor the levels of landfill-related contaminants in the air that residents breathe. ATSDR recommends that NYSDEC's monitoring continue at least until all closure activities have been implemented at the Fresh Kills Landfill and that the monitoring measure pollutants that have not been considered previously (e.g., additional VOCs, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, or fungi and mold spores). State and local health and environmental agencies should carefully review and evaluate data as it becomes available.


  3. With some evidence that odors of garbage and rotten eggs from the Fresh Kills Landfill might be associated with respiratory effects among people with asthma, ATSDR recommends that NYCDOS continue to install emissions controls (e.g., covers and landfill gas collection wells) that reduce releases of odorous compounds to the air. Such improvements would likely benefit the health of residents who live near the landfill.


  4. ATSDR recommends that NYSDEC continue to issue, and that the local media continue to broadcast, air quality alerts on days when ozone concentrations are expected to reach potentially unhealthy levels. All Staten Island residents should heed these warnings, which typically encourage residents, especially children, outdoor laborers, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, to remain indoors and to avoid any moderate or strenuous exercise. It is especially important for parents to communicate these warnings to their children, who might not understand ozone warnings and who often play outdoors during the warm summer months. By following recommended precautions, Staten Island residents can best protect themselves from the regional urban air pollution as it occasionally reaches potentially unsafe levels.


  5. Because the Fresh Kills Landfill still contains millions of tons of decomposing waste, ATSDR recommends that state environmental officials ensure that emissions controls at the site meet relevant performance standards, and that NYCDOS consistently ensure that the landfill surface is adequately maintained and that site access is restricted. Further, any future plans to allow public access to landfill property, even limited access, must be carefully reviewed.

PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN

Consistent with the recommendations made in this health assessment, the following public health actions have been or will be undertaken:

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) will continue to monitor levels of air pollution on the Fresh Kills Landfill and in nearby residential neighborhoods.


  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will address comments received on the draft Respiratory Health Investigation Report, which was released for public comment in August, 1999. The final report for the health investigation is scheduled to be released early in the year 2000.


  • ATSDR will publish its last semi-annual newsletter for the Fresh Kills Landfill and Brookfield Avenue Landfill in April 2000 ATSDR will provide additional community involvement activities if requested by the community. A health educator has been selected to oversee community involvement activities through September 2000.


  • New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) will release an addendum to its 1996 Staten Island Cancer Incidence Study. The addendum will document an analysis of cancer incidence data for Staten Island during the years 1989-1998. This analysis will supplement the original study, which evaluated cancer incidence among residents during the years 1979-1988.


  • With ATSDR's support, NYCDOH will continue coordinating an environmental health education program on landfill issues. The program will address community health concerns regarding the Fresh Kills Landfill and the Brookfield Avenue Landfill.

PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD

ATSDR provided an opportunity in the final draft stage of this document for the general public to comment on Agency findings or proposed activities from March 10, 2000 through April 14, 2000. The purposes of this activity were to: (1) provide the public, particularly area residents associated with a site, the opportunity to comment on the public health findings in the public health assessment; (2) evaluate whether the community health concerns have been adequately addressed; and (3) provide ATSDR with additional information. The public comments received were editorial in nature and have been incorporated into the document as appropriate.


AUTHORS/SITE TEAM

This public health assessment was prepared by:

Theresa Kilgus, Lead Health Assessor
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Exposure Investigation and Consultation Branch

Sherri Berger, Epidemiologist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Studies

Debra Gable, Environmental Health Scientist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

David Fowler, Toxicologist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Exposure Investigation and Consultation Branch

Concurrence:

Arthur Block, Senior Regional Representative
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Regional Operations

Loretta Bush, Community Involvement Specialist
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Gail Williams, Health Educator
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Education and Promotion

Other team members who provided invaluable contributions to ATSDR's work on the Fresh Kills Landfill site include:

Donna Garland
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Policy and External Affairs

Doug Gouzie
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Mike Groutt
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Policy and External Affairs

Paul Jones
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Studies

Susan Moore
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Germano Pereira
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Christine Rosheim
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Education and Promotion

Molla Sarros
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Washington, D.C. Office

Brian VonGunten
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Regional Operations

Andrea Wargo
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Washington, D.C. Office

Mary White
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Studies


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