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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

JOHNSTOWN CITY LANDFILL
JOHNSTOWN, FULTON COUNTY, NEW YORK


SUMMARY

The Johnstown City Landfill was a municipally operated, unlined landfill which accepted sanitary, industrial and municipal wastes between 1947 and 1989. The Johnstown City Landfill is northwest of the City of Johnstown in Fulton County, New York. Between 1947 and 1960, 34 acres of the 68-acre site were used as an open refuse disposal facility, before being converted to a sanitary landfill. The industrial wastes generated by local tanneries and textile plants and were accepted at the landfill until mid-1977. Sludge from the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Sewage Treatment Plant was accepted at the landfill from 1973 to April 1979. There are no records indicating the amount of industrial wastes which were disposed at the landfill.

On June 10, 1986, the Johnstown City Landfill was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). In June 1989, the NYS DOH completed a preliminary health assessment for the Johnstown City Landfill under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). A conclusion in the preliminary health assessment was that the Johnstown City Landfill is a potential human health hazard and that the most significant public health concern was the potential for site contaminants in groundwater to migrate to downgradient residential wells. Recommendations of the preliminary health assessment included the need to further characterize the degree and extent of contamination in groundwater and at the site.

A remedial investigation (RI) was conducted at the site between June 1989 and March 1992. The RI included sampling of residential water supplies, surface soil, groundwater, surface water, leachate seeps, sediments, air, and studies of the hydrogeologic conditions at and near the landfill. The preferred remedy for the site was finalized in a March 1993 record of decision (ROD) and includes:

  • Excavation of sediments in the LaGrange Gravel Pit;
  • Construction of a multi-layer cap over the landfill mound;
  • Extension of the public water supply for the City of Johnstown to private homes;
  • Erection of a security fence around the landfill mound;
  • Institution of land-use restrictions; and
  • Environmental monitoring which will include long-term monitoring of groundwater, surface water and sediments.

Past public health concerns included the potential for contaminants to migrate to the City of Johnstown public water supply Wells 1 and 2 on Maple Avenue southeast of the site as well as the possibility of contamination of private drinking water supplies downgradient of the landfill. The primary concerns of residents living near the site relate to the potential for landfill contaminants to affect their drinking water supplies (private wells). During the past eight years, representatives of the NYS DOH, US EPA and NYS DEC have sampled residential wells near the site and participated in numerous public meetings to present findings of landfill investigations and groundwater sampling activities, address public and community health concerns as well as present the proposed measures for remediation of the landfill.

Exposure to organic contaminants in private water supplies occurred in the past. One residential water supply had contaminants above NYS DOH drinking water standards. This property was purchased by the City of Johnstown in 1980; the well was properly abandoned and the property remains vacant. Prior to 1980, when contamination was first detected, it is not known how long or if users of this water supply were exposed to organic contaminants. Past completed exposure pathways to site contaminants include exposure to on-site wastes and leachate. However, there are no contaminant data to evaluate the public health significance of these past exposures. Potential human exposure pathways to contaminants originating at the landfill include ingestion of fish; inhalation of VOCs and particulate chromium in ambient air, direct contact, ingestion and inhalation of VOCs in surface water sediment, leachate, and groundwater. The potential for exposure to contaminants in surface water, groundwater, leachate, on-site waste, sediment in LaGrange Gravel Pit and drinking water will be eliminated once the selected remedy for clean-up of the site is in place.

Because of past, present and possible future human exposures to contaminants in drinking water and potential (past and present) exposures to contaminants in fish and surface water, the Johnstown City Landfill poses a public health hazard. ATSDR's Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has evaluated this Public Health Assessment to determine appropriate follow-up health activities. The HARP determined that those persons exposed in the past should be considered for inclusion in the NYS DOH's registry being developed for VOC exposures from drinking contaminated water. The proposed measures for remediation of the Johnstown City Landfill as described in the ROD should be carried out to eliminate the potential for human exposure to contaminants at and near the landfill. Specifically, public water should be extended to the affected and potentially affected residences with private water supplies, since initial groundwater remediation does not include pumping and treating of the groundwater contaminant plume.

BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The Johnstown City Landfill was a municipally operated, unlined landfill which accepted sanitary, industrial and municipal wastes between 1947 and 1989. The Johnstown City Landfill is 1.5 miles northwest of the City of Johnstown and 1.75 miles west of the City of Gloversville on West Fulton Street Extension in Fulton County, New York (refer to Figures 1 and 2, Appendix A). Prior to landfill operations, the site was used extensively for excavation of sand and gravel. Between 1947 and 1960, 34 acres of the 68-acre site were used as an open refuse disposal facility, before being converted to a sanitary landfill. The landfill had been used for the disposal of wastes for 12 years by three septic tank and industrial waste haulers. The industrial wastes were generated primarily by local tanneries and textile plants and were accepted at the landfill until mid-1977. Sludge from the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Sewage Treatment Plant was accepted at the landfill from 1973 to April 1979. There are no records available which indicate the amount of industrial wastes which were disposed at the landfill. Most of the tannery wastes were disposed as chromium-treated hide trimmings and other materials. Sewage sludge was disposed in open piles on-site for six years between 1973 and 1979 and reportedly contained chromium, iron and lead. Sewage sludge was disposed at a rate of about 20,000 cubic yards per year (yds3/yr). A former disposal pit on the westward side of the landfill was used for demolition debris and metals wastes. Reportedly, an unknown number of drums containing chemicals were also disposed at the site.

The landfill consists of two flat terraces and a former disposal pit at the base of a steep ridge on the westward side of the landfill. Currently, the landfill has an interim (native soil) cover and there are several leachate outbreaks at the foot of the landfill on-site and at an off-site downgradient spring (LaGrange Spring). The site has two fences with locked gates at the main site entrance, which prevent vehicular access. These fences were installed before the landfill was closed in 1989, to prevent unauthorized dumping. The rest of the site perimeter is heavily wooded or borders active farmlands.

Past investigations completed at and near the Johnstown City Landfill include:

  • A sanitary landfill study of the City of Johnstown Landfill which was completed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) in April 1978;

  • A study of aquatic life in Mathew Creek, which was conducted by the NYS DEC in November 1978;

  • A methane gas migration study completed by the NYS DEC in September 1981;

  • A preliminary investigation of the Johnstown City Landfill which was completed by Ecological Analysts, Inc., in November 1983;

  • An evaluation of the status of groundwater contamination near the Johnstown City Landfill which was completed by Paul A. Rubin in September 1984; and

  • A study of ammonia toxicity and chemical analysis in relation to Mathew Creek which was completed by the NYS DEC in July 1987.
The sanitary landfill study evaluated if past disposal activities at the landfill had resulted in groundwater contamination in the area and if this contamination was affecting water quality in the City of Johnstown's public water supply wells, southeast of the site. The study of aquatic life in Mathew Creek investigated the effects of leachate discharge from the landfill on fish and other organisms; findings of this study indicated that water quality in the upper reaches of the creek were toxic to fish, however, it was not concluded if fish mortality was due to naturally occurring poor water quality conditions or site contaminants. The methane migration study evaluated the potential for explosive levels of methane to migrate off-site; findings of this study indicated that elevated levels of methane were detected on private property northeast of the landfill. The preliminary investigation and study of groundwater contamination included installation and sampling of groundwater monitoring wells at the landfill; additionally, surface water sampling was conducted at selected locations along Mathew Creek. The investigation of ammonia toxicity and chemical analysis evaluated water quality in Mathew Creek.

On May 5, 1983, representatives of Ecological Analysts, Inc., a consultant for the NYS DEC, conducted a site inspection of the Johnstown City Landfill. During this site inspection, the location and condition of existing on-site monitoring wells was noted. An extensive sand and gravel mining operation was observed northwest of the active portion of the landfill and groundwater seeps were observed along the southwest face of the excavation. Several empty 55-gallon drums and 10,000 gallon tanks were observed near the base of the south landfill slope; in addition, a leachate seep was also observed in this area. In the sand and gravel pit on the south side of the landfill, open water had collected and a large quantity of sludge-like material was floating on the surface of this standing water. Household wastes were scattered along the eastern side of the landfill face.

On June 10, 1986, the Johnstown City Landfill was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL), also known as Superfund, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the NYS DEC. In 1988, the City of Johnstown, entered into a Consent Order with the NYS DEC to conduct a remedial investigation (RI) and feasibility study (FS) at the site. Landfill operations ceased in June 1989.

In June 1989, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) completed a preliminary health assessment for the Johnstown City Landfill under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). In the preliminary health assessment, inhalation of contaminated dust and particulates as well as dermal contact with contaminated surface water, groundwater and soils were identified as the potential human exposure routes of concern for on-site workers. Potential human exposure routes of concern identified for off-site receptors included ingestion of contaminated groundwater and dermal contact with contaminated surface water and soils. In the preliminary health assessment, it was concluded that the Johnstown City Landfill is a potential human health hazard and determined that the potential for site contaminants in groundwater to migrate to downgradient residential wells was the most significant public health concern. Further characterization of the degree and extent of contamination in groundwater at the site was recommended.

The RI was conducted in multiple phases between June 1989 and March 1992. The first phase of the RI was conducted between June 1989 and June 1990; the second phase of the RI was completed between July 1990 and March 1992. The RI included sampling of residential water supplies, surface soil, groundwater, surface water, leachate seeps, sediments and air as well as studies of the hydrogeologic conditions at and near the landfill. Ecological studies in Halls Brook and Mathew Creek were also conducted as part of the RI, as well as delineation of wetlands near Mathew Creek. Findings of the RI indicated that 34 acres of the 68-acre site consist of mixed municipal wastes buried at depths ranging from 29.5 feet to 32 feet below surface. Scrap animal hides were found in several of the test pits confirming past disposal of tannery wastes at the landfill.

As part of the FS for the site, several clean-up alternatives were evaluated. The preferred remedy for the site includes:

  • Excavation of sediments in the LaGrange Gravel Pit and placing excavated materials on the existing landfill (the gravel pit will be backfilled with clean fill);

  • Construction of a multi-layer cap over the landfill mound to isolate wastes from rainfall and human contact;

  • Extension of the public water supply for the City of Johnstown to homes near the landfill to replace existing water supplies which may be affected by landfill contaminants migrating off-site in groundwater;

  • Installation of a security fence around the landfill mound;

  • Institution of land-use restrictions; and

  • Environmental monitoring to determine the effectiveness of the remedial measures, including long-term monitoring of groundwater, surface water and sediments.

The provisions for capping include measures to control and monitor methane migration. The preferred remedy also includes provisions to reevaluate groundwater remediation in the event that monitoring results indicate that groundwater and surface water quality are not being restored to acceptable levels through natural attenuation as a result of reduced leachate generation. If groundwater remediation does occur in the future, it would include the extraction of groundwater using wells and submersible pumps with on-site treatment to remove metals and volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), with discharge of the treated water to the aquifer or to a stream. A record of decision (ROD) supporting implementation of this preferred remedy was finalized by US EPA in March 1993. Currently, design of the selected remedy is underway.

B. Actions Completed During the Public Health Assessment Process

  • In May of 1977, the NYS DOH expressed concern about landfilling practices at the Johnstown City Landfill and the possible effects of groundwater contamination associated with continued use of the Maple Avenue water supply wells, southeast of the site. NYS DOH recommended to the Johnstown City Council that water samples from the City water supply wells on Maple Avenue be collected every six months and analyzed for chromium to ensure that users of the water supply were not exposed to unacceptable levels. In 1977, the NYS DOH also recommended to the City Council that consumers who received drinking water from the Maple Avenue wells for prolonged periods of time be advised of the high sodium content.

  • Because of concerns with continued degradation of the water quality in two City water supply wells on Maple Avenue, the NYS DOH recommended to the Johnstown City Council that the City's long range water supply planning should consider alternate water sources. The City of Johnstown was advised to limit use of the Maple Avenue wells, except during emergencies. The City was also advised to continue to purchase water from the City of Gloversville to supplement their water supply and to initiate development of a new water source.

  • The City of Johnstown public water supply wells on Maple Avenue (wells 1 and 2), south of the landfill, were not used after October 1980 and the wells were permanently taken out of service (i.e., the pumps were removed) in the mid-1980's.

  • Representatives of NYS DOH as well as consultants working for the potentially responsible parties (PRP's) have conducted sampling of residential and other private water supplies near the Johnstown City Landfill as part of past investigatory activities at the site. NYS DOH has provided property owners and residents with copies of the analytical results as well as an explanation of the findings of their water sample results.

  • During the past eight years, representatives of the NYS DOH, US EPA and NYS DEC have participated in numerous public meetings to present findings of landfill investigations and groundwater sampling activities, address public and community health concerns as well as present the proposed measures for remediation of the landfill. On May 17, 1989, a public meeting was held to present the draft workplan for investigation of the landfill and proposed sampling of 18 residential wells near the site. In June 1990, a public meeting was held to present findings of the first phase of the RI and present plans for the second phase of the RI. The most recent public meeting was held on February 10, 1993, to present the proposed measures for remediation of the landfill.

  • The landfill was closed in June 1989 and vehicular access to the site has been restricted by a locked gate across the access road at the main entrance.

  • Community outreach and community education has been conducted in the past by NYS DEC, NYS DOH and US EPA. Informational materials have been provided to the public about ongoing and proposed activities at the site throughout the RI/FS process. Information repositories have been established at numerous locations including the NYS DEC and US EPA regional offices, the Johnstown Public Library and the Johnstown City Attorney's office. These repositories contain technical, factual and other information related to the site and are available for public reference.

  • The only residential well which showed contamination above NYS DOH drinking water standards was purchased by the City of Johnstown in 1980. The water supply well at this property was properly abandoned and the house remains vacant.

C. Site Visit

On October 22, 1986, Mr. Gary Litwin of the NYS DOH met with representatives of the City of Johnstown, NYS DEC and a citizens action group known as Rainbow Alliance for a Cleaner Environment (RACE). The purpose of the site visit was to observe and evaluate the effect of chromium sludge deposits which had eroded from the landfill on to an adjacent residential property. Following this site visit, NYS DEC expressed concern about the quality of water that had ponded in the gravel pit; Mr. Litwin of the NYS DOH, expressed concern that leachate seeps from the landfill had eroded a gully, exposing municipal refuse and sludge. Furthermore, the leachate seeps were flowing off-site to a small pond through an area which, at the time, was frequently used by off-road vehicles. Mr. Litwin also reported that direct contact with this leachate was occurring and that past sampling of the leachate by NYS DEC showed high levels of chromium, lead and cadmium. Based on the findings of this site investigation, NYS DOH recommended to the NYS DEC that measures be taken to prevent further off-site migration of leachate and prevent direct contact with exposed wastes and contaminated soil. Additionally, NYS DOH recommended that sampling of surface water and sediment be conducted in the pond.

Over the past several years, numerous site visits to the Johnstown City Landfill have been conducted by NYS DOH staff, including Richard Fedigan, Gary Litwin and Claudine Jones Rafferty. Representatives of various other agencies, including US EPA, NYS DEC and the NYS DOH Amsterdam District Office were also present during many of these site visits. The purpose of these visits included sampling of groundwater and investigating site conditions. Past site visits have shown little evidence of trespassers. The most recent site visit was conducted by Claudine Jones Rafferty of the NYS DOH on February 10, 1993. The purpose of this site visit was to evaluate current demographics and the environmental setting surrounding the site. Access onto the landfill proper was not made during this site visit, due to adverse weather conditions and deep snow. Site conditions are not known to have changed since this site visit was conducted.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics

The Johnstown City Landfill is about two miles northwest of the City of Johnstown in Fulton County, New York. In general, the area surrounding the landfill is sparsely populated. However, there are about 80 private residences along West Fulton Street Extension, Maple Avenue Extension, Johnstown Avenue Extension and O'Neil Avenue Extension.

NYS DOH estimated, from the 1990 Census, that 525 people live within 1 mile of the Johnstown City Landfill. The ethnic distribution of the population within 1 mile of the site is 100 percent white. The site is within census tract 9906.00; in this census tract, 5.3 percent of the population is under 5 years of age, 22.6 percent is 5-19 years of age, 56.5 percent is 20-64 years of age and 15.6 percent is 65 years or older. The median household income in 1989 for this census tract was $27,189, with 5 percent of the families with income below the poverty level.

Land Use

Land use in the area surrounding the landfill is mixed and includes residential, agricultural and recreational development. The area immediately north of the site is part of a State reforestation area and residential density in this area is low. Open fields exist to the south and west and mixed woodlands exist between the landfill and the agricultural areas to the south and also along the eastern site boundary. The two nearest residential properties border the northern site boundary.

There are several sand and gravel operations in the Johnstown area including the LaGrange Gravel Pit, just east of the site, and the former sand and gravel operation on-site.

Natural Resource Use

Surface Water

The Johnstown City Landfill is situated south of a major drainage divide that bisects Fulton County. In general, surface water drainage is to the southeast near the site. Mathew Creek is the primary surface water feature near the site (refer to Figure 2, Appendix A) and is classified by the NYS DEC as a "Class A" surface water body, which is designated as a source of water supply for drinking, cooking, recreation and fishing. The headwaters of Mathew Creek, known as LaGrange Springs, are about 1,100 feet southeast of the site. The presence of LaGrange Springs and Mathew Creek is attributed to the intersection of the groundwater table with the ground surface (TWM Northeast, 1992). Mathew Creek flows through Hulbert's Pond and converges with Halls Brook to the southeast before discharging to Cayadutta Creek, which ultimately drains to the Mohawk River. A privately owned, manmade pond, known as Hulberts Pond, has been developed along Mathew Creek, just east of the intersection of Hulbert Road and O'Neil Avenue Extension. Hulberts Pond was stocked with fish in the past, however, a fishkill in this pond was reported in June 1984 and it is not known if Hulberts Pond is currently used for fishing or other recreational activities. LaGrange Gravel Pit, which issituated east of the landfill boundary, is not classified by the NYS DEC as a surface water body.

Groundwater

Local groundwater near the site occurs as a result of precipitation that percolates through surficial soils and unconsolidated deposits to the underlying bedrock (TWM Northeast, 1992). In general, groundwater in the overburden deposits flows from areas north and northwest of the landfill towards LaGrange Springs and Matthew Creek, south of the site. Groundwater flow in the bedrock aquifer is from west to east near the site. Groundwater flow directions do not appear to be affected by seasonal fluctuations in groundwater levels.

Groundwater near the site is used as a drinking water supply at private residences as well as for agricultural purposes at nearby farms, including a dairy farm operation. There are about 80 residences along West Fulton Street Extension, Maple Avenue Extension and O'Neil Avenue Extension; the nearest homes border the site perimeter to the north, along West Fulton Street Extension. The homes along O'Neil Avenue Extension are about one mile south of the site and the homes along Johnstown Avenue Extension are about one half mile to one mile east and southeast of the site. Most of these homes rely on groundwater for drinking and other household uses. Prior to 1980, the City of Johnstown also used groundwater in the area near the landfill as a source for the public water supply. Two former City water supply wells (wells 1 and 2, also known as the Maple Avenue wells) are about 5,000 feet southeast of the landfill (refer to Figures 5 and 11, Appendix A). These wells were installed in 1965 to supplement the existing main source of water (Cork Center Reservoir) for the City's public water supply. Groundwater from the Maple Avenue Wells was pumped to the Maylender Reservoir for storage prior to distribution. The only treatment that this water received was disinfection (i.e., chlorination). These two wells were intended to provide about 1 million gallons per day (mgd) of water and served about 10,000 people. However, due to natural water quality degradation in the Maple Avenue Wellfield between 1965 and 1977, use of these wells gradually declined during the mid to late 1970's. Average water use of the City water supply was about 2.85 mgd. These wells have not been used since 1980 and were permanently taken out of service in the mid-1980's.

E. Health Outcome Data

The NYS DOH maintains several health outcome data bases which could be used to generate site-specific data, if warranted. These data bases include the cancer registry, the congenital malformations registry, the heavy metals registry, the occupational lung disease registry, vital records (birth and death certificates) and hospital discharge information.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

In August and September of 1977, the NYS DOH received numerous complaints about the taste and odor of drinking water as well as possible illness by users of the public water supply served by the Maple Avenue wells.

In November 1977, a private well serving a residence about 1 mile southeast of the Johnstown City Landfill was sampled by the NYS DOH. With the exception of lead, which was reported at 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/L), all parameters were within normal ranges. The reported lead concentration exceeded the existing NYS DOH maximum contaminant level (MCL) in effect at that time (0.05 mg/L) for public water supplies. The residents using this water supply as well as members of the community expressed concern about the possible health effects from exposure to elevated lead in drinking water.

In 1978, a nearby resident reported to the NYS DEC that fish were not surviving in Hulbert's Pond. This resident attributed the poor fish survival to landfill leachate discharging into surface waters upstream of Hulbert's Pond.

In March 1979, a resident living north of the Johnstown City Landfill reported to the NYS DOH that a significant change in his drinking water supply had occurred and expressed concern about the proximity of the landfill to affect his water supply.

In June 1990, the NYS DEC held a public meeting to present findings of the interim RI/FS report. Following this meeting, one of the citizens provided written comments to the NYS DEC expressing concern about a number of issues related to the potential for chemicals to migrate from the Johnstown City Landfill and contamination of their drinking water.

In the fall of 1991, a representative of the Rainbow Alliance for Clean Environment (RACE), expressed concern about the analytical results of a water sample that was collected from a private residence near the Johnstown City Landfill. Specifically, these concerns pertained to ammonia, a compound that was detected in the residents water sample, and the possible health effects from exposure to ammonia in drinking water.

During the past eight years, representatives of the NYS DOH, NYS DEC and US EPA have participated in numerous public meetings regarding investigation and sampling activities, community and public health concerns and remediation activities at the Johnstown City Landfill. The primary concerns of residents living near the site relate to the potential for landfill contaminants to affect their drinking water supplies (private wells). Additionally, the community has expressed concern about contamination of surficial waters downgradient of the landfill.

On February 10, 1993, US EPA representatives held a public meeting at the Johnstown High School to present the findings of the RI/FS and discuss the proposed measures to remediate the Johnstown City Landfill. Claudine Jones Rafferty and Richard Fedigan of the NYS DOH and representatives of the NYS DEC also attended the meeting. About 50 citizens attended this meeting. The primary community concerns presented at this meeting were associated with initial and long-term costs associated with construction, maintenance and use of the proposed public water distribution system to residents living near the landfill. Concerns about the extent contaminant migration from the landfill and the need for preventative measures to control future contaminant migration were also expressed. No specific health concerns were identified.

During public review of the draft public health assessment for the Johnstown City Landfill, one citizen expressed concern that the incidence of cancer in the area was high, given the relatively small population.



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