PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
JOHNSTOWN CITY LANDFILL
JOHNSTOWN, FULTON COUNTY, NEW YORK
The following section was not available in electronic format for conversion to HTML at the time of preparation of this document. To obtain a hard copy of the document, please contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Attn: Chief, Program Evaluation, Records, and Information Services
1600 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30333
PROCEDURE FOR EVALUATING POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS
FOR CONTAMINANTS OF CONCERN
To evaluate the potential health risks from contaminants of concern associated with the Johnstown City Landfill site, the New York State Department of Health assessed the risks for cancer and noncancer health effects.
Increased cancer risks were estimated by using site-specific information on exposure levels for
the contaminant of concern and interpreting them using cancer potency estimates derived for that
contaminant by the US EPA or, in some cases, by the NYS DOH. The following qualitative
ranking of cancer risk estimates, developed by the NYS DOH, was then used to rank the risk
from very low to very high. For example, if the qualitative descriptor was "low", then the excess
lifetime cancer risk from that exposure is in the range of greater than one per million to less than
one per ten thousand. Other qualitative descriptors are listed below:
Excess Lifetime Cancer Risk
|                         Risk Ratio||Qualitative Descriptor|
|equal to or less than one per million||very low|
|greater than one per million to less
than one per ten thousand
|one per ten thousand to less than one
|one per thousand to less than one per ten||high|
|equal to or greater than one per ten||very high|
An estimated increased excess lifetime cancer risk is not a specific estimate of expected cancers.
Rather, it is a plausible upper bound estimate of the probability that a person may develop cancer
sometime in his or her lifetime following exposure to that contaminant (i.e., there is only about a
5 percent chance that the risk of a response is greater than the estimated value).
There is insufficient knowledge of cancer mechanisms to decide if there exists a level of exposure to a cancer-causing agent below which there is no risk of getting cancer, namely, a threshold level. Therefore, every exposure, no matter how low, to a cancer-causing compound is assumed to be associated with some increased risk. As the dose of a carcinogen decreases, the chance of developing cancer decreases, but each exposure is accompanied by some increased risk.
There is no general consensus within the scientific or regulatory communities on what level of estimated excess cancer risk is acceptable. Some have recommended the use of the relatively conservative excess lifetime cancer risk level of one in one million because of the uncertainties in our scientific knowledge about the mechanism of cancer. Others feel that risks that are lower or higher may be acceptable, depending on scientific, economic and social factors. An increased lifetime cancer risk of one in one million or less is generally considered an insignificant increase in cancer risk.
For noncarcinogenic health risks, the contaminant intake was estimated using exposure
assumptions for the site conditions. This dose was then compared to a risk reference dose
(estimated daily intake of a chemical that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of health
effects) developed by the US EPA, ATSDR and/or NYS DOH. The resulting ratio was then
compared to the following qualitative scale of health risk:
Qualitative Descriptions for
|Ratio of Estimated Contaminant
Intake to Risk Reference Dose
|equal to or less than the risk
|greater than one to five times
the risk reference dose
|greater than five to ten times
the risk reference dose
|greater than ten times the
risk reference dose
Noncarcinogenic effects unlike carcinogenic effects are believed to have a threshold, that is, a dose below which adverse effects will not occur. As a result, the current practice is to identify, usually from animal toxicology experiments, a no-observed-effect-level (NOEL). This is the experimental exposure level in animals at which no adverse toxic effect is observed. The NOEL is then divided by an uncertainty factor to yield the risk reference dose. The uncertainty factor is a number which reflects the degree of uncertainty that exists when experimental animal data are extrapolated to the general human population. The magnitude of the uncertainty factor takes into consideration various factors such as sensitive subpopulations (for example, children or the elderly), extrapolation from animals to humans, and the incompleteness of available data. Thus, the risk reference dose is not expected to cause health effects because it is selected to be much lower than dosages that do not cause adverse health effects in laboratory animals.
The measure used to describe the potential for noncancer health effects to occur in an individual is expressed as a ratio of estimated contaminant intake to the risk reference dose. If exposure to the contaminant exceeds the risk reference dose, there may be concern for potential noncancer health effects because the margin of protection is less than that afforded by the reference dose. As a rule, the greater the ratio of the estimated contaminant intake to the risk reference dose, the greater the level of concern. A ratio equal to or less than one is generally considered an insignificant (minimal) increase in risk.
Response to Public Comments
Response to Public Comments
This responsiveness summary was prepared to address the public's comments and questions on the Johnstown City Landfill draft Public Health Assessment. The public was invited to review this document during the public comment period which ran from March 30, 1994 to May 13, 1994. Some comments were consolidated or grouped together if similar concerns were raised by more than one person. If you have any questions about this responsiveness summary, contact the Health Liaison Program at the toll-free number 1-800-458-1158, extension 402.
Several residents expressed concern about the delay in completing the water line extension to homes near the landfill. These residents expressed concern about their water quality and indicated that they would like to be connected to public water as soon as possible.
As discussed in the Background section of this public health assessment (subsection A, Site Description and History), the March 1993 record of decision (ROD) calls for extension of the City of Johnstown public water supply to private homes near the landfill. The public water supply would replace the existing private water supplies. The cost of extending the public water supply lines to this area as well as the initial costs of connecting the homes to the public water supply lines will be paid for by the City of Johnstown and other potentially responsible parties that have been identified for this site. Individual costs of water usage are the responsibility of each homeowner. Early preliminary design of the remedy is underway. If the design phase and subsequent remediation activities remain on schedule, construction of the public water supply extension could begin in the spring of 1995.
If contaminated material is taken out of the LaGrange gravel pit and placed on the landfill mound, isn't the contamination going to leach? Would the additional weight force contamination downward?
Excavating contaminated sediments from the LaGrange Gravel Pit and placing the excavated sediments on top of the landfill mound will not force contamination downward or cause it to leach. Before the landfill cap can be put in place, the landfill has to be regraded and the slope has to provide for adequate runoff of rainfall. The contaminated sediments will help in regrading the landfill. The additional weight of the sediments will not affect the stability of the existing waste. Placement of a cap over the landfill will reduce infiltration of rainfall and snowmelt into the waste, reducing the amount of water going through the landfilled materials and the leaching of contaminants. Thus, the cap should improve groundwater quality and surface water quality in Matthew Creek.
I attended the meeting on February 10, 1993 and think that concerns about contamination were
expressed, but this is not reflected in the public health assessment.
The text has been revised to reflect concerns about contamination at the site that were expressed at this public meeting.
The City of Johnstown should buy our property where test wells were installed as we did not give our permission to have these wells drilled.
As part of the remedial investigation for the Johnstown City Landfill, monitoring wells were installed on private properties near the site to evaluate the extent of migration of contaminants in groundwater from the site. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) reports that they contacted the owners of these properties and obtained verbal permission from each owner before any wells were installed. The City of Johnstown has acquired some private property near the landfill where monitoring wells were installed.
In the health assessment, it is stated that past site visits by agency personnel have shown little evidence of trespassers. I have visited the Johnstown Landfill site many times since 1978 and have observed hunters, berry pickers and other using the site and nearby areas.
This information about past site use has been incorporated into the Pathways Analyses section of this public health assessment.
Hulbert's Pond is a man-made impoundment of Matthew Creek. Hulbert's Pond is not adjacent to Matthew Creek, the creek actually flows through the pond.
The text has been revised to clarify that Matthew Creek flows through Hulbert's Pond.
In 1978, a nearby resident reported to the NYS DEC that fish were not surviving in Hulbert's Pond and attributed it to discharges of landfill leachate upstream of the pond. This information led to the subsequent (1979) investigation of Matthew Creek and laboratory bioassay studies by the NYS DEC Hale Creek Field Station. This should be entered in the chain of events.
The Background section has been revised to reflect this event and the Community Health Concerns and Community Health Concerns Evaluation sections of the public health assessment have been revised to reflect this citizen's concern.
A discussion of the elevated levels of ammonia in Matthew Creek and LaGrange Springs found by NYS DEC during the 1979 study should be included. A discussion of the findings of gill damage to fish observed in laboratory studies during the 1979 study should also be included.
The text has been revised to include this information.
Several potential contaminant sources within a 2.5 mile radius of the Johnstown Landfill are identified, but the report fails to evaluate these facilities as sources of groundwater and surface water contamination. Only air contamination is evaluated. It would seem that if these companies could cause air contamination, they are also depositing waste in the landfill.
The potential contaminant sources that were evaluated are those industrial facilities that are required to report contaminant releases to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) Toxic Chemical and Release Inventory (TRI). Through the TRI, US EPA tracks contaminant releases to air, water and land, discharges to publicly-owned treatment works, as well as wastes that are transferred from one facility to another facility for off-site disposal. None of the facilities identified as part of the TRI evaluation in this public health assessment reported any discharges or releases to water or land. The Environmental Contamination and Other Hazards section of the text (subsection D, Toxic Chemical Release Inventory) has been revised to include the information.
There is contaminated sediment in Hulbert's Pond and Matthew Creek. Remediation does not include cleanup in these areas, therefore exposures to contaminants in sediment will not be eliminated.
The text has been revised to reflect this comment.
Tannery wastes were disposed at the landfill. When residential wells were sampled, why weren't these wells tested for many of the chemicals reportedly used in tanneries, such as acetic acid, chromium, formaldehyde, formic acid, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid and sodium dichromate?
As discussed in the Background section, most of the tannery wastes were disposed as chromium-treated hide trimmings; industrial wastes generated by local tanneries were accepted at the landfill until mid-1977. As summarized on Table 15 (Appendix B) of the public health assessment, sampling of private wells began in 1979 and included analysis of metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Table 16 (Appendix B) summarizes the parameters for which residential well water was tested during sampling of the remedial investigation (RI) between 1989 and 1991. The parameters included chromium, a contaminant associated with tannery wastes. Other chemicals which are used in the tanning process may not be present in the by-products or wastes generated during the tanning process. However, private well samples have also been analyzed for VOCs and semi-volatile organic compounds, chemicals that are likely indicators of leachate from the municipal and industrial wastes disposed at the Johnstown City Landfill.
What was contained in the 55-gallon drums and 10,000 gallon tanks found at the site during the May 5, 1983 site inspection?
When these drums and tanks were seen, they were empty. There is no known documentation or information about the drum and tank contents.
We attended the June 13, 1990 public meeting and expressed our concerns about contamination of residential wells in the area. We forwarded our comments to the NYS DEC Division of Hazardous Waste Remediation, but they are not reflected in the public health assessment.
A copy of this comment letter was recently forwarded to the NYS DOH by the NYS DEC, Region 5 office in Raybrook, New York. Health concerns raised in this letter have been incorporated into the Community Health Concerns and Community Health Concerns Evaluation sections of this public health assessment.
We were not advised of the February 10, 1993 public meeting. Had we known of it, we would have attended to express our concern.
Every effort is made to ensure that residents living near a site as well as other interested and concerned members of the community are notified of public meetings that are being held to present information about the site. Often, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) work together to develop the mailing lists to identify community members to be included in distribution of a meeting announcement. Such efforts are made to ensure that as many people as possible that are interested in a site are notified of an upcoming meeting. We will share the mailing list that was developed for distribution of this public health assessment with the US EPA and the NYS DEC for any future mailings that they may have.
The degradation and closing of the Maple Avenue wells should be a clear indication that the landfill has caused contamination of groundwater.
The two former Maple Avenue water supply wells for the City of Johnstown public water supply were not closed because of contamination of groundwater by the Johnstown City Landfill. Past sampling of these two wells has not confirmed the presence of landfill contaminants. These wells were closed in the mid-1980's because of a history of poor water yield and poor natural groundwater quality.
How far can methane and other landfill gases migrate?
The extent to which methane and landfill gases can migrate from a source is dependent on many factors, including landfill construction, topography and geology of the surrounding area and the types and amounts of wastes disposed in the landfill. At the Johnstown City Landfill, a soil gas study was completed as part of the remedial investigation to evaluate concentrations of volatile organic compounds and methane in the subsurface. This study is discussed in the Environmental Contamination and Other Hazards section of this public health assessment (subsection A, On-Site Contamination, under the heading, "soil gas"). Landfill gases were not migrating off-site.
The incidence of cancer in this area is extremely high, given the relatively small population.
Cancer develops in people of all ages, but most often occurs in the middle-aged and the elderly. The number of cancer cases has risen dramatically over the past 40 years, but much of this increase is a reflection of the increase in population, especially in the older age groups. At this time, there are no community health studies planned for the area near the Johnstown City Landfill. However, as discussed in the Recommendations section and the Public Health Actions Plan of this public health assessment, the NYS DOH is developing a registry of people exposed to VOCs in drinking water. Residents near the Johnstown City Landfill who were exposed to VOCs in drinking water will be considered for inclusion to this registry. With this registry, NYS DOH will periodically receive health information for exposed individuals. This registry will be matched, periodically with the cancer registry to evaluate possible adverse health effects. The Community Health Concerns and Community Health Concerns Evaluation sections of this PHA have been revised to reflect this concern. This concern has also been forwarded to the Department's Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology for consideration and possible follow-up. For further information about cancer, contact the Cancer Surveillance Program, Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology, New York State Department of Health, Corning Tower, Empire State Plaza, New York 12237 or call 518/474-2354.
I feel that my wells are in the same aquifer as the city wells because it seemed that my wells were lower on water when the city wells were being used.
Some private wells near the Johnstown City Landfill may be in the same aquifer as the former Maple Avenue public water supply wells for the City of Johnstown. The Maple Avenue wells were closed in the mid-1980's because of poor water yield and poor natural groundwater quality. Fluctuations in water levels in private wells can occur with changes in the amounts of rainfall and snowmelt that occur in any particular season. Other factors that can affect water levels in private wells include the type and construction of the well and individual water use.
A resident reported that cattle near the site died in the past and expressed concern that contamination in grasses and soils were the cause.
Based on data and information about contamination at and near the site and findings of the preliminary health assessment, off-site soils and grasses on farmlands near the site were not sampled. Concerns about illnesses and death of cattle should be reported to your veterinarian and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, as appropriate.
I am concerned as I have lived here for 37 years and when we bought the property we did not know that there was a problem or a hazard.
Thirty-seven years ago (about 1957), the landfill was municipally operated and used for disposal of sanitary, municipal and industrial wastes. In the past, landfill permitting, disposal and day-to-day practices were not regulated as stringently as they are today. During the period of time that this landfill was active, there were less restrictions on the type of wastes that could be disposed at a municipal landfill than there are today. Some of the wastes which were disposed at the Johnstown City Landfill are now considered hazardous constituents.
How can you say that the water at the Pine Tree Rifle Club was found to be within acceptable limits when sodium is bad for most older people and children under 6 months?
The discussion of sampling data collected in July 1986 from the Pine Tree Rifle Club indicates that all parameters except sodium and iron were within acceptable limits. In July 1986, sodium was detected at 140,000 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) in the water supply serving the Pine Tree Rifle Club. This concentration is above the drinking water guideline of 20,000 mcg/L for individuals on severely restricted sodium diets, and within the acceptable limits for individuals on moderately restricted sodium diets. Based on this concentration of sodium (140,000 mcg/L), sodium was selected as a contaminant for further evaluation in the health assessment.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) had comments regarding typographical errors, factual corrections and suggestions for improving the readability of the public health assessment.
These changes have been made.