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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

NIAGARA COUNTY REFUSE
TOWN OF WHEATFIELD, NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK

SUMMARY

The Niagara County Refuse site in the Town of Wheatfield, Niagara County, is an inactive landfill which was used from 1969 to 1976 for disposal of municipal and industrial wastes. The site is surrounded mainly by agricultural and residential lands and the top of the landfill is about 20 feet above the local topography. Clay is being mined north and northwest of the site. The Niagara River is about 500 feet south of the site.

Leachate seeps and protruding wastes have been found around the site. Subsurface soil, sediments around leachate seeps, surface water and sediment in drainage swales, and groundwater have shown contamination with pesticides, volatile and semivolatile organic chemicals, and metals.

The Niagara County Refuse site poses an indeterminate public health hazard. People have been seen on-site and may potentially be exposed to site-related contamination through contact with contaminated surface water, leachate, or sediment. Groundwater near the site is not known to be used for drinking water, but a well survey will be conducted to confirm this.

The planned remediation, as outlined in the Record of Decision (ROD) for the site, includes capping the landfill to minimize infiltration of precipitation, constructing an underground barrier to minimize leachate and gas migration, venting of gases, collecting leachate, restricting future use of the site, and implementing long-term monitoring of air and groundwater quality. This remedy will eliminate the potential for direct contact with on-site wastes and prevent further contamination of surface water and groundwater around the site.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has reviewed this Public Health Assessment to determine appropriate follow-up actions. The HARP determined that no follow-up health actions are indicated at this time as there were no completed exposure pathways and any potential exposure would have been infrequent to casual visitors. Public health actions taken and/or planned included the following: (1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Health, and the Niagara County Health Department have been involved with the site and are available to provide information, respond to questions from the surrounding community, and provide on-going education and information through various community relations activities, (2) landfill closure measures will be taken which will prevent on-site contact with contaminated media and reduce human exposure due to the migration of contaminants from the site.

BACKGROUND

In cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) will evaluate the public health significance of this site. More specifically, ATSDR and NYS DOH will determine whether health effects are possible and will recommend actions to reduce or prevent possible health effects. ATSDR is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to conduct public health assessments at hazardous waste sites.

A. Site Description and History

The Niagara County Refuse site is an inactive landfill which was added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in September 1983. The 50 acre site is along the eastern border of the Town of Wheatfield and the western border of the City of North Tonawanda in Niagara County, New York, about 500 feet north of the Niagara River (Figure 1, Appendix A).

The site was part of a large farm until 1969. Aerial photographs indicate that this land was farmed as early as 1951. In 1969, the Niagara County Refuse (NCR) Disposal District, formerly the Niagara County Solid Waste Disposal Agency, started refuse disposal operations at the site. The NCR Disposal District services the entire County of Niagara excepting the Towns of Niagara, Cambria, Wilson and Newfane. Solid household, yard, institutional, commercial, industrial and agricultural wastes, demolition and construction debris, sewage treatment plant sludges, street sweepings and tires were discarded at the site. During past site operations, about 11 feet of soil were excavated and then filled with compacted solid waste. All wastes were covered daily with about six inches of cover. The site was officially closed in 1976. There are seventeen responsible parties that have been identified, including companies and municipalities that generated wastes disposed at the landfill, hauled wastes to the landfill, or were responsible for oversight of disposal activities.

Prior to 1973, the landfill surface had numerous potholes. Surface water would accumulate in them and then seep into the fill material and collect within the landfill. Leachate seeped into the surrounding drainage swales, especially on the north and east sides of the site.

In 1973, the NCR Disposal District moved tires, barrels and other loose material to the active area for proper burial. One foot of an impervious material was applied to the surface of the entire site and two feet of this material were placed on the side slopes of the site. The edges of the landfill were sealed with a clay barrier from the toe of the side slopes down to the original clay soil. The surface of the landfill was graded to prevent accumulation of surface water. These actions minimized infiltration of surface water into the waste disposal areas, leachate generation and migration to surrounding drainage swales.

A preliminary health assessment, prepared by the NYS DOH under a cooperative agreement with the ATSDR, was issued for the site in June, 1989. In the preliminary health assessment, it was concluded that the NCR site posed a potential health threat, but it was determined that a detailed assessment of the potential health implications would not be possible until the site was more fully characterized. A remedial investigation (RI) was completed by the responsible parties in 1991 and data from the RI are used throughout this report to evaluate possible human exposures and associated public health implications to site contaminants.

Currently, the site consists of six distinct landfill cells (see Figure 2). The six cells are separated or bounded by drainage swales and the on-site access road. The site is rectangular-shaped and has a maximum length of about 3,800 feet and a maximum width of about 720 feet. The maximum height of the landfill cells is about 20 feet above the local topography which is flat. The landfill cover has eroded in several places and solid waste is exposed in some of the northern areas. Vegetation on the landfill includes grasses, shrubs, and trees. Drainage swales cross and surround the landfill. Surface water flow in the swales is intermittent except in one swale along the eastern side of the site which contains water year-round.

Vehicular access is restricted to authorized traffic. A chainlink fence and locked gate were installed at each roadway entrance by the City of North Tonawanda in 1990 and only authorized personnel have keys for these gates. The site is not fenced, except for the gates. The site is accessible by foot or recreational vehicles, and trails are present.

The site is bordered by farmland to the west. Wooded wetlands, a clay-mining operation, a Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation transmission line, and a New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) right-of-way are north of the site. There are residences east of the site and a small buffer of woodland and farmland between access roads, railroad tracks, River Road (NYS Route 265/384) and the Niagara River are south of the site.

A record of decision (ROD) was signed in September 1993 and presents the selected remedy for the site which includes capping the landfill, constructing a clay barrier wall, constructing a leachate collection system, implementing deed restrictions, fencing the site and implementing a long-term maintenance and operation plan. The operation and maintenance plan will outline the maintenance of the landfill cap, the gas venting system, and the leachate collection system.

B. Actions Implemented During the Public Health Assessment Process

The US EPA, the NYS DOH, and the Niagara County Health Department (NCHD) have been involved with investigations at the site and are available to provide information, respond to questions from the surrounding community, and provide on-going education and information through various community relations activities.

A public meeting was held by US EPA on August 5, 1993 to present the Proposed Plan which outlines the preferred remedy for the site.

In response to community concerns about the possibility of contaminant migration to residential yards, the US EPA collected surface soil and surface water samples from residential areas near the site in June 1994.

C. Site Visit

On August 11, 1992, Mr. Al Wakeman and Ms. Dawn Hettrick of the NYS DOH visited the NCR site. Because vehicular access is restricted, a complete site survey was not conducted. Numerous all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) were seen near farm lands bordering the landfill, and ATVs are reportedly driven on the landfill. The area is sparsely populated west and north of the site. About 700 feet to the east of the site are residences along Witmer Road and side roads.

In another August 1992 visit, representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) video-taped site conditions. NYS DOH staff reviewed this tape and noted a large area of stressed vegetation near the northern landfill cell and several leachate seeps. A representative of the Niagara County Health Department (NCHD) visited the site on May 3, 1993, and observed the leachate seeps. While at the site he saw people riding ATVs on-site.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics

The NYS DOH estimated from the 1990 census that 2,430 people live within 1 mile of the NCR site. The population within 1 mile of the site is 99 percent white and 1 percent other races. The site is within census tract 229.00 in which 6.7 percent of the population is under 5 years of age, 19.2 percent is 5-19 years of age, 55.9 percent is 20-64 years of age and 18.2 percent is 65 years or older. The median household income in 1989 for this census tract was $26,985 with 3.8 percent of the families with income below the poverty level.

Land Use

Land use around the site includes agricultural, residential, commercial, and recreational development. Population density near the site is sparse and large portions of land are not used. Three active farm fields border the site to the west and there is one to the east. The soils on these lands are classified as "prime farmland" and "additional farmland of statewide importance" by the Niagara County Soil Conservation Service. A freshwater marsh borders the site to the north. Stagnant water is in this area most of the year and the vegetation is stressed.

A Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation transmission line runs east-west, about 700 feet north of the site. A clay-mining operation, about 700 feet north and northwest of the site, is creating man-made lakes from future residential development on the lands west of the site, including the three farm fields. Along Witmer Road, about 100 feet east of the site, land use primarily consists of about 100 single and two-family dwellings with some commercial and light industrial development.

The area south of the site includes gravel and paved access roads, a set of railroad tracks and River Road. Commercial and light industry are along River Road near the site. The Niagara River is about 500 feet south of the site. The Gratwick-Riverside Park is about 900 feet southeast of the site. Currently, the Gratwick-Riverside Park is a public park; however, it is a former landfill site which operated between 1938 and 1968 and is listed on the NYS DEC Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites.

The remaining lands bordering the site consist primarily of woodlands and dry shrub-grassland.

Natural Resource Use

The Niagara River is used for boating and fishing and is also a source of drinking water. The drinking water intake for the City of Niagara Falls is about three miles downstream of the NCR site. Drinking water intakes for the City of North Tonawanda, the City of Tonawanda and the Town of Lockport are in the Tonawanda Channel of the Niagara River, about two miles upstream of the site. The Town of Wheatfield water supply is from the Niagara County Water Supply whose intake is in the Chippawa Channel of the Niagara River, on the west side of Grand Island. There are no known residential wells or other private wells in the area.

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. No health studies have been conducted for the NCR site.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

During the public review period for this Public Health Assessment, several community health concerns were expressed, as follows:

  1. Residents near the site are concerned that flooding in the spring may have brought contamination into their yards.
  2. Residents want to know if there is airborne contamination migrating off-site.
  3. People who visited the site and nearby residents want to know what possible health effects they might experience. Nearby residents want a health survey to determine if their community is experiencing any adverse health effects.
  4. Nearby residents want to know if it is safe to plant a garden in their yards.
  5. A concern was expressed about mosquitoes that breed in the wetlands near the landfill.
  6. Concerns were expressed about the effectiveness of the selected remedy and whether there will be any follow-up activities to ensure its continued effectiveness.
  7. Two accounts of possible exposures to contamination on-site were reported.


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