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PETER COOPER
GOWANDA, CATTARAUGUS COUNTY, NEW YORK


SUMMARY

The 50-acre Peter Cooper-Gowanda site is in the Village of Gowanda, Cattaraugus County, about 40 miles south of Buffalo, New York, and 20 miles east of Lake Erie. The site consists of an unlined landfill and abandoned buildings. From 1903 to 1972, the Peter Cooper facility made glue from animal hides supplied by the numerous area tanneries. From 1972 until its closure in 1985, the plant manufactured adhesives. Waste sludge from the glue processing operation was disposed in the on-site landfill.

Soil cover over the wastes is thin or nonexistent and the bank along the Cattaraugus Creek has eroded; therefore, wastes are exposed. Due to the poor condition of the creek bank, a mass release of waste into Cattaraugus Creek is possible. Leachate is seeping into the creek from numerous leachate seeps along the creek bank.

People of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Cattaraugus Reservation, particularly those that observe a traditional lifestyle, may be exposed to contaminants from the Peter Cooper site by using the Cattaraugus Creek. Although current data do not indicate that this area is being affected, future data may indicate a need to assess potential public exposures at the Cattaraugus Reservation.

Based on the information reviewed, the Peter Cooper-Gowanda site poses a public health hazard. Evidence exists that exposures have occurred, are occurring, and are likely to continue occurring in the future and the estimated long-term exposures to arsenic and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon benzo(a)pyrene can increase the risk of adverse health effects to unauthorized visitors to the site and people that use the Cattaraugus Creek near the site for recreation. Specifically, long-term exposures to arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene could pose a low increased cancer risk.

Physical hazards at the site should be removed or access to them should be restricted. To prevent unauthorized visitors from being exposed to surface waste, the landfill should be properly covered. The shoreline along Cattaraugus Creek needs to be stabilized to prevent erosion and mass releases of contaminants into the creek. The soil gas near the landfill needs to be evaluated to determine if contaminated soil gases are migrating off-site.

Contaminant concentrations in the Cattaraugus Creek water and sediment should be monitored and evaluated to determine if fish from the creek need to be analyzed for chemical contamination. In addition, evaluation of contaminant levels in Cattaraugus Creek may indicate that environmental sampling is needed within the creek where it passes through the Seneca Nation of Indians, Cattaraugus Reservation.

The NYS DOH is conducting a cancer study of the Village of Gowanda, the Cattaraugus Reservation, and Towns of Perrysburg, Persia, Dayton, New Albion and Otto. The study will be available to these communities when it is complete. The NYS DOH will continue to respond to community concerns as they arise.


BACKGROUND

Under a cooperative agreement 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 the Peter Cooper Corporation 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) as amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986, to conduct public health assessments at hazardous waste sites proposed for the National Priorities List (NPL). The Peter Cooper site was proposed to the NPL in September 1997 and was placed on the NPL in 1998.

A. Site Description and History

The 50-acre Peter Cooper-Gowanda site consists of an unlined landfill and a former glue manufacturing facility. The site is in the Village of Gowanda, Cattaraugus County, about 40 miles south of Buffalo, New York, and 20 miles east of Lake Erie (Appendix A, Figure 1). The Peter Cooper Corporation began operation at the site in 1903 (Roy F. Weston, Inc., 1996). In 1976, the property and rights to the Peter Cooper name were bought, and this Peter Cooper Corporation operated until 1985. The site was sold to Jimcar Development, Inc. in 1988.

From 1903 to 1972, the Peter Cooper facility made glue from animal hides supplied by the numerous area tanneries. From 1972 until its closure in 1985, the plant manufactured adhesives. Waste sludge from the glue processing operation was disposed in the on-site landfill.

In a 1971, O'Brien & Gere Engineering studied alternatives to piling waste on the ground surface for Peter Cooper (O'Brien & Gere, 1989). O'Brien & Gere Engineering characterized the waste as "spent collagenous protein residue which remains after the extraction of animal glue". In compliance with an order issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC), Peter Cooper removed about 35,000 metric tons of waste that were close to Cattaraugus Creek and disposed the "stabilized" waste at another parcel of property Peter Cooper owned, the Markhams site in Cattaraugus County, New York. During this removal action, area residents allegedly complained about odors from the landfill. The remaining waste was covered with clay, topsoil and embankment material, and vegetation was planted on the landfilll. Access to the site was restricted by a snow fence. The possibility of people coming into direct contact with wastes and the potential for rain water to infiltrate the wastes were minimized by covering the landfill with a soil cap.

The NYS DEC completed a preliminary investigation in 1983 which showed that there was a need to collect information on groundwater quality. In 1985, the NYS DEC issued a report on a second investigation which concluded that groundwater, surface water, surface soil and subsurface soil all appeared to be affected from past disposal activities. In 1989, the current Peter Cooper Corporation performed a remedial investigation (RI). This was followed by a 1991 feasibility study (FS) to evaluate remedial alternatives.

During the RI, an extraction procedure (EP) was performed to evaluate the potential of chromium, arsenic and zinc (the main chemicals of concern at this site) to leach from soil or waste. The EP test is one method that the NYS DEC uses to determine if waste material can be legally classified as "hazardous waste". The EP tests showed that all three chemicals were below the regulatory levels that would define it as hazardous waste. Since this testing indicated that the site does not contain hazardous waste as defined in Title 6 of the New York Code of Rules and Regulations, Part 371 - Identification and Listing of Hazardous Wastes, the NYS DEC started the process required to remove the Peter Cooper Gowanda site from the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites and subsequently removed the site from the registry in 1992. The NYS DOH continues to be concerned about conditions at the site. NYS DOH personnel have visited the site on several occasions and they have noted that the fence and clay cover are deteriorating and leachate is migrating into the adjacent Cattaraugus Creek. The site was re-listed on the registry in 1998 in response to the placement of the site on the National Priorities List (NPL).

In 1996, the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) Removal Action Branch visited the site to collect additional samples and characterize the waste to determine the potential effect of a mass release of waste material into Cattaraugus Creek. The US EPA identified the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) as a potentially responsible party. An administrative order on consent for removal action was entered into by the US EPA and NYSEG on October 24, 1996. The order required NYSEG to design, install and maintain erosion control measures to prevent a mass release of waste materials into Cattaraugus Creek. NYSEG completed the installation of a rip-rap erosion control wall in January 1997. This remedy only addressed property owned by NYSEG and the remaining portion of the shoreline has not been addressed.

In 1995, a task force was established to address pollution in Cattaraugus Creek, with a focus on the Peter Cooper sites (both this site and the Markhams site). This task force included members from several municipalities. The task force sent a health questionnaire to about 3,000 homes. The results need to be evaluated.

The US EPA is currently performing its own Remedial Investigation.

B. Site Visit

The NYS DOH staff have visited the site on several occasions over the past eight years. On May 6, 1998, Ms. Dawn Hettrick visited the Peter Cooper-Gowanda site with Mr. Eric Wohlers of the Cattaraugus County Health Department and Mr. Mike Hutchinson of the Village of Gowanda. The snow fencing that had surrounded the site is barely standing and does not restrict access. However, railroad ties and boulders block vehicular access to the site. Vegetation, such as trees and shrubs, is well established. During the site visit, Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Wohlers showed Ms. Hettrick several areas where the cap is thin or nonexistent. Vegetation in these areas is sparse, stressed or nonexistent. Putrid odors were present over large areas of the site, particularly in areas where the wastes are exposed. Several areas of leachate seepage into Cattaraugus Creek were also noted. The retaining wall along the creek is in poor condition, except for the section that NYSEG installed in 1997. Two teenagers were observed walking along the creek bank. During prior site visits, NYS DOH staff have observed people fishing in Cattaraugus Creek. These observations demonstrate that people frequent the site.

Cement mixing tanks, various pieces of machinery, wood, and bricks are present on the former plant portion of the property. The building is in the process of being demolished. These items pose potential physical hazards.

Ms. Hettrick and Ms. Fay Navratil visited the site on April 27, 1999. Little had changed at the site, except that railroad ties had been moved, thereby allowing vehicular access to a portion of the site. During the visit, two pedestrians (an adult and a child) and a person riding an ATV were observed on the site. The buildings have been left partially demolished. Most of the machinery that was previously observed on-site has been removed.

C. Demographics, Land Use and Natural Resources Uses

Demographics

The NYS DOH estimated from the 1990 Census (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991) that 3,036 people live within one mile of the Peter Cooper-Gowanda site. This population is 94.8 percent of the white race, 4.4 percent of the American Indian race and 0.8 percent of other races. Persons of Hispanic origin are 1.1 percent of the population. Within one mile of the site, 8.2 percent of the population is less than six years of age, 18.1 percent is 6-19 years of age, 53.3 percent is 20-64 years of age and 20.5 percent is 65 years or older. In 1990, there were 121 persons living in nursing homes and 610 females of reproductive age (ages 15-44) within one mile of the site. The median household income in the Village of Gowanda was $23,091 in 1989 with 8.5 percent of the population living below the poverty level. The Tri-County Memorial Hospital and the Gowanda Nursing Home are 0.8 miles and 0.1 miles from the site, respectively.

Land Use

The site is located in a rural area of Cattaraugus County and is zoned as industrial. The site is bordered by properties zoned for residential, commercial and industrial uses. About 20 homes are located within 500 feet of the site. Cattaraugus Creek is adjacent to the site to the north (Appendix A, Figure 2). The Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians is about 1.5 miles downstream of the site. The Moench Tannery site is located about a half mile upstream of the Peter Cooper along Cattaraugus Creek.

Natural Resource Use

Cattaraugus Creek is used for fishing. People have been seen fishing in the creek adjacent to the site on several occasions. The Seneca Nation of Indians, Cattaraugus Reservation is downstream of the site and many of the tribe's members depend upon the creek for food and recreational activities. Groundwater close to the site is not used for potable water, but it is the main source of potable water in the rural area surrounding the Village of Gowanda.

D. Health Outcome Data

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


COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

The community has the following concerns:

  1. Nearby residents are concerned about possible health effects from their potential exposure to contaminants at the site, especially arsenic and hexavalent chromium.
  2. The community has expressed concern about nuisance odors.
  3. The community is concerned about the physical hazards associated with the salvaging operation that is being operated adjacent to the site.
  4. Nearby residents are concerned about the possible migration of landfill gas to the basements of nearby homes.
  5. The Seneca Nation of Indians is concerned about possible human exposures to contaminated sediments and biota downstream of the Peter Cooper site and adjacent to the Cattaraugus Reservation.

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