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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

PFOHL BROTHERS LANDFILL
CHEEKTOWAGA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK




SUMMARY

The Pfohl Brothers Landfill operated between 1932 and 1971 in Cheektowaga, Erie County, New York about one mile northeast of the Buffalo International Airport. The landfill covers approximately 120 acres.

Staff from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have reviewed the environmental data on the Pfohl Brothers Landfill site, and found that in the past people were likely exposed to contaminants in on-site surface soils and exposed drum wastes and Aero Lake surface waters and sediment. They were likely exposed to the contaminants via incidental ingestion, dermal contact, and inhalation while walking, playing, and swimming in these areas. The contaminants evaluated for the public health implication at this site were heavy metals, dibenzofurans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Based on the data that ATSDR staff reviewed, the levels of contaminants in the media, and the probable length of exposure to the contaminants, adverse non-carcinogenic health effects are not expected to occur. Increased risk of developing cancer is not expected based upon the evaluated data.

Residents voiced their site-related health concerns at ATSDR sponsored public availability sessions held on December 14, 1993. They were concerned that there was an increase in the number of cancer cases and deaths in the area. This concern has been addressed by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). The NYSDOH investigation did not reveal any of the usual patterns associated with a clustering event. Concerns were also expressed regarding the methodology by the NYSDOH in conducting a public health survey and health risks for children living in the vicinity of the landfill. ATSDR believes that the studies were conducted appropriately, however, there are limitations to the types of evaluation used. These types of investigations cannot link reported illnesses to site contaminants.

Based upon data and information reviewed in this public health assessment, the ATSDR concludes that the proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill National Priorities List Site represents no apparent public health hazard at the present time because available data do not indicate exposures to contaminants in the environmental media to be high enough to cause adverse health effects. In addition, removal actions and remedial activities have greatly reduced the likelihood of exposure to site-related contamination. ATSDR characterizes this site as an indeterminate public health hazard for past exposures because ATSDR was not able to conduct any groundwater contaminant trend analysis. The groundwater contaminant trend analysis could be conducted after the monitoring wells at this site are sampled and analyzed for all of the compounds on the EPA Target Compound List over a one year period (i.e., sample and analysis from each well every quarter).

ATSDR recommends that the groundwater monitoring wells for the Pfohl Brothers Landfill be sampled and analyzed for all the compounds on the EPA Target Compound List over a one year period (i.e., sample and analysis from each well every quarter). The two State of New York Records of Decision require routine monitoring of wells during the long-term remediation of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill.

The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has reviewed the information and data developed in the Pfohl Brothers Landfill Public Health Assessment. The panel has determined that ongoing environmental health education activities are needed.

BACKGROUND

A.    Site Description And History

The proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill National Priorities List (NPL) site is located in the town of Cheektowaga in the northeastern portion of Erie County, New York (see Appendix 1, Figure 1). The landfill is bounded on the east by Transit Road; on the west by the New York State Electric and Gas utility lines; on the north by land adjacent to the New York State Thruway, Route 90; and to the south by Pfohl Road (1).

From 1932 to 1971, approximately 120 acres of land owned by the Pfohl family was used for waste disposal (1). The site accepted municipal and industrial wastes from the surrounding townships, manufacturers, and utilities. Some of the generators of the waste have indicated that pine tar pitch, waste paints and thinners, waste cutting oils, oil-contaminated Fuller's earth, phenolic tar containing chlorinated benzenes and dioxins, and oil and capacitors laden with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were disposed of at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill. No records were kept on the quantity of wastes received other than an estimated 125 tons of phenol tar.

There are three distinct areas to the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (Areas A, B, and C) (1). Appendix 1, Figure 2 delineates these areas. Aerial photographs taken during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's document, to some extent, the timing and location of excavation and waste dumping at the site. The limited historical records indicate that no hazardous waste were disposed of in Area A (1). Soil from this area was used primarily by the New York Thruway Authority for road fill material (e.g., the New State Thruway and Toll Plaza). The aerial photographs indicate that waste material was dumped at various locations in Areas B and C.

The earliest documentation of concerns associated with the Pfohl Brothers Landfill is the March 1979 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) report entitled "Interagency Task Force on Hazardous Wastes." The Interagency report was conducted after the discovery of the Love Canal hazardous waste site. The purpose of the study was to determine the magnitude of hazardous waste disposal problems in the state and to make recommendations for remediation strategies. The Pfohl Brothers Landfill was one of approximately 215 sites identified in the Erie/Niagara County area. The March 1979 Interagency report did not include any environmental sampling data related to the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (2).

In May 1979, the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning collected and analyzed seven leachate and surface water samples from the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (2). Analytical results of these seven samples indicated that very low concentrations [less than 0.0002 milligrams of contaminant per liter of water (mg/L)] of various pesticides were being discharged to local surface waters from the landfill. [NOTE: Only a general description of the various investigation findings will be presented in this section of the Public Health Assessment. A total review of environmental contaminants detected at this site is presented in the Environmental Contamination and Other Hazards section of this assessment.]

The next environmental investigation at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill occurred after a leaking tanker truck was found abandoned at the landfill in 1980 (1, 2). The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning responded to the spill. The PCB contaminated soil near the abandoned tanker truck was excavated and disposed of in another landfill. The county also took samples from Ellicott Creek and nine private drinking water wells. The first environmental samples were taken on May 15, 1980. Analysis of these samples indicated that low levels (less than 0.0014 mg/L) of PCBs were present (2). Ellicott Creek and two of the private drinking water wells were resampled on June 23, 1980. No PCBs were found in the samples above the detection limit of 0.00005 mg/L (2). The creek and seven of the previously sampled private drinking water wells were sampled again in October 1980. No PCBs were found in these samples (2). In addition to analyzing for PCBs, some of the private drinking water well samples were also analyzed for metals. The analytical results indicate that some of the private drinking water well water contained elevated levels of metals. Most of the wells with elevated levels of metals provided drinking water to businesses.

In June 1982, Fred C. Hart Associates, a contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conducted an inspection of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (3). The purpose of the inspection was to perform a hazardous ranking of the site. Environmental samples (water and sediment) were collected from three leachate seeps, a drainage ditch, Aero Lake, and four private drinking water wells. Analytical results for these samples indicated that the private drinking water wells were not contaminated with any volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and PCBs. Manganese was detected in one private drinking water well. The analytical results for other environmental samples did indicate that the landfill leachate contained various volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, and metals.

As a result of the Fred C. Hart Associates inspection, the property owner's law firm; Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods, and Gaudier; commissioned Ecology and Environment, Inc., to perform an additional investigation of the landfill (4). Ecology and Environment, Inc., conducted their investigation in 1983 and 1984. As part of the investigation, groundwater, sediment, and leachate samples were collected and analyzed for volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, PCBs, and metals. The Ecology and Environment, Inc., report concluded that the groundwater on-site contained metals above EPA interim primary drinking water standards; that potentially significant levels of metals and some organic compounds have migrated off-site in the form of contaminated sediment; and that contaminants were present in wetlands and drainage ditches adjacent to the landfill.

Prior to 1983, all of the residences near the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (Pfohl Road and Rein Road) obtained drinking water from private wells (1). From 1983 through 1985, all these residences were connected to the municipal drinking water supply.

In 1985 the Pfohl Brothers Landfill was listed on the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites as a Class 2 Site (5).

In November 1985, NYSDEC collected samples of leachate, soil, and waste (e.g., tar-like material from drums at the surface of the landfill) (6). The samples were analyzed by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). The contaminants detected in the waste samples included fluorene [a non-carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)], phenanthrene (a non-carcinogenic PAH), and various metals.

A Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) was initiated in 1988 by the NYSDEC consultant, Camp Dresser and McKee, under the State of New York Superfund Program (1, 7). The RI was conducted from 1988 to 1990 and consisted of six major field activities (Geophysical Survey; Surface Water, Leachate Seep, and Sediment Sampling; Gamma Radiation Survey - Phases I and II; Test Pit Investigation; Soil Boring Investigation; and Groundwater Investigation). Various levels of volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, PCBs, and metals were detected in the different environmental media.

In 1990, NYSDEC installed a fence around most of the landfill. The fence totally surrounds Area C except for areas where businesses are operated (e.g., the electrical/diesel repair business). The south, east, and west sides of Area B are fenced. The north side of Area B is fenced up to natural boundaries (e.g., creek bed) (6).

Additionally investigations were conducted by NYSDEC and NYSDOH. From April 1989 through June 1991, supplemental data and information were collected on groundwater radioactivity, residential basement sump groundwater, residential radon, private drinking water wells, surface water, surface soil (including garden soil), sediment, and fish quality (8, 9, 10).

A number of Interim Reports were issued during the course of the RI. All of these reports were distributed to interested citizen groups, local political officials, and the local document repositories in Cheektowaga and Williamsville. In addition to Public Meetings, a series of Citizen Forums were held in Cheektowaga during 1990 and 1991 to discuss the results of the RI, Interim Reports, and other issues.

In addition to the environmental investigations, NYSDOH also conducted lead screening for children living in the vicinity of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (11). An investigation into whether the occurrence of cancer was elevated near the site was also conducted along with a health survey (11). The result of these studies were provided to the public during the Citizens Forum meetings. A discussion of the studies results is presented in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section of this Public Health Assessment.

On July 16, 1991, NYSDOH obtained drinking water well samples from six homes located approximately a quarter mile northeast of the landfill (12). Analytical results of these samples did not detect any contamination in the well water. Five of the 1991 private drinking water wells were resampled on July 14, 1993 (13). Analytical results of those samples did not detect any contamination in the well water.

In August 1991, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was petitioned by two citizen groups to conduct a comprehensive health assessment at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (14). This Public Health Assessment is, in part, a response to that petition.

NYSDEC issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the remediation of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill in February 1992 (15). The selected remedial action plan outlined in the ROD includes the following:

  • A landfill cap that will cover the entire area of waste;
  • A physical hydraulic barrier which will encircle the waste areas south of Aero Lake and north of Pfohl Road and intersect with the landfill cap system at the surface;
  • Long term monitoring of the groundwater at and near the landfill;
  • A leachate collection and treatment system; and
  • Interim remedial actions including the collection and proper disposal of drums and phenolic tars found on-site. [NOTE: This remedial action was completed in the summer of 1994.]

On May 10, 1993, the EPA proposed that the Pfohl Brothers Landfill be listed on the National Priorities List (a.k.a., "Superfund") (16).

On October 4, 1993, NYSDEC announced an agreement had been reached with eight companies who originally produced some of the waste material disposed of at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill (17). The companies signed a consent order which requires the companies to complete the remedial work begun by NYSDEC. The major requirements of the consent order are:

  • Investigation of areas suspected of containing drums and tars;
  • Removal and proper disposal of thousands of drums found during the site investigations, including the 2,900 drums already excavated by NYSDEC;
  • Excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soils and surface radioactive materials;
  • Excavation and off-site disposal of an estimated 2,000 cubic yards of phenolic tars contaminated with dioxin; and
  • A Real Estate Plan which provides for financing the permanent relocation of Pfohl Road residents who voluntarily accept a private offer from the companies.

All of the major requirements of the consent order have been completed except for the Real Estate Plan. Some of the Pfohl Road residents have not decided whether to accept the voluntary relocation offer.

In October 1993, the NYSDEC completed the off-site RI for the Pfohl Brothers Landfill. Based on the off-site RI, the NYSDEC issued a second ROD (5). That ROD presented the selected remedial actions for the Pfohl Brothers Landfill Operable Unit No. 2 (e.g., Area A and Off-Site Groundwater). The December 1993 ROD stated that NYSDEC was deleting Area A from the site description because the RIs found no evidence of hazardous waste disposal within that area. In addition, it was concluded in the ROD that there was no evidence of any off-site groundwater contamination. The December 1993 ROD requires routine monitoring of the off-site groundwater, utilizing the existing off-site monitoring wells.

Based upon information provide by local citizens, NYSDOH evaluated the incidence of cancer associated with homes and businesses near the site (18-19). The NYSDOH reported the results of their investigations in June 1994 and August 1995.

In May 1994, the NYSDOH sampled seven private drinking water wells on Rehm Road (approximately one mile south of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill) (21). Analytical results from these samples indicated that the well water did not contain any site-related contaminants above New York State Drinking Water Standards.

In December 1994, groundwater samples were collected for chemical analyses from selected perimeter and off-site monitoring wells at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL site (20, 20, 20). In addition hydraulic monitoring data were also collected during this sampling event. The sampling, chemical analyses, and data collection were conducted by Conestoga-Rovers & Associates (a consultant for the Pfohl Brothers Landfill Site Steering Committee).

B.    Site Visit

A site visit was conducted by ATSDR staff (Ms. Rosalyn Lee and Ms. Déborah Boling from the Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, Superfund Site Assessment Branch, and Mr. Artie Block from the ATSDR Region II Office) on December 13-15, 1993. The site visit was conducted to collect information needed for the Public Health Assessment for the proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL Site (Update 14). ATSDR staff met with representatives of NYSDEC, NYSDOH, and EPA. In addition, two Public Availability sessions were held at the Cheektowaga Town Hall by ATSDR (December 14, 1993).

The following observations were made during the site visit:

  • A electrical/diesel repair company operated on a portion of Area C until 1991. A landscaping operation was located at this location during the site visit.
  • A six-foot chain-link fence surrounds most of the landfill. The fence totally surrounds Area C except for areas where businesses are operated (e.g., the landscape business). The south, east, and west sides of Area B are fenced. The north side of Area B is fenced up to natural boundaries (e.g., creek bed). No trespassing and warning signs are posted on the fence.
  • Twelve dwellings (e.g., apartments and individual homes) and several businesses are located along Pfohl Road.
  • Children do reside in the area.

In response to community concerns expressed during the public meeting and public availability session held on December 14, 1993, ATSDR developed a draft attic dust sampling protocol. The draft attic dust sampling protocol was available for public comment from January 30, 1995 to February 28, 1995. The draft protocol was presented to the community during a public meeting held on February 22, 1995.

C.    Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

1.    Demographics

The closest residential areas to the proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL site are along Pfohl Road. Children live in several of the residences.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census data, the proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL site is located in Census tract 100.01 (23). The median household income for that Census tract was $28,980. Approximately four percent of the 100.01 Census tract population live below the poverty level.

Included within Census tract 100.01 are census blocks 928, 905, and 922. These census blocks encompass the area from Ellicott Creek to the south and west, Aero Drive to the north, and Transit Road to the east. The 1990 Census estimated that 16 housing units and 38 people reside within these Census blocks. The age distribution for these Census blocks are: 8 people 0-5 years of age, 5 people from 6-19 years of age, 23 people from 20-64 years of age, and 2 people older than 64 years of age. The 1990 Census listed all the people living within these census blocks as being of the white race (24).

2.    Land Use

The land in the immediate vicinity of the site is used for several purposes. As discussed above, there are approximately 12 dwellings and 10 businesses adjacent to or in the proximity of the site. Part of a tract of land adjacent to Area C is used as a horse pasture. It is possible that a landscaping firm is still conducting business on a portion of Area C. The New York State Thruway ramp and toll booths are located within Area A. A trucking firm is also located within Area A.

3.    Natural Resource Use

The regional unconsolidated and bedrock (Onondaga Limestone) groundwater aquifers flow beneath the site (1, 8). The groundwater within the unconsolidated aquifer generally flows in a south-southwest direction. Because of groundwater mounding normally associated with landfills, the groundwater within the unconsolidated aquifer at the Pfohl Brothers Landfill tends to flow in all directions (radially outward) within the vicinity of the landfill. This radial flow reverses to the normally regional flow (south-southwest) once the groundwater moves past the boundaries of the landfill.

Beneath the landfill, the groundwater within the bedrock aquifer generally flows in a south/southwesterly direction. Most of the groundwater flow is through secondary porosity features such as interconnected solution cavities and fractures.

Until 1985, both of the aquifers were used by local residences (Pfohl and Rein Road) as their only drinking water supply, via private drinking water wells. The municipal drinking water system was extended to the residential areas on Pfohl and Rein Road and all of the residences were connected to the municipal drinking water system. The municipal drinking water system obtains water from Lake Erie, which is not affected by the Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL site. The groundwater aquifers continue to be used for drinking water by people who live approximately a quarter mile northeast of the site and one mile south of the site.

Aero Lake and Ellicott Creek are surface water bodies located north and south of the site, respectively (see Appendix 1, Figure 2) (1). Both bodies of water are discharge points for the unconsolidated aquifer and potentially for the bedrock aquifer. Aero Lake discharges into two intermittent streams towards the west. The southern portion of the site drained primarily by Ellicott Creek and flows west-northwest. The wetland areas of the site act as discharge points during the wet seasons (generally August through December). Ultimately any surface water from the site area discharges into Lake Erie.

It has been reported to ATSDR that people have used Aero Lake for recreational purposes (i.e., fishing and swimming). Based upon ATSDR interviews with local citizens, one family may have depended upon the lake fish as their primary source of food. Access to Aero Lake has been restricted since the site was fenced (1990). Although the lake is not within the fenced area, people can only get to the lake by walking down from Scott Place and the New York State Thruway. The fence surrounding the site restricts access to the lake from the south and east.

Ellicott Creek is also used for recreational activities (1).

D.    Health Outcome Data

The NYSDOH maintains several health outcome data bases that could be used to generate site specific data if warranted. These data bases include a cancer incidence registry, congenital malformations registry, heavy metal registry, occupational lung disease registry, vital records (i.e., birth and death certificates), and hospital discharge information.

The NYSDOH has conducted a series of health outcome data analysis and epidemiologic evaluations at the proposed Pfohl Brothers Landfill NPL site (11, 18). A review of these investigation is contained in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section of this Public Health Assessment.

On April 24, 1991, the NYSDOH conducted a lead screening for children living in the vicinity of the Pfohl Brothers Landfill. Twenty children were tested.

Two descriptive studies of cancer incidence (cases of newly diagnosed cancer occurring during a specified period) for communities surrounding the site were completed in March and November 1991 by the NYSDOH, Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology and Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology. Health outcome data used in these analyses were obtained from the New York State Cancer Registry and telephone interviews, respectively.

In June 1990, NYSDOH personnel visited twenty households in the area adjacent to the site in order to obtain information on how the residents may have been exposed to site contaminants and to develop a general picture for the type of health problems the residents were experiencing.

Based upon information provided by local citizens, NYSDOH evaluated the incidence of cancer associated with homes and businesses near the site. The NYSDOH reported the results of their investigations in June 1994 and August 1995.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

Residents voiced their site-related health concerns at the ATSDR-sponsored public availability sessions in December, 1993. These concerns are introduced in this section and are evaluated in the Community Health Concerns Evaluation section below. Concerns included questions on the study design and interpretation of the health survey conducted by the New York State Department of Health, and reports of cancer deaths and skin rash problems in the area.

Additional concerns were expressed during the Public Comment Period for this document which was held August 31, 1994 to September 30, 1994. These concerns are addressed in the Response to Public Comments section of this document.


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