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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

STRASBURG LANDFILL
NEWLIN TOWNSHIP, CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA


SUMMARY

The Strasburg Landfill is a National Priorities List (Update 7) site located approximately 4 miles southeast of Coatesville in western Newlin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. The landfill is currently inactive but was previously used for the disposal of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) wastes and sludges as well as other industrial and municipal wastes. After it was closed in 1983, the landfill was haphazardly capped with a layer of compacted soil, a PVC liner, and another layer of soil and weathered rock. The landfill was never properly closed according to an approved closure plan. Leachate from the landfill is collected, treated on site, and discharged to Briar Run Creek. Numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including vinyl chloride, benzene, trichloroethene, and tetrachloroethene, have been detected in groundwater from on-site and off-site monitoring wells. Contaminated groundwater appears to have migrated off-site and has impacted several private residential wells. The use of those wells for potable and nonpotable purposes could pose a health risk if contaminant concentrations increase or if carbon filters fail. The low concentrations of VOCs detected in Briar Run Creek, which flows along the edge of the landfill, do not pose a significant health risk.

The nearest residents live within 500 feet of the site and about 80 homes lie within a one-half mile radius. Those residents and recreating visitors to the site (joggers, all terrain vehicle (ATV) riders) may also be exposed to contaminants by direct contact with soil, sediment, and leachates, and by inhalation of organic vapors and dust. The people in the area are concerned about the effects of trespassing on the site and about the safety of private wells in the area.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conclude that this site is a public health hazard. Past exposures have occurred through the use of contaminated well water. The contaminant concentrations in the well water were of public health concern. Human exposure to VOCs occurred in the past and may occur in the future for private well water users. Private wells that have consistently shown contamination above Maximum Contaminant Levels are now equipped with carbon filters, and the most recent sampling of those wells indicate that the filtered water does not contain detectable levels of contaminants; the unfiltered samples contain very low levels of volatile organic compounds. Additionally, past exposure to contaminated leachate seeps has occurred by direct contact and by inhalation of VOCs emitted from the seeps and soils. Access to the site is now restricted and the people were informed about the dangers of trespassing by the Environmental Protection Agency during a public meeting.

ATSDR's Health Activities Recommendation Panel reviewed this public health assessment to determine if follow-up health actions are indicated. The panel determined that community health education is indicated to inform people who are not aware of the dangers about the possible chemical hazards at the site. No other follow-up activities were identified at this time. PADOH and ATSDR will jointly perform the recommended community health education activities.


BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The Strasburg Landfill is an inactive, 22-acre facility that occupies a valley on a hilly 220-acre tract of land. The tract is located south of Strasburg Road (Route 162) in western Newlin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Appendix, Figures 1 and 2). The land was purchased in 1973 by Strasburg Associates. In 1975, the company was given a permit to operate the landfill by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PADER). In February 1979, the landfill opened and began accepting domestic and municipal wastes. Later in 1979, the facility was permitted to receive industrial wastes such as sewage treatment plant sludge, electroplating sludge, and waste from a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturer. Over the next several years, the owners of the landfill were fined for numerous violations, including causing excessive siltation of Briar Run Creek, having slopes in excess of allowed limits, failing to cover compacted wastes, and failing to maintain adequate sedimentation controls. The landfill closed in the spring of 1983. In August 1983, PADER samples analyses detected volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in on-site monitoring wells. In September 1983, VOCs were detected in Briar Run (9). In October 1983, the same contaminants were detected in off-site wells (1). Carbon filters were put on two private wells in the fall of 1989 where contaminants were detected above the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Results of that sampling are presented in the Off-Site Contamination section of this document. Results of the most recent sampling rounds are not available for review; however, EPA stated in a telephone conversation on March 17, 1993, with ATSDR that the most recent samples (Fall 1992) detected no post-filtration contaminants in those wells. Pre-filtered samples contained very low levels (1-2 parts per billion range) of VOCs (12). The site was added to the NPL in March 1989 (10).

In February 1989, Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E&E) was asked to perform a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS). In September of the same year, E&E took over leachate management and subcontracted leachate transportation to an approved off-site facility. From January through November 1990, E&E conducted the RI field program which included monitoring well installation and sampling, air quality monitoring, a soil gas survey, and soil and sediment analyses.

Currently, at the base of the refuse, a grid of PVC pipe drains leachate from the landfill (Figure 4). The leachate drains to a collection point at the eastern edge of the landfill where it is treated and discharged to Briar Run. Beneath the leachate collection system is a 20-mil PVC liner, and beneath this liner is another grid of PVC pipe which acts as a witness system (Figure 3). The detection of contamination in the witness system indicates that the 20-mil PVC liner has been breached. Beneath the witness system is a layer called MC-30, which is a coating of a kerosene-like material sprayed on the ground. Beneath the MC-30 layer is a third set of PVC pipes, which remove groundwater so that the water table does not rise into the landfill. In February 1993, an 8-foot fence was placed around the landfill area to restrict access to the areas of contamination (12). EPA is currently working toward obtaining a design to cap (cover and seal) areas of the landfill where contamination is leaking. A Record of Decision will follow. Development of the process may take a year (12).

In October 1989, ATSDR completed a preliminary public health assessment for this site (2). The site was determined to be of potential health concern because of the risk to human health resulting from exposure to site contaminants.

B. Site Visits

On March 26, 1991, Dr. James Fox, Dr. Kandiah Sivarajah, and Mr. Gary Schultz of the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) visited the site with members of EPA Region III. Again, on August 20, 1991, J.E. Godfrey of PADOH made an independent visit and conducted geologic mapping in the area surrounding the site. Mr. Godfrey made a follow-up visit to the site and surrounding areas on August 13, 1992.

A warning sign is posted at the entrance road from Strasburg Road, and a locked gate prevents access by automobile. However, access by foot and motorcycle is unrestricted and tracks were visible to confirm that people do trespass. Horseback riders also use the site, and at times participate in fox hunts with hounds (9). (EPA confirms that an 8-foot fence was installed in February 1993 to restrict access to the contaminated areas of the site) (12).

An open leachate gully and leachate breakouts were noted at the eastern face of the landfill. A sedimentation pond that collects surface water runoff and underdrainage discharge is located south of the leachate collection tanks (Figure 4).

The eastern side of the landfill is at a steep incline and is bare of vegetation in some spots. Portions of the PVC liner are exposed along the eastern side of the landfill. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight has caused deterioration of exposed portions of the PVC liner resulting in a breach in its integrity. An EPA representative indicated that camp fires have been set by trespassers on the landfill. In addition, elevated organic vapor analyzer (OVA) readings have been detected on site. Odors from undetermined volatile compounds were smelled by members of the Health Assessment Team at the time of their visit.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics

Newlin Township, Chester County, is approximately 8 miles west of West Chester and about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. The township is predominantly rural consisting mostly of agricultural and residential properties. The U.S. Census Bureau's 1990 unofficial population count is reported as 1,078. An estimated 250 people live within one-half mile of the site, and about 200 single family residences are situated within a one-mile radius (8). Approximately 20 homes, with an estimated 60 residents, are adjacent to the landfill. A tavern/restaurant is in Mortonville about one-half mile west of the site, and a vineyard is within one-half mile east of the site.

Land Use

Land use in the area is residential and agricultural with some undeveloped woodlands. Maximum relief from the top of the landfill dome (474 feet) to Brandywine Creek (240 feet) is 234 feet. Site topography is, therefore, representative of the topography in surrounding areas (Figures 2 and 5).

Natural Resource Use

The site is bounded by Strasburg Road on the north, Brandywine Creek on the west and south, and Briar Run (a tributary) on the east. Surface runoff occurs to both Brandywine Creek and Briar Run. Animal, human, and motorcycle tracks seen during site visits indicate that the site is used for recreational purposes. Homes adjacent to the site and other older homes in the area obtain their water from private wells. Most newer homes north of Strasburg Road are served by the B&E Water Company whose supply well is about 3,000 feet northeast of the area of concern. Although a well survey has not been performed, private wells (about 10) have been identified in use between the site and Brandywine Creek.

D. Health Outcome Data

Health outcome data bases were not used in this report for reasons discussed in the Health Outcome Evaluation section.


COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

During an EPA-sponsored town meeting on April 30, 1991, local residents expressed concern about trespassing on the site, especially when vandalism and recreational vehicle use occur. Trespassing creates the dual health problem of (a) exposure of individuals to site contaminants and (b) destruction of landfill cover and liner which, in turn, increases the pollution potential of the facility.

Residents who are on the public water supply appear less concerned about groundwater than those on private wells. One individual expressed concern that she was no longer being notified of the results of her groundwater analyses. Another resident noted that her well(s) were sampled less frequently now, apparently because of staff cutbacks at PADER. That resident produced laboratory documents indicating, for the first time, benzene contamination in her deep water supply well.


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