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A citizen of Hawthorne, New Jersey petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to conduct a public health assessment of the Borough of Hawthorne Municipal Water Supply (BHMWS). The citizen is concerned about the health impact from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in drinking water from BHMWS in the past and their potential link with leukemia incidence in the Borough of Hawthorne [1]. Past operations and waste disposal practices by industries near the BHMWS have released industrial chemicals to the groundwater causing local and regional groundwater pollution. As a result of these releases, VOCs and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) have entered several municipal water wells owned by the BHMWS. In August 1988, the Borough of Hawthorne Department of Public Works installed air strippers to reduce the contamination in the BHMWS. This public health assessment evaluates the potential public health implications related to the VOCs detected in the BHMWS and their association with the occurrence of leukemia in the community.


Most people in the Borough of Hawthorne receive their drinking water from the BHMWS. Approximately 25 municipal water wells at various locations supply water to this municipal system. One primary well field, Wagaraw, comprises nine wells. Wells 3 through 8 are in the North Wagaraw well field and 10 through 12 are in the South Wagaraw well field (Appendices B, Figures 1 and 2). The Borough of Hawthorne Department of Public Works began using most of these wells in the 1950s. There are approximately 30 private wells within approximately a one mile radius of the BHMWS (Table 3) [2]; however these private wells are not used for drinking water (Appendices E).

The Borough of Hawthorne Water Department (BHWD) has been analyzing water for VOCs since 1979. VOCs were detected above regulatory drinking water standards in the municipal water supply until August 1988 when water from operating municipal wells began to flow through air stripping towers to remove VOCs. The air stripping towers use granular activated carbon to capture the VOCs and minimizing VOC releases to the ambient air. There are two air stripping stations: the North Station and the South Station. The North Station consists of one stripping tower, and the South Station consists of two stripping towers [3]. BHWD currently tests the VOC levels twice each month. Since implementing the air stripping towers, the VOC level in the BHMWS have been reduced to levels within regulatory drinking water standards.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is investigating several industries near the North and South Wagaraw well fields for the contamination of groundwater with industrial chemicals [4, 5]. Private wells in the area may also have been affected by these industrial releases. NJDEP's Comprehensive List Case File shows 32 sites storing and disposing industrial chemicals within approximately one mile of the North and South Wagaraw well fields (see Table 2). There are also several groundwater reports indicating a widespread or regional groundwater problem [6].


The community is concerned that the presence of VOCs in the BHMWS is associated with leukemia cases in Hawthorne, New Jersey. ATSDR reviewed the water quality of BHMWS and a leukemia study provided by New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS). The leukemia study reported leukemia cases among residents of Hawthorne [7]. A review of water quality is in the Discussion section of this document and the leukemia study is presented in the Health Outcome Data section.


The 1990 U.S. Census reported a total population of 16,949 for the Borough of Hawthorne [8-10]. The largest ethnic group is white (98%), while Asians and/or Pacific Islanders represent the other ethnic groups in the area (1%). There also seems to be a normal distribution of young children (8%), elderly residents (17%), and females of childbearing age (23%) in the area. For additional demographic information, see Appendix B, Figure 1.

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