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List of Abbreviations

ATSDR        Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry
CNS             central nervous system
EMEG          Environmental Media Evaluation Guideline
EPA             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
LOAEL        lowest-observed-adverse-effect level
MDPH         Massachusetts Department of Public Health
MCL            EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level
MEDEP       Maine Department of Environmental Protection
MRL            Minimal Risk Level
MW             monitoring well
NOAEL       no-observed-adverse-effect level
OSHA         Occupational Safety and Health Administration
PCE             tetrachloroethylene
RfD              EPA's Reference Dose
TCE             trichloroethylene
TLV             Threshold Limit Value
VOCs          volatile organic compounds


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has prepared this health consultation to address health concerns raised by community members using water from private wells around the West/Hows Corner Superfund site. ATSDR concludes that no apparant health hazards are associated with the use of groundwater for drinking and other household purposes during the time periods evaluated.

As a precautionary measure, however, ATSDR advises area residents to continue to limit their exposure to contaminated well water. Residents can take such preventive steps as sampling new wells before use, using filters and changing them regularly, or switching to alternative water supplies.

The following sections expand upon these conclusions and recommendations. The background section reviews concerns raised by community members and describes the history of the site. The discussion section describes the data, who might have been exposed, and information about health effects associated with detected contaminants. The conclusions and recommendations sections detail ATSDR's findings and suggestions for the continued protection of public health.

Because ATSDR prepares its reports for a diverse audience, this consultation includes both non-technical and technical discussions. The more detailed technical approaches and discussions are included in the appendices. A list of abbreviations and a glossary of technical terms used are included to aid the reader.


  Statement of Issues

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has prepared this health consultation in response to community member concerns about potential health hazards for residents in Plymouth, Maine, who may have unknowingly used contaminated well water for drinking and other household purposes from 1994 until testing revealed the problem in 1996. This issue was raised after ATSDR released a public health assessment (PHA) for the West/Hows Corner site in October 1996. The PHA evaluated site-related data collected between 1987 and 1993 (ATSDR, 1996). Although pre-1994 exposures to contaminated well water were assessed in the 1996 PHA, ATSDR reevaluated those exposures and presents its findings in this health consultation along with the 1994-1996 evaluation.

Site Description and History

The West/Hows Corner hazardous waste site operated from 1965 to 1980 as a former waste oil storage and transfer facility. This 2-acre site is located 20 miles west of Bangor in Penobscot County, Plymouth, Maine (Weston, 1990; see Figure 1). The site is currently a grassy clearing. During operations, residue materials from on-site tanks were reportedly dumped on site and covered with gravel.

In 1987, tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were discovered in private drinking water wells near the West/Hows Corner site. To protect public health, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MEDEP) supplied residences that had contaminated well water with bottled water for drinking and carbon filters to remove PCE/TCE from the well water. Also, the MEDEP began testing additional wells in the West/Hows Corner site area for PCE/TCE contamination. As MEDEP testing identified additional wells in danger of becoming contaminated, these residences were also provided with filters and bottled water. In 1994, when a public water supply (Plymouth Water District) became available, most affected or potentially affected residences were connected to it.

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