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Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite is an area formerly occupied by a lacquer manufacturingindustry located in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Drums of a nitrocellulose resin have been found onsiteand were promptly disposed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.Community members are concerned that the chemical wastes dumped at this former industry arecontributing to brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, and leukemia in Smithfield. This public healthassessment is an evaluation of existing on and offsite environmental data, health outcome data, andaddresses community health concerns related to the site.

An evaluation of onsite sediment sampling data showed semi-volatile compound (SVOC)contamination in the wetland area near Stillwater River. However, human contact with sediment inthis area is infrequent and is not expected to result in adverse health effects. There were nocontaminants detected in onsite subsurface soil samples at levels of health concern. Sampling resultsfrom two privately owned wells used by the public that are located one half mile from SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite showed no groundwater contamination of health concern.

Health outcome data from 1986 to 1997 show no unusual increase of brain cancer, Hodgkin'sDisease, or leukemia in the Smithfield area. No link between the Smithfield Industrial Dumpsite andthese types of cancer was identified.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has classified the SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite as a No Apparent Public Health Hazard based on infrequenthuman contact with SVOCs detected in onsite sediment of the wetlands area near Stillwater River.


The Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite is a parcel of land formerly used by a chemicalcompany that manufactured lacquers out of a nitrocellulose resin (old movie film) from 1949-1964in Smithfield, Rhode Island. A local citizen petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and DiseaseRegistry (ATSDR) to evaluate the association between the chemical wastes generated and dumpedat the site and brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, and leukemia incidence in Smithfield [1]. ATSDRstaff members visited the site and met with the petitioner, the Rhode Island Department ofEnvironmental Management (RIDEM), and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) tocollect environmental data, and identify community concerns for a public health assessment. Thepurpose of this public health assessment is to assess the potential public health implications relatedto the site by evaluating existing environmental data, health outcome data, and addressingcommunity health concerns.

Site Background

Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite is located on a seven acre parcel of land in a residentialarea. The nearest residence is one eighth of a mile from the site with a high school next to it. From1949 to 1964, Smithfield Chemical manufactured lacquers onsite from nitrocellulose, an extremelyflammable chemical which used several different solvents [2]. Solvent wastes were allegedlydumped onsite [3]. There were ten major fires at the facility resulting from explosions; two of thesefires caused the deaths of three men [2]. A fire finally destroyed the plant in 1964 [3]. The ruinswere plowed to one area and covered with fill. The town of Smithfield acquired the land in 1964 [3].In 1983, RIDEM received a complaint a drum was exposed on the former Smithfield Chemicalproperty behind the Smithfield High School. RIDEM investigated the site and found one drumcontaining nitrocellulose resin, scattered nitrocellulose, and piles of demolition waste material [2]. Asample of the drum contents was analyzed and confirmed the material inside the drum wasnitrocellulose. The drum was removed by RIDEM and properly disposed. The remaining demolitionand debris materials were covered with clean fill dirt [2]. A 1990 RIDEM field investigation notespieces of nitrocellulose scattered throughout the site and so was another partially exposed emptydrum [4]. Site access is currently not restricted. There are foot paths connecting residential areas tothe adjacent high school. There is also a thick cover of vegetation throughout the site.

In 1990, further sampling activities were conducted by RIDEM. Onsite subsurface soil sampleswere collected and analyzed for chemical contamination. Sediment samples from a stream whichflows through the site (Stillwater River) were also collected and analyzed. Metals were detected inthe soil samples. One sediment sample contained the volatile organic compound (VOC) xylene andsome semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs). Soil and sediment contamination are discussedfurther in the Extent of Contamination section of this document. RIDOH conducted a private wellsurvey to identify how many private wells are in use near the site [2]. There was no public responseto the survey because most Smithfield residents obtain drinking water from a local municipality.However, RIDOH identified two privately owned public wells near Smithfield Chemical IndustrialDumpsite. A local day care center used one of the two wells for potable water until the center closedin 1994. The other private well is currently used for potable water by a sportsman's club. Bothprivate wells were tested for metals and VOCs. No contaminants were detected of health concern in either of the wells.


The community's primary concern is that the past chemical waste disposal practices of SmithfieldChemical are attributing to brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, and leukemia incidences near the site.Residents are concerned that high school students are being exposed to chemical wastes by walkingacross the old dumpsite to access the adjacent high school. The community also wants to know if the chemical wastes have impacted the groundwater.


There are 5,396 people living within a one mile radius of Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite(Appendix A) [5]. The population is 99% white, and 1% is black, Hispanic, Asian or another race.Of the total population, 9% are under age 6 years old and 14% are age 65 years and older. In 1990 there were 1,211 females of reproductive age (15-44 years) in the area.



The following sections contain an evaluation of the available environmental data pertaining to theSmithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite. In preparing this evaluation, ATSDR staff members usedestablished methodologies for determining how people may be exposed to potential contaminationrelated to the site and what harmful effects, if any, may result from such exposure. For a furtherdiscussion of these methodologies, and the methods of selecting contaminants for further evaluation, refer to Appendix C.

Extent of Contamination and Public Health Implications

Soil and Sediment

Subsurface soil and sediment were analyzed for 8 metals, 26 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) andpesticides, 31 VOCs, and 57 SVOCs from seven onsite locations (refer to Appendix B, Table 1).Soil samples were collected at depths ranging from 6 to 12 inches below the surface. Samplingresults for onsite soil and sediment are located in Appendix B, Table 1. There were no contaminantsdetected in subsurface soil samples above ATSDR or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)comparison values(1) which were used to evaluate the extent of contamination. Therefore, exposure toonsite soil is not expected to cause adverse health effects in people who walk across the SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite to access the high school.

One sediment sample from the wetland area next to Stillwater River contained 3 out of 57 SVOCsabove comparison values(2): benzo (a) pyrene, benzo (b) fluoranthene, and dibenzo (a,h) anthracene.Comparison values do not exist for two other SVOCs that were also detected in the wetland area:benzo (g,h,i) perlene, and phenanthrene. The SVOCs detected in the sediment sample from thewetlands area of Stillwater River have similar chemical characteristics. Benzo (a) pyrene, dibenzo(a,h) anthracene, benzo (b) fluoranthene, benzo (g,h,i) perlene and phenanthrene are mainly acomponent of incomplete fuel product combustion [6]. These chemicals readily attach to soil andsediment particles, generally do not leach or drain into groundwater, and are considered immobile[6]. The maximum concentrations of the SVOCs were: 3.3 parts per million (ppm) of benzo (a)pyrene; 2.3 ppm of dibenzo (a,h) anthracene; 8.6 ppm of benzo (b) flouroanthene, 2.0 ppm of benzo(g,h,i) perlene; and 6.3 ppm of phenanthrene. The concentrations reported of these SVOCs areslightly higher than those detected in soils throughout the United States [6]. However, frequenthuman contact with soil and sediment in this wetland area is not likely and the concentrationsdetected in the soil are 100-1000 times less than levels reported to cause health effects [6]. ATSDRconcludes that infrequent exposure to the SVOCs detected in the onsite soil and sediment is not expected to cause adverse health effects.


The groundwater flow in Smithfield is in a south, southeasterly direction towards the StillwaterRiver. Site runoff is presumed to flow the same direction based on the topography. Most residentshydrologically downgradient from the site have been supplied municipal water from the GreenvilleWater District since the late 1960s and do not rely on groundwater [7]. The Greenville WaterDistrict purchases water from a Providence municipality that obtains water from the Scituate Reservoir located nine miles from the site [8].

Private Wells

Municipal water is the primary source of potable water to homes and businesses around SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite [7]. Although past private well usage information is not available,RIDOH conducted a private well survey in 1993 to identify the number of private wells within onehalf mile of Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite that relied on private wells currently or in thepast as source of potable water [9]. There was no public response to the well survey.However,RIDOH identified two privately owned public wells were identified near Smithfield ChemicalIndustrial Dumpsite. Pleasant View Day Care Center used a privately owned public well until thecenter closed in 1994 [7]. The Smithfield Sportsman's Club currently uses a privately owned publicwell and is located one half mile hydrologically downgradient (southeast) of the site. These wells aretested routinely for water quality by RIDOH because they serve drinking water to the public.ATSDR reviewed the groundwater sampling data from these wells to evaluate the water quality [7].There were no contaminants detected at levels of health concern in either of these wells [10]. Ifchemical disposal practices by Smithfield Chemical contaminated groundwater, contaminants maybe detected in the Smithfield Sportsman's Club private well water since it is hydrologicallydowngradient. Currently, the Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite has not affected theprivate well water quality at the Smithfield Sportsman's Club or Pleasant View Day Care Centerprivate wells.

Physical Hazards

RIDEM has reported scattered industrial debris and nitrocellulose throughout the SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite in the past. Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable material and can behazardous if ingested [11]. Although no significant soil contamination was found relating to pastindustrial activities, site access is not restricted allowing the potential for human contact withindustrial debris and nitrocellulose. Site access should be restricted to prevent human contact withpotentially dangerous materials.

ATSDR Child Health Initiative

ATSDR considers infants and children in the evaluation of all potential exposures to hazardoussubstances. Infants and children are at greater risk than adults from certain kinds of exposure tohazardous substances emitted from waste sites and emergency events. They are more likely to beexposed for several reasons: 1) children play outside more often than adults, increasing theirlikelihood to come more in contact with chemicals in the environment; 2) children are shorter thanadults, causing them to breathe more dust, soil, and heavy vapors close to the ground; 3) children aresmaller, resulting in higher doses of chemical exposure per body weight; and 4) children'sdeveloping body systems can sustain damage if toxic exposures occur during certain growth stages.

Many children live in Smithfield adjacent to the Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite. ATSDRclosely reviewed possible exposure situations to children while evaluating environmental datapertaining to the site. ATSDR did not identify any exposures to children that are likely to result inadverse health effects.

Health Outcome Data

Residents of Smithfield expressed concern that the chemical manufacturing and disposal practices ofSmithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite would result in an increased incidence of brain cancer,Hodgkin's Disease, and leukemia in the community. ATSDR reviewed available cancer data thatwere provided by RIDOH and the Rhode Island Cancer Registry [12].

Cancer Data

Many state and local health agencies collect data on the number of people who have been diagnosedwith cancer each year and classified these cancer cases into different categories (e.g., skin, liver,breast, prostate, colon, etc.). These are usually defined by the type of cell affected in the body.Depending on the available data, the rate of specific cancers can be determined for certainpopulations within a state, an entire state population, or the entire United States population. TheRhode Island Cancer Registry has collected information on all reported new cancer cases diagnosedin the state since 1986. Cancer "incidence" is the number of newly diagnosed cases of cancer duringa particular time period, usually in years. This number is compared to a population where the cancerrates would be stable and represent the normal number expected in a population of a particular size.ATSDR reviewed health statistics provided by RIDOH. These statistics are based on an evaluationof the cancer incidence from 1986-1997 of the population near Smithfield Chemical IndustrialDumpsite in census tract 12,701 of Providence County. Based on the data reviewed, ATSDRprovides the following summary:

Age adjusted cancer incidence rates were calculated for brain cancer, Hodgkin'sDisease, and all types of leukemia by sex in census tract 12,701, which consisted of apopulation of 4,689 in 1990 [13]. In other words, the observed number of new cases ofa particular type of cancer that was reported to have occurred in the residents from1986-1997 was compared to the statewide average age-adjusted incidence rate for thesame time period. The report identified no increase in the rate of brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, or any type of leukemia when compared to rates for Rhode Island.

Cancer is a complex disease that often involves multiple "risk" factors, such asenvironment, lifestyle (smoking, drinking, diet, etc.), prevention screening (healthcheck-ups), and family medical history. Health outcome data have its limitations andbiases in that these evaluations do not account for any of these "risk" factors.Furthermore, apparent increases or decreases in cancer incidence over time may reflectchanges in diagnostic methods or case reporting rather than true changes in cancerincidence. Likewise, analyzing cancer patterns by city or census tract may be arbitraryand an inaccurate way of assessing the relationship between geographical location andcancer. For example, the city or town shown on a death certificate, or even in the RhodeIsland Cancer Registry, may not be where the person resided most of his or her life. Theanalysis of cancer patterns in certain towns or cities may help define areas to target for further health care strategies.

Although specific environmental exposures and other health risk factors are not known,no plausible link was identified by ATSDR between exposure to onsite soil or sedimentand brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, or all types of leukemia.


  1. The onsite sediment in the wetland area near Stillwater River contains several semi-volatilecompounds (SVOCs). Human contact with the contaminated sediment is infrequent and theconcentrations of these SVOCs are below levels that cause adverse health effects.

  2. There were no contaminants in onsite subsurface soil that would cause adverse healtheffects.

  3. Groundwater samples from the two identified privately owned public wells show noevidence of chemical contamination.

  4. No plausible link was identified between brain cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, or all types of leukemia and the Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite.

ATSDR uses one of five conclusion categories to summarize our findings of the site. Thesecategories are: 1) Urgent Public Health Hazard, 2) Public Health Hazard, 3) Indeterminate HealthHazard, 4) No Apparent Public Health Hazard, and 5) No Public Health Hazard. A category isselected from site specific conditions such as the degree of public health hazard based on thepresence and duration of human exposure, contaminant concentration, the nature of toxic effectsassociated with site related contaminants, presence of physical hazards, and community healthconcerns. Based on these criteria, ATSDR determined that Smithfield Chemical IndustrialDumpsite is presently a No Apparent Public Health Hazard based on the infrequent contact with SVOCs detected in onsite sediment.


  1. Continue testing the water quality biannually from the privately owned public well at the Smithfield Sportman's Club.

  2. Restrict site access to prevent human contact with industrial debris.


The actions described in this section are designed to ensure that this public health assessmentidentifies public health hazards and provides a plan of action to mitigate and prevent adverse healtheffects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

Actions Completed:

  1. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) conducted a private well survey withinone half mile of Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite. There was no communityresponse to the survey. RIDOH identified two privately owned public wells that have waterquality tested routinely. Additional chemical analyses were done on water samples fromthese two wells. No groundwater contamination of health concern was found.

  2. Cancer incidence rates for brain, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and leukemia in Smithfield werecollected by RIDOH and provided to ATSDR to analyze the occurrence of cancer inSmithfield.

  3. ATSDR met with community members to record their concerns regarding SmithfieldChemical Industrial Dumpsite.

  4. ATSDR evaluated all existing environmental data pertaining to Smithfield ChemicalIndustrial Dumpsite as a basis for this public health assessment.

Action Ongoing:

  1. RIDOH is continuing to sample the privately owned public well at Smithfield Sportsman'sClub (the day care center is no longer operating) according to Rhode Island drinking water regulations.

Action Planned:

  1. ATSDR will review additional environmental data if site conditions change.


Kimberly K. Chapman, MSEH
Environmental Health Scientist

Reviewers of Report:

Don Joe, PE
Section Chief

John E. Abraham, PhD
Branch Chief

Review and Approval of This Public Health Assessment for Smithfield Chemical IndustrialDumpsite


Environmental Health Scientist, DHAC, EICB, PRS

Section Chief, DHAC, EICB, PRS

Branch Chief, DHAC, EICB


  1. Petition letter from a local citizen to ATSDR Assistant Administrator. 1994.

  2. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 1990. Screening Site Inspection Report: Smithfield Industrial Chemical Dump, Smithfield, Rhode Island.

  3. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 1986. Preliminary Assessment of Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite, Smithfield, Rhode Island.

  4. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. June 14, 1990. FieldInvestigation Report for Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite.

  5. United States Bureau of the Census. 1990. Census of Population and Housing: Summary Tape File 1B. U.S. Department of Commerce.

  6. Hazardous Substances Data Bank. December 28, 1998.

  7. Powers, David. January 1999. Greenville Water District list of municipal water hook-ups in the Smithfield area.

  8. Discussion Record between Barbara Cesaro of RIDEM with the Smithfield Public WorksDepartment. January 15, 1990.

  9. ATSDR Official Record of Activity. December 21, 1998. Bob Haviland of Rhode IslandDepartment of Health regarding private wells near Smithfield Chemical IndustrialDumpsite.

  10. Rhode Island Department of Health. 1998. Public Water Systems History Report.

  11. Hazardous Substance Data Bank. January 19, 1999.

  12. Rhode Island Department of Health. February 1999. Rhode Island Cancer RegistryAnalysis.

  13. ATSDR Official Record of Activity. January 14, 1999. John Fulton of Rhode IslandDepartment of Health regarding the health outcome data from census tract 12701.


Site Map and Demographics
Figure 1. Site Map and Demographics


Table 1.

Onsite Sampling Results* in 1991
Contaminant Soil
Concentration Range
Sediment Concentration Range
Background Soil
Comparison Value
Value ppm Source
Arsenic 0.9 - 2.59 0.6 - 3.5 3.1 20 cEMEG
Barium 52 - 60 35 - 459 39 4,000 RMEG
Cadmium ND - 2 ND ND 40 cEMEG
Chromium 32 - 33 22 - 737 13 50,000 iEMEG
Lead 24 - 27 13 - 81 7 400 RBC
Selenium ND ND - 0.6 ND 300 RMEG
Xylene ND ND - 2.7 ND 10,000 iEMEG
Anthracene ND ND - 3.2 ND 20,000 RMEG
Benzo (a) anthracene ND ND - 2.2 ND 7.8 RBC
Benzo (b) flouranthene ND ND - 8.6 ND 7.8 RBC
Benzo (a) pyrene ND ND - 3.3 ND 0.78 RBC
Benzo (g,h,i) perlene ND ND - 2 ND NA NA
Chrysene ND ND - 4.4 ND 780 RBC
Dibenzo (a,h) anthracene ND ND - 2.3 ND 0.78 RBC
Flouroanthene ND ND - 13 ND 3100 RBC
Indeno(1,2,3) pyrene ND ND - 3.4 ND 7.8 RBC
Phenanthrene ND ND - 6.3 ND NA NA
Pyrene ND ND -15 ND 61,000 RBC
Endosulfan ND - 0.2 ND ND 8.1 RBC
iEMEG = Intermediate Environmental Media Evaluation Guides, cEMEG =Chronic Environmental Media Evaluation Guides, ND = Not Detected, NA = No Comparison Value Available, RMEG = Reference Dose Media Evaluation Guide, RBC = Risk-Based Concentration, ppm = parts per million
Source: R.I. Analytical Certificate of Analysis for Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dumpsite
* Chemicals that were not detected are excluded from Table A


Quality Assurance

In preparing this report, ATSDR relied on the information provided in the referenced documents and by contacts with theRhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), andthe community members. ATSDR assumes that adequate quality assurance and control measures were taken during chain-of-custody, laboratory procedures, and data reporting. The validity of the analyses and conclusions drawn in this documentare determined by the availability and reliability of the information.

Human Exposure Pathway Evaluation and the use of ATSDR Comparison Values

ATSDR assesses a site by evaluating the level of exposure in potential or completed exposure pathways. An exposurepathway is the way chemicals may enter a person's body to cause a health effect. It includes all the steps between therelease of a chemical and the population exposed: (1) a chemical release source, (2) chemical movement, (3) a place wherepeople can come into contact with the chemical, (4) a route of human exposure, and (5) a population that could be exposed.In this assessment, ATSDR evaluates chemicals that people living in nearby residences may consume or come into contactwith.

Data evaluators use comparison values (CVs), which are screening tools used to evaluate environmental data that isrelevant to the exposure pathways. Comparison values are concentrations of contaminants that are considered to be safelevels of exposure. Comparison values used in this document include ATSDR environmental media evaluation guide(EMEG) and cancer risk evaluation guide (CREG). Comparison values are derived from available health guidelines, suchas ATSDR minimal risk levels and EPA's cancer slope factor.

The derivation of a comparison value uses conservative exposure assumptions, resulting in values that are much lower thanexposure concentrations observed to cause adverse health effects; thus, insuring the comparison values are protective ofpublic health in essentially all exposure situations. That is, if the concentrations in the exposure medium are less than theCV, the exposures are not of health concern and no further analysis of the pathway is required. However, whileconcentrations below the comparison value are not expected to lead to any observable health effect, it should not be inferredthat a concentration greater than the comparison value will necessarily lead to adverse effects. Depending on site-specificenvironmental exposure factors (for example, duration of exposure) and activities of people that result in exposure (timespent in area of contamination), exposure to levels above the comparison value may or may not lead to a health effect.Therefore, ATSDR comparison values are not used to predict the occurrence of adverse health effects.

The comparison values used in this evaluation are defined as follows: The CREG is a concentration at which excess cancerrisk is not likely to exceed one case of cancer in a million persons exposed over a lifetime. The CREG is a very conservativeCV that is used to estimate cancer risk. Exposure to a concentration equal to or less than the CREG is defined as aninsignificant risk and is an acceptable level of exposure over a lifetime. The risk from exposure is not considered as asignificant risk unless the exposure concentration is approximately 10 times the CREG and exposure occurs over severalyears. The EMEG is a concentration at which daily exposure for a lifetime is unlikely to result in adverse noncancerouseffects. When these comparison values are not available for specific chemicals, ATSDR uses risk-based comparison values(RBC) that were derived by the Environmental Protection Agency. RBC values are used to evaluate exposure situations,health risk, and to establish environmental cleanup goals.

Selecting Contaminants of Concern

Contaminants of concern (COCs) are the site-specific chemical substances that the health assessor selects for furtherevaluation of potential health effects. Identifying contaminants of concern is a process that requires the assessor to examinecontaminant concentrations at the site, the quality of environmental sampling data, and the potential for human exposure. Athorough review of each of these issues is required to accurately select COCs in the site-specific human exposure pathway.The following text describes the selection process.

In the first step of the COC selection process, the maximum contaminant concentrations are compared directly to healthcomparison values. ATSDR considers site-specific exposure factors to ensure selection of appropriate health comparisonvalues. If the maximum concentration reported for a chemical was less than the health comparison value, ATSDRconcluded that exposure to that chemical was not of public health concern; therefore, no further data review was requiredfor that chemical. However, if the maximum concentration was greater than the health comparison value, the chemical wasselected for additional data review. In addition, any chemicals detected that did not have relevant health comparison valueswere also selected for additional data review.

Comparison values have not been developed for some contaminants, and, based on new scientific information othercomparison values may be determined to be inappropriate for the specific type of exposure. In those cases, the contaminantsare included as contaminants of concern if current scientific information indicates exposure to those contaminants may be ofpublic health concern.

The next step of the process requires a more in-depth review of data for each of the contaminants selected. Factors used inthe selection of the COCs included the number of samples with detections above the minimum detection limit, the numberof samples with detections above an acute or chronic health comparison value, and the potential for exposure at the monitoring location.


ATSDR held a public comment period February 10 to March 26, 1999 to address further questionsor comments regarding the Smithfield Chemical Industrial Dump Public Health Assessment. No public comments were received by ATSDR during this time period.

1. For a complete discussion of comparison values, refer to Appendix C
2. Chemical levels in sediment are not federally regulated; ATSDR uses soil screening values when evaluating chemicals in sediment.

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