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The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF) tie treatment plant is an abandoned wood-preserving facility in the South Valley area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. During the period in which the plant operated, wood products (such as railroad ties, bridge timbers, fence posts, etc.) were treated with a solution of creosote and oil. By-products of the treatment process including washdown waters, spills, and leakages were disposed of in an unlined impoundment. As a result of this practice, volatile organic compounds have been released to the soil and groundwater at the site. The primary environmental pathway is groundwater. A risk of exposure via ingestion of water from private wells may exist for residents in the vicinity. There is also a possible threat to municipal water if contamination in the shallow aquifer is drawn to lower depths.

Residents voiced their site-related health concerns at Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)-sponsored public availability sessions in June 1993. A variety of health concerns, including cancer, were expressed to ATSDR staff.

Individuals living in the nearby community of San Jose may be at risk for exposure to contaminated drinking water from private wells. Contamination of these wells is not believed to be related to the AT&SF site but to the nearby South Valley Superfund site.

At the present time data to characterize the nature and extent of on and off site contamination at AT&SF is very limited. It is not known whether contamination from the site has impacted private wells in the vicinity, thus it is not possible to determine whether individuals have or are being exposed to site related contaminants at concentrations of public health concern. ATSDR thus concludes for the present that this site poses an indeterminate public health hazard.

The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has reviewed the information and data developed in the AT&SF Public Health Assessment. The panel determined that community health education activities are indicated at this time.


In this public health assessment, ATSDR evaluates the public health significance of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF) Tie Treating Plant site in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) on December 16, 1994. More specifically, ATSDR reviewed available environmental and health outcome data, and community health concerns to determine whether adverse health effects are possible. In addition, this public health assessment recommends actions to reduce or prevent possible adverse health effects. ATSDR, in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the agencies of the U.S. Public Health Service. ATSDR is required by the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 [CERCLA]) as amended by Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) to conduct public health assessments of hazardous waste sites proposed for the NPL. The Public Comment Release of this public health assessment was issued in July 1994; comments and ATSDR's responses are summarized in Appendix C.

A. Site Description and History

The AT&SF tie treating plant is an abandoned wood-preserving facility located at 3300 Second Street SW in the South Valley area of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico (Figure 1). The plant, located in a predominantly commercial area of Albuquerque, is owned by the AT&SF Railway Company. Various wood products (such as railroad ties, bridge timbers, fence posts) were treated on-site with a solution of creosote and oil from 1908 until 1972. Washdown waters, spills and leakage were disposed of in an unlined on-site impoundment. The facility was dismantled in 1972, leaving only a waste water impoundment and a sump on-site. The impoundment and sump encompass approximately 3.4 acres.

General run-off from the site enters an irrigation ditch south of the site(1). The drainage water then travels approximately seven miles downstream through a series of canals until it enters the Rio Grande River. The canals and rivers do not have drinking water intakes but are used as recreational areas. In addition, although it is customary for the state to stock fisheries in recreational areas, the city of Albuquerque is not aware of any stocking of the Rio Grande River in Bernalillo County (3).

Environmental sampling at this site was conducted in 1988 and 1990 by contractors to the AT&SF Railway Company. This data has been incorporated into the Environmental Protection Agency Hazard Ranking Documentation Record which reported that sludge from the impoundment contains hazardous substances, including arsenic, barium, lead, and creosote constituents (3,4-benzofluoranthene, benzo(a)pyrene, and naphthalene) (1). No sludge is present in the sump, but analyses of soil from the sump area detected similar hazardous substances, including barium and a variety of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), albeit at significantly lower concentrations than found in the sludge. PAHs were also detected in on-site groundwater monitoring wells.

B. Actions Implemented During the Health Assessment Process

ATSDR is not aware of any actions having been implemented during the health assessment process.

C. Site Visit

ATSDR representatives Ms. Stephanie Prausnitz, Ms. Rosalyn Lee, and Ms. Roberta Erlwein visited the site area June 21-22, 1993. While on the site, they were accompanied by a contractor for the Railway Company. The site is entirely fenced. There are no buildings, only small amounts of building debris and the former water pond. Pipes were observed in the ground. Several modified horse troughs, which the contractor stated had been used for a bioremediation feasibility study, were also observed.

Following the on site visit, ATSDR representatives met with local, state and federal agencies in order to acquire information for the completion of this Public Health Assessment. In addition, Public Availability sessions were held. Pertinent information obtained during the visit and availability sessions is described in appropriate sections of this document.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


During the site visit, ATSDR staff noted that the area immediately surrounding the site is generally industrial, although there are residences and agricultural fields interspersed among the industries. The site is bounded by a railroad yard, an agricultural field, an empty lot, and a road. The closest residents live approximately one-third of a mile from the site's edge. There are approximately eight other homes within a half mile radius.

According to the 1990 Census Data, the area around the site (South Bradway area, see figure 3) is composed of roughly 3,500 residents. Approximately 54% of South Broadway's population is white, 41% are listed as another race. Black, American Indian, and Asian comprise the remaining 5%. Eighty seven percent of the population is of Hispanic origin. About 44% of residents 25 years old or older are high school graduates. The 1990 median household income is in the range of $12,000 to $20,000 (4).

Land Use

The AT&SF site is located in an industrial and residential area of southwest Albuquerque near the Rio Grande River. It is adjacent to the South Valley National Priorities List site. The South Valley site is composed of property owned by General Electric, Chevron, Texaco, Duke City Distributing, Whitfield Trucking, and the Edmunds Street property, a solvent and chemical distributor. Although a small cluster of houses and trailers are in the vicinity of the AT&SF site, the majority of the residences in this area are located close to the South Valley site. A parcel of land directly adjacent to the AT&SF site was used to produce alfalfa. This crop was sold as a food supply for dairy cattle. The owner is currently not using this land for agricultural purposes.

Natural Resource Use

The Valley or Basin Fill Aquifer is the principal aquifer in the Albuquerque area used for water supply. It is comprised mostly of unconsolidated and loosely consolidated gravel, silt and clay and includes two geological units: the Rio Grande alluvium and the Santa Fe Formation or Group. The alluvium is divided into two groups: the shallow and the intermediate aquifers. The alluvium and the Santa Fe Group are interconnected hydraulically; thus collectively making up a single aquifer. The Rio Grande serves as a hydraulic divide for the Rio Grande alluvium aquifer.

Approximately 440,000 persons obtain drinking water from City of Albuquerque wells. In addition, most of the irrigation and domestic wells along the Rio Grande draw water from the Rio Grande alluvium. There are 15 City of Albuquerque wells, 3 Kirtland Air Force Base wells and 148 domestic water wells within a 4 mile radius of the site. Within one-quarter mile there are 4 domestic wells, between one-quarter and one-half mile there are 6 domestic wells, within one-half and one mile there are 12 domestic wells and within one and two miles there are 72 domestic and 6 city wells. Three wells are reportedly used for irrigation and livestock. All wells are drilled in the valley fill aquifer (5). Wells west of the Rio Grande have a very low probability of being affected by activities at the site, which is east of the Rio Grande.

In Albuquerque and Bernilillo County, over 150 documented ground-water contamination events have contaminated vast amounts of ground water, its quality degraded to an extent that affects its usefulness as drinking water. More than 20 of these cases may reach Environmental Protection Agency Superfund National Priorities List. The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Department (NMEID) estimates that, so far, this pollution has affected about 20 public supply wells and 450 private wells in Bernalillo County. As much as 30 square miles of land area may overlie contaminated ground-water supplies. Septic-tank systems, underground storage tanks, landfills, industrial facilities, and releases of hazardous materials from other sources caused this pollution. The State Environment Department reports that septic-tank systems are the major non-point source of ground-water pollution in New Mexico (6).

Water from an irrigation ditch south of the site is eventually carried to a series of canals until it enters the Rio Grande River 7 miles downstream from the site. No drinking water intakes are located along the canals and river. These surface water bodies are, however, used as recreational areas and fisheries stocked by the State. Portions of the downstream segment along the Rio Grande are also considered wetlands according to Federal and State inventories.

E. Health Outcome Data

The State of New Mexico maintains a tumor registry and vital statistics records. The tumor registry covers all people in the state, as well as Native Americans in Arizona, and has been in existence since 1967. Tumors are coded by their location (site)(7). New Mexico maintains no birth defects registry. ATSDR staff are unaware of any health studies having been conducted on members of the South Valley community. Findings in the report entitled Residents' Perceptions of Health Concerns and Environmental Degradation of the San Jose Community of Albuquerque, New Mexico is discussed in the Community Health Concerns and Community Health Concerns Evaluation sections below.


Residents voiced their site-related health concerns at the ATSDR-sponsored public availability sessions in June, 1993. These concerns are introduced in this section and are evaluated in the Community Health Concerns Evaluation section below. Concerns included the following:

  • Cancer, specifically, brain, stomach and colon cancers and leukemia, as well as cancer in general

  • Allergies, skin rashes, repiratory problems, headaches

  • Lupus

  • Safety of drinking water

  • Safety of future crops raised on lands adjacent to the site, and safety of ingesting the milk of dairy cattle fed those crops in the future.

In addition, ATSDR staff have reviewed the report entitled Residents' Perceptions of Health Concerns and Environmental Degradation of the San Jose Community of Albuquerque, New Mexico(7). This survey was conducted at the request of a community group concerned about the effects of the South Valley Superfund Site on their community. The community group obtained support from the New Mexico Department of Health to conduct the survey. Although the survey was conducted to address residents' perceptions of health concerns related to the South Valley Superfund Site, the South Valley site borders on the AT&SF site, and the survey reported that 17 of 52 (33%) respondents consider the AT&SF Railroad a place that can affect health. Because AT&SF maintains an active railroad facility in the same vicinity, it is not clear whether the respondents are referring to the active railroad or the AT&SF site. Health concerns reported in the study include stomach and digestive problems, as well as a general concern with the health effects of exposure to toxins.

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