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The Blackburn and Union Privileges (South St.) site is located in Walpole, Massachusetts, approximately 2,000 feet southeast of the town center. Mill operations at the site date back to the 17th century. In 1915, asbestos manufacturing operations began at the site and continued until 1935. Shortly thereafter, fabric manufacturing began where cotton products were rinsed in strong acids and bases. Releases of these solvents as well as fuel oil were reported in 1987. During environmental monitoring of the site conducted in 1989, elevated levels of asbestos, carcinogenic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene and heavy metals were detected.

A pile of asbestos waste remained uncovered at the southern border of the site until 1986, when the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) received a complaint that asbestos was present on the site. At this time, plastic sheeting was placed over the pile by MDEP. In 1992, this waste as well as other asbestos contaminated soils detected on the site were buried on the banks of the Neponset River after the river was channeled through an aluminum lining at the pre-existing South Street culvert. The areas of disposal were then capped with clean fill, top soil and then seeded.

Potential exposure pathways to contaminants detected in soil, river sediments and waters, biota and ground water may exist. Asbestos has been detected in surface waters and sediments sampled downstream of the site. Asbestos has also been detected in groundwater sampled from on-site and off-site monitoring wells. The mechanism for asbestos migration from the site is not yet known. The extent of carcinogenic PAHs, benzene and heavy metal migration has not yet been completely characterized.

A community-wide survey was conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) in collaboration with the Walpole Board of Health in order to determine the extent of asbestos exposure in the community. This survey demonstrated that a completed exposure pathway to asbestos existed in the past. Such exposure, however, was limited to a small percentage of those individuals who were either living within a one half-mile radius of the site or living with asbestos workers. For purposes of this preliminary public health assessment, the most recent data from the Massachusetts Cancer Registry (MCR) were reviewed. There were no statistically significant elevations of lung or kidney cancers observed among residents living within the census tract that encompassed the site. There were three mesothelioma cases observed in Walpole. Further investigation into the possibility of asbestos exposure in these individuals is warranted. Based on the findings of the asbestos exposure survey and the currently incomplete contamination characterization of environmental media at the site, the site is being characterized as a public health hazard because of past exposure and an indeterminate public health hazard for the present.

Recommendations are made to further characterize the contamination of various on-site environmental media and determine the usage and quality of private groundwater in the area. The MDPH and the Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) determined that the lung cancer and mesothelioma incidence near the site be further evaluated. In addition, the HARP determined that community health education performed by MDPH was appropriate and that health professions education is indicated. The MDPH will conduct the additional review of health statistics and provide the results to ATSDR's HARP. Further HARP determinations and public health action will be formulated based on the results of this evaluation. In addition, the MDPH, in conjunction with the ATSDR Division of Health Education, will perform the health professions education.


A. Site Description and History

The figures and tables referenced in this preliminary public health assessment are presented in Appendix A and B, respectively.

The Blackburn and Union Privileges (South St.) site is located in Walpole, Massachusetts approximately 2,000 feet southeast of the town center. The site encompasses approximately 30 acres and is situated on South Street approximately 150 feet southwest of Common Street. It is comprised of numerous land parcels through which South Street runs (see Figure 1). The Neponset River also flows under South Street and through the site in a westerly fashion. Warehousing and foundry operations are currently ongoing on those land parcels east of South Street. A vacated factory building is situated on the western land parcel. This building has two wings. The northern wing runs parallel with South Street and the western wing parallel with the Neponset River. The site is situated in a residential area and includes the nearest residence that is situated approximately 25 feet from the northern boundary of the factory grounds. Currently, the site west of South Street where asbestos-containing soils have been consolidated and capped, is completely fenced.

Often environmental investigations encompass those areas near and away from where release of contaminants is believed to occur. The entire area that is studied is often referred to as the site. For purposes of this preliminary health assessment, on-site areas will be those indicated in Figure 1 as the on-facility portion, where industrial operations were believed to have occurred. The remainder of the study area for purposes of this health assessment will be considered off-site.

The site has reportedly been active since the mid-17th century when it operated as a saw mill. Water was provided to the mill by river flow which was diverted at the present South Street culvert and ran through a tail race along the factory's west wing. The race converged with the Neponset River at the site's northwestern corner. The river at some time in the history of the site was dammed near the present South Street culvert, forming a pond. This dam failed in 1959.

Corn milling, fabric carding, wood working and hide tanning were among the numerous activities ongoing at the site during 17th, 18th and 19th as well as the early 20th century. In 1915, the Standard Woven Fabric Company (later the Multibestos Corporation) took ownership of the site. From this time until 1935, raw asbestos materials were spun into yarn which was then woven to produce brake pads and clutch plates. Waste asbestos was piled behind what is currently the offices of the foundry operation (See Figure 2). This pile of asbestos remained in place and uncovered until 1986. Plastic sheeting was placed over the pile at this time. The pile was finally removed in 1992. Waste asbestos products were buried throughout the site and large amounts were deposited along the banks of the Neponset River (CHI, 1987).

In 1937, the plant on the western parcel was converted to a cotton processing operation where cotton fibers were washed and bleached prior to fabric production. This process utilized large amounts of sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid which were stored in tanks outside the factory. It is believed that these tanks were originally situated between the west wing of the factory and the Neponset River and that they were moved to the north side of the factory later in the history of the site (CHI, 1987). Leaking fuel oil tanks may have also been located on the north side of the factory resulting in oil contamination of the Neponset River (CHI, 1987). Waste solutions from the bleaching process were disposed in two lagoons south (Lagoon 1) and west (Lagoon 2) of the factory's west wing. In 1982, bleaching operations at the plant ceased as did discharge to Lagoon 1. Lagoon 2 continued to receive cooling waters generated in the manufacturing process (See Figure 2).

The area of the site east of South Street housed paper and rag recycling operations from 1937 through the 1960s. Currently the building where these operations occurred is leased to a moving company. Behind this building there is a vacant building. The building to the immediate south of that currently leased to the moving company is currently used as a paper transfer station. It is possible that this building may have served as a supermarket warehouse in the 1970's. Foundry operations in which metals are cast occur in the two buildings on the eastern border of the site (See Figure 2).

In 1987, three fuel tanks, two tanks containing sodium hydroxide, four tanks containing sulfuric acid, and one tank containing hydrogen peroxide were removed from the site during regulatory actions (CHI, 1987). As a result of an administrative order from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering [MDEQE, currently the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP)], the mound of asbestos waste situated at the eastern border of the site was covered in 1986.

An emergency removal action was completed in 1993. The Neponset River was temporarily diverted while bedding material was placed and graded to match pre-existing riverbed elevations at the upstream and downstream ends of the culvert. A geotextile filter fabric was laid on top of the bedding material and along the riverbed prior to placement of the 400-foot long aluminum culvert. After the culvert was in place the Neponset River was redirected through the aluminum culvert that lies in the Neponset riverbed. Asbestos-contaminated soils were excavated, consolidated, capped over the aluminum culvert with approximately 2 feet of imported clean fill, and then vegetated. Mill tail race sediments were excavated, stabilized, and capped in Lagoon 2. Segregation of tail race sediments was necessary due to the presence of other contaminants besides asbestos. The excavated areas are presented in Figure 3.

In December 1986 a health consultation (subsequently amended in August 1987) was conducted by ATSDR based on a bulk asbestos sample taken from the site. It was determined that since asbestos is a human carcinogen in the smallest of quantities, its presence constituted a public health threat due to the potential for dispersion of asbestos into the air. It was recommended in this health consultation that the threat be either removed or mitigated. In February of 1988, ATSDR conducted another health consultation considering only those results from soil and sediment asbestos monitoring done in specific areas of the site. Based on the results of these samples, ATSDR concluded that, at that point in time, asbestos levels less than one percent of sample weight detected in soil and river sediment did not pose a public health threat. The Agency also recommended in this health consultation that further on-site and off-site monitoring for asbestos be conducted.

In 1992, the site was proposed for listing on the National Priorities List (NPL). This preliminary public health assessment is being conducted as mandated by the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986 in consideration of the proposed listing of the site on the NPL. On May 31, 1994, the site was officially placed on the NPL.

B. Site Visit

The Blackburn and Union Privileges site was visited by William Strohsnitter, Environmental Analyst with the MDPH, and Susanne Simon, ATSDR Region 1 Representative, on the morning of December 3, 1992. Several officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) were also present when the site was visited. The health officer from the town of Walpole was also contacted in order to provide additional information about the site.

A tour of the site was provided by the EPA removal operations manager. The tour was conducted under overcast skies during a light rain. The ground conditions were extremely muddy. An organic, "tar-like" odor was detected throughout the visit and was especially noticeable at the Neponset River east of the South Street culvert. A dark brown discoloration was noted flowing into the Neponset River near the South Street culvert. This discoloration was also noted flowing into standing water near the former tail race at the northwestern edge of the site. The site was only partially fenced by barbed wire fencing and could be readily accessed at the end of Clark Avenue. No evidence of trespassing was noted nor was any visible asbestos detected. Grading operations were ongoing at the time the tour was conducted.

According to the health officer from the town of Walpole, the site conditions have not changed since the December 3, 1992 site visit by MDPH and ATSDR.

C. Actions Taken During the Health Assessment Process

It is reported by EPA officials that the removal action that was ongoing during the initial stages of this preliminary Health Assessment was completed in the Spring of 1993. During excavation activities, soil and sediment samples were taken and analyzed for asbestos content. The results of this monitoring are reported later in the document.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


According to the 1990 federal census, the total population of Walpole was 20,223, with 1,980 (9.8%) aged 6 years and younger, 4,991 (24.7%) aged 18 years, and younger and 2,242 (11.1%) aged 65 years and older. The site is located within Census Tract 4111 (see Figure 2). The population of this census tract is 7,641 with 691 (9.0%) aged 6 years and younger, 1,771 aged 18 years or younger (23.2%), and 897 (11.7%) aged 65 years or greater.

Land Use

The site is located approximately 2,000 feet southeast of Walpole center. The local library is situated 1,750 feet northwest of the site on Common Street. Walpole High School is located 1,000 feet southeast of the site on Common Street, and the Plimpton Elementary School is located immediately southeast of the Walpole High School. The area in which the site is situated is predominantly residential, with the nearest residence located within the facility confines. Residential housing is also located immediately southwest of the site on South Street and northwest of the site on Clark Avenue. Gleason Court, a cul-de-sac immediately east of the site, is also comprised mostly of residential housing.

Natural Resource Use

Two aquifers supply the town of Walpole with drinking water. The municipal wells drilled in the School Meadow Brook Aquifer are located approximately one mile southeast of the site. Four municipal wells drilled in the Mine Brook Aquifer are located between three quarters of a mile and one and a half miles northwest of the site (see Figure 4). The use of private groundwater near the site has not been completely characterized. Two private wells have been identified within a half mile north of the site. Approximately one hundred other wells have been identified throughout the town of Walpole. The use of these wells is not yet known (Dames and Moore, 1989).

The Neponset River originates in the town of Foxborough, immediately south of Walpole and drains into Dorchester Bay approximately 17 miles northeast of its origin. School Meadow Brook drains into the Neponset River approximately three quarters of a mile south of the site. The Neponset flows from east to west through the site before it proceeds northerly toward its juncture with Mine Brook. The river is not deep enough to support swimming activities near the site. It was reported, however, that before the dam failed at the South Street culvert in 1959, swimming occurred in the pond that was formed by the damming of the Neponset River (MDPH, 1988). It is not certain whether fishing or wading in the Neponset River occurs near the site.

E. Health Outcome Data

Data from the Massachusetts Cancer Registry (MCR) were reviewed in response to the concerns of the local health officer and the Walpole citizens. This database is maintained by the MDPH. Massachusetts law mandates that all hospitals within the Commonwealth report to the MCR all incident cancer cases diagnosed at their facility within six months of diagnosis. Pertinent information such as the age, sex, and residence of the cases is also maintained by the registry. Cancer incidence has been recorded in the Commonwealth since 1982.

An asbestos exposure survey was conducted in Walpole in 1988 by the MDPH in collaboration with the Walpole Board of Health. This survey identified 221 residents who lived within one quarter of a mile of the site and administered telephone questionnaires to these individuals. Responses via a mail-in questionnaire were sought from the remainder of the Walpole residents. Based on the responses to these questionnaires, the extent of exposure to asbestos at the site was assessed.

Also in 1988, staff from the MCR conducted a population based study of kidney cancer incidence in Walpole. This investigation was followed-up by a study conducted by the Community Assessment Unit within the Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment which reviewed census tract-specific kidney cancer rates based on data maintained by the MCR. A report of the findings of this investigation was released in 1992. The results of the above mentioned studies are evaluated in detail in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.


In 1987, staff from the MCR raised the possibility that kidney cancer rates may be elevated in the town of Walpole. A meeting with approximately 70 people in attendance was convened in the Spring of 1988. Citizens and local health officials from Walpole in attendance at this meeting expressed the following concerns to state health officials:

1. Are cancer rates (esp. those for kidney and lung) elevated in areas near the site?

2. Were Walpole residents exposed to hazardous asbestos levels at the site?

In January of 1993, it was reported by the local health officer that some individuals in the community are still concerned about the possibility of past asbestos exposure as well as cancer rates around the site. The health officer mentioned, however, that overall the levels of concern have decreased considerably since regulatory involvement with the site began in 1986. These concerns are addressed in detail in the Community Concerns Evaluation Section.

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