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The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was petitioned in October 1997 for a public health assessment of Morse Cutting Tools, a former manufacturing facility of precision cutting tools located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. ATSDR was requested to focus on the site's potential for causing respiratory health problems.

On the basis of available environmental and toxicologic information, ATSDR concludes that the former Morse Cutting Tools site poses a past Indeterminate Public Health Hazard. ATSDR concluded that ambient off-site air represented a past completed exposure pathway. However, insufficient air data were available to determine the extent to which nearby residents were exposed in the past to air contamination; therefore, ATSDR cannot make any conclusive statements on the public health significance of potential past air exposures.

ATSDR evaluated current and future exposures from available environmental sampling data collected during and after demolition activities at the site. ATSDR concludes that the former Morse Cutting Tools site currently poses No Apparent Public Health Hazard based on available environmental data and toxicologic information. Current indoor air contaminant exposures in off-site residences are unlikely to result in adverse health effects at the levels detected. In addition, potential exposures to on-site subsurface soils, asbestos containing materials, paint chips, tank water, and miscellaneous debris and material are unlikely to have resulted in adverse health effects at the levels detected for workers and trespassers. Contaminants in area groundwater were not and are not of public health concern because there was and is no potential for exposure to groundwater beneath the site and surrounding area.

ATSDR makes the following recommendations based on a review of site information: place institutional controls on groundwater well installation in known areas of contamination to ensure that residents do not drink contaminated groundwater in the future; continue monitoring groundwater contamination on- and off- site; continue removing free product (crude oil) from on-site groundwater to prevent further off-site contaminant migration; periodically monitor indoor air to ensure groundwater contaminants are not volatilizing in nearby residences; and sample the oily sheen on the basement floors of nearby residences to determine if it resembles the free product (crude oil) in on-site groundwater.


ATSDR was petitioned by Congressman Barney Frank in October 1997 for a public health assessment (PHA) of the Morse Cutting Tools site in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The petitioner feels that concern persists about potential environmental threats stemming from the property (Petition Letter, 1997). The petitioner requested that ATSDR focus on the site's potential for causing respiratory health problems.

Learning what people in the area know about a site and what concerns they may have about its impact on their health is of particular importance to ATSDR. Responding to community health concerns is a major focus of the public health assessment process. ATSDR collected health concerns from area residents during a public meeting held on February 26, 1998. Residents expressed concerns about past exposures during demolition activities, particularly exposures to dust migrating from the site. The health concerns reported by area residents fell into three categories:

  1. Respiratory problems: asthma, emphysema, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, lingering colds, flu-like symptoms, pneumonia, and allergies;

  2. Cancer: breast, stomach, pancreatic, bone, lymph, prostate, hodgkins, cervical, testicular, germ cell carcinoma, and colon; and,

  3. Other health problems: sarcoidosis, migraine headaches, learning disabilities, lead poisoning, kidney failure, suppressed immunity, diabetes, arthritis, dermatitis, eczema, limb deformity (in newborns), mental retardation, and nosebleeds.

Additionally, two property owners were concerned about oil seepage into their basements.

These concerns are addressed in the Community Health Concerns section.


3.1 Site Description and History

The former Morse Cutting Tools site is located at 163 Pleasant Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts (see Figure 1, Appendix A). From the late 1800s to approximately 1987, the site was used as a manufacturing facility of precision cutting tools. The manufacturing activities involved the use of a variety of chemicals throughout the processes of cutting blanks, milling, hardening, facing, washing, and sandblasting (EPA, 1992). Numerous chemical spills and leaks occurred over the years.

Presently, the site is a vacant, fenced lot consisting of a western parcel and an eastern parcel, which occupy approximately a two- city-block area. A five-story brick factory building and a large asphalt paved parking area formerly occupied the western parcel and a three- and four-story brick factory building occupied most of the entire city block of the eastern parcel (see Figure 2, Appendix A) (Haley & Aldrich, Inc., 1998b). After demolition activities removed the buildings in 1997, the property (which includes both parcels) was graded and covered by clean, granular fill material (Haley & Aldrich, Inc., 1998e).

Since the facility closed in 1987, numerous response actions have been accomplished by various agencies, including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection - Southeast Regional Office (MADEP-SERO), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the city of New Bedford, and the state of Massachusetts. For a summary of these actions, please refer to Appendix B.

3.2 Land and Natural Resource Use

The site is surrounded by a mixture of small businesses and residential homes. Many structures contain a business on the first floor and living quarters on upper floors. The closest residence is approximately 100 feet from the site. The former St. James Parochial School (also known as St. Mary's Parochial School) is about 100 feet east/southeast of the site (Haley & Aldrich, Inc., 1998b). An elementary school, playground, low-income housing, and a park are also located within 2 to 3 blocks east of the site. An active church is located less than 500 feet from the southwest corner of the site. A Head Start school is located 3 blocks north of the site.

The site has historically been serviced by municipal water, connected in 1899, and sewer, connected in 1893 (Harborline, 1990). No public or private water supplies are located within a half-mile radius of the site (Haley & Aldrich, Inc., 1997b). New Bedford Harbor is located approximately 2,500 feet east of the site (Harborline Engineering, Inc., 1990). Groundwater flow has been determined to be east-southeast, toward the harbor. Depth to groundwater beneath the site ranges from 3 to 6 feet below ground surface (Haley & Aldrich, 1997a).

3.3 Demographics

The 1990 Census of Population and Housing demographic statistics for locations within 1 mile of the site indicated that 32,444 persons reside in 13,679 households. Of the 32,444 persons, 80.2 % are white; 6.2 % are black; 0.5 % are American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut; 0.3 % are Asian or Pacific Islander; and 12.7 % are members of other ethnic groups. There are 3,283 children aged 6 years or younger and 5,383 adults aged 65 years or older (U.S. Bureau of the Census,1991). Please refer to Figure 3, Appendix A, for additional demographic statistics.

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