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On behalf of the Northend Task Force, an area resident requested that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigate potential health hazards associated with the Rock Avenue Landfill in Winchester, Massachusetts. ATSDR reviewed and evaluated available environmental site data and analytical data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) (formerly the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality), Winchester Department of Public Works (DPW), Winchester Board of Health, Hidell-Eyster, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Environmental Health Sciences (MIT) to determine whether there was or is a public health hazard associated with exposures to contaminants from the Rock Avenue Landfill. ATSDR evaluated available soil, soil gas, air, and groundwater data to assess human exposures at and in the nearby vicinity of the site. Available sampling data are limited.

Site Description and History
The Rock Avenue Landfill is located at the intersection of Rock Avenue and Hill Street in Winchester, Massachusetts (see Figure 1). The landfill covers an area of approximately 2 acres that has been extensively filled with sand, gravel, some sewage/sludge materials, and demolition debris (Hidell-Eyster, 1985a). Prior to the 1930s, the Rock Avenue Landfill was used as a sand and gravel pit. During the years from 1930 to 1978, this site was reportedly used for sludge/sewage disposal for a short period of time in the 1970's, until the Winchester Board of Health halted disposal due to abutters' complaints (date unknown) (Hidell-Eyster, 1985a). It was reported that during that same period, Center Trucking Company disposed of oils, engine cleaners, and asphalt on site (Hidell-Eyster, 1985a). It is also alleged that neighborhood residents used the sand pit for disposal of motor oils and car maintenance debris (Hidell-Eyster, 1985a). (See Appendix A for a more detailed chronology of the site activities.)

The present owner acquired ownership of the property in 1978, but he did not begin landfill operations until 1980. Beginning in 1980, the site was used for disposal of construction and building demolition debris. The demolition debris came from the Winchester Theater Building and the Stuart Street Garage in Boston; asphalt on site came from the Winchester Hospital. According to the current property owner, approximately 10 feet to 12 feet below the filled surface is a layer of concrete beams and columns below which is clean fill material. Landfill operations on site ceased in 1983.

Land Use and Natural Resources
To aid in the evaluation of potential health effects associated with Rock Avenue Landfill, ATSDR obtained information on the land use and natural resources in vicinity of the site. The site is bordered to the west by an out-of-use Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority train track, to the north by a 4.2-acre lot with a residential development, to the east by two residential properties, and to the south by a plumbing supply company and auto repair shop. On the opposite side of the street (Rock Avenue) from the landfill are four houses. The site is located in a mixed-use area, with residential, commercial, and industrial land use but with no abutting wetlands.

While grass and small shrubbery cover most of the site, construction and physical debris (including re-bar and wire) remain exposed in some areas on site. Access to the site is unrestricted. No signs are posted and no fences prevent trespassers from entering the site.

No surface water exists on site. Surface water locations in the area are located some distance away and unlikely to be impacted by the site. The nearest surface water bodies are Horn Pond and the Aberjona River which are approximately 2,000 feet from the site, therefore, neither of these surface water bodies were sampled as part of site investigations.

Potable water is supplied by area reservoirs (which provide water to the upper section of the town) or by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. All area residents utilize municipal water for their potable water supply.

Community Health Concerns
On May 28, 1997, ATSDR met with Winchester Board of Health and MADEP representatives to discuss the Rock Avenue Landfill site. ATSDR also toured the site with the current site landowner and representatives from Hidell-Eyster to gather information about site conditions and site investigations. During that visit, ATSDR also met with local property owners, including the petitioner, who expressed concerns about how the site affects their health and quality of life. The specific concerns of area residents include:

  • Exposure to chemicals from materials dumped during the spring of 1982.
  • The presence of foul, musty odors.
  • Ingestion of locally grown fruits and vegetables grown in soil near the site; the stunted growth and death of trees in close proximity to the site; and the health of rabbits raised in close proximity to the site.
  • Exposure to contaminants in the air, blowing off the site. Inhalation of and dermal contact with chemicals, including benzene, toluene, naphthalene, tetrachloroethylene, and chrysene and what is perceived to be associated eye infections and sinus problems.
  • Adverse health effects including eye problems, heart problems, thyroid problems, and liver abnormalities.
  • The lack of recent groundwater monitoring for contaminants.

Environmental Sampling Data
To evaluate the extent to which area residents may have been exposed to potentially contaminated soil, soil gas, air, and groundwater, ATSDR reviewed available site data provided by the MADEP, Winchester Board of Health, Winchester DPW, and MIT. For each environmental medium at the site, ATSDR examined the type and concentrations of relevant contaminants and how one might be exposed to these contaminants in the past, present, and future.

Soil Sampling:
In 1985, site investigations confirmed the presence of demolition debris in subsurface soils at the Rock Avenue Landfill site. Subsurface soil sampling also identified an area of oily soil. A total of 18 borings were completed on site with sampling performed on six samples. Samples, taken from between 13.5 feet and 33 feet bgs, contained arsenic, cadmium, total chromium, copper, total lead, and total phenols at levels below appropriate ATSDR comparison values. The sampling results are summarized in Table 1. The soil was characterized as very silty, compact material with little surface water infiltration.

An additional four borings were drilled at depths ranging from 1 to 60.5 feet during further site investigations in 1989. One soil sample (boring P-1) was analyzed for petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and metals; another soil sample (boring P-4) was only analyzed for petroleum hydrocarbons. Petroleum hydrocarbons were detected at a depth of 2 feet in soil from boring P-4 at a maximum concentration of 4,900 parts per million (ppm). Petroleum hydrocarbons were also detected in boring P-1 at concentrations ranging from 1,200 ppm to 3,300 ppm from 17 feet to 20.5 feet. Metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were detected at low concentrations in the soil sample from boring P-1. Results of soil sampling from boring P-1 also indicate levels of cadmium at 1.0 ppm and mercury at 0.4 ppm; some PAHs, including phenanthrene, fluoranthene, and pyrene, were found at trace amounts, but they were detected below the detection limit. No VOCs, pesticides, or PCBs were detected in soil from boring P-1.

In addition to these subsurface soil investigations, MIT collected two near-surface soil samples from the Rock Avenue Landfill site in 1996. These soil samples were collected at a depth of 6 inches bgs and analyzed for SVOCs, including PAHs (MIT, 1997a). Samples of the surface soils (0 to 3 inches) were not taken; MIT assumed that contamination in the top few inches of the soil would not necessarily reflect site-related contamination (MIT, 1997a). The results of this analysis are summarized in Table 2. One PAH, benzo[a]pyrene, was detected at concentrations of 3.92 ppm and 8.66 ppm, which exceed the ATSDR comparison value of 0.1 ppm. Other PAHs (e.g., benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[e]pyrene, benzo[g,h,i]perylene, chrysene, dibenzo[a,h]pyrene, and indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene) detected in on-site soil samples do not have comparison values. In this case, the benzo[a]pyrene comparison value was used a conservative estimate; all of these PAHs were detected within one order of magnitude of the benzo[a]pyrene comparison value.

No off-site soil sampling has been conducted. Based on the above site investigations, MADEP concluded that contamination at the Rock Avenue Landfill exists at depth (at or below 6 inches) so exposure via direct human contact would not be an immediate concern. MADEP further concluded that there are no known routes by which contaminants at depth might migrate to adjacent properties (MADEP, 1991). Therefore, no off-site soil sampling was conducted by the MADEP.

Soil Gas Sampling:
In September 1989, soil vapor was evaluated at nine locations surrounding groundwater monitoring wells on site, using Tedlar bags and a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer system (Hidell-Eyster, 1989). Soil gas was analyzed for VOC, including priority pollutants, hazardous substance list compounds, and an additional list of compounds (dibromomethane, methyl-t-butylether, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, acrolein, and acrylonitrile). Only dichlorodifluoromethane was detected. However, the lab (Clean Harbors) concluded that the hit of dichlorodifluoromethane was not likely site-related, but instead a Tedlar bag contaminant.

The maximum concentration detected (one sample out of nine) measured 1,000 ppm for methane on the field Organic Vapor Analyzer(1).

In October 1989, the Winchester Board of Health hired the consulting firm, EA, to conduct a soil gas survey at the landfill and surrounding properties and to perform limited indoor air sampling (EA, 1989). EA sampled seven locations on and off site, three of which were chosen to correlate with locations observed to have OVA readings above 1000 ppm during the September 1989 sampling described above. All analyses were conducted using a gas chromatograph equipped with a flame ionization detector and an electron capture detector that operate in parallel. The only VOC detected during soil gas sampling was methane. The highest methane level (24,550 ppm) was detected directly above the "sludge"(oily) material on Lot 6, immediately adjacent to the site (EA, 1989). The next highest level (9,810 ppm) was observed at the property line between the site and an area resident near sample location B-8 (see Figure 2). The third highest methane level (172 ppm) was detected at the sewer manhole location. These three soil gas samples yielding high methane readings also had a strong rotten decay odor, similar to hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans. Several unidentified compounds were detected at very low concentrations (less than 0.5 ppm) that are most likely sulfur containing decay products. Therefore, odors at the property were likely due to these sulfur containing by-products of anaerobic decomposition (EA, 1989).

The remainder of the soil gas samples collected by EA had detections of methane ranging from 0 to 1 ppm. Included in these samples was a sample collected from an area resident's backyard and an indoor air sample from the resident's basement. No methane was detected in the soil gas sample from the resident's yard.

Although methane was not observed at high levels on nearby property, EA concluded that follow-up action (i.e., methane controls) was necessary based on methane detected at concentrations greater than 10% of the lower explosive limit (LEL) (50,000 ppm) at the Rock Avenue property perimeter. In response to this recommendation, the Winchester Board of Health referred the methane issue identified in EA's report to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP). Because Rock Avenue is a confirmed "21E" site (21E sites are regulated under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan) being followed by the state; the town did not independently respond (Tabbi, 1998). MADEP did not conduct any follow-up actions sampling (Johnson, 1997). No record of subsequent monitoring was found during ATSDR's review of MADEP's file.

Groundwater Sampling
Hidell-Eyster installed and sampled four groundwater monitoring wells as part of the field investigation in 1989 (Hidell-Eyster, 1989). Trace levels of benzene were detected at one well at levels below the 5 parts per billion (ppb) detection limit. No detectable quantities of petroleum hydrocarbons or SVOCs were detected in the groundwater. Zinc, at 0.16 ppb, was the only metal detected above its detection limit. MDPH concluded that since groundwater is not utilized as a drinking water source for the community that further groundwater evaluation at the Rock Avenue Landfill was unnecessary (MADEP, 1991).

Indoor Air Sampling
Indoor air data collected during the site investigations and assessments are limited to one sample taken by MIT from the petitioner's basement on March 18, 1992, and one sample taken by EA from a nearby residents's basement during soil gas sampling event in 1989.

During EA's soil gas sampling, indoor air from the basement of a nearby resident was sampled for other organic compounds. A methane level of 1 ppm was detected in the indoor air sample. EA concluded that this indoor methane concentration was likely due to syringe contamination and was insignificant; they concluded that it did not represent a hazard (EA, 1989). MIT sampled the petitioner's indoor air for methane, naphthalene, and 15 other PAH's. No naphthalene or any other PAH was detected, but methane was detected at 1 ppm (MIT, 1992).

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