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A. Site Description and History

The Lehigh Valley Railroad Derailment site is in a rural area in the Town of LeRoy, Genesee County, near the Livingston and Monroe County borders (Figure 1, Appendix A). Residences are situated throughout the area. The purpose of this health consultation is to evaluate past, current and potential future exposures to site-related contaminants in groundwater.

In December 1970, a train derailment occurred at the intersection of the railroad and Gulf Road. Two 15,000 gallon tank cars containing trichloroethene ruptured and spilled their contents onto the ground in an area with private drinking water wells. In early 1971, residents adjacent to the spill site complained of solvent-like odors in their drinking water. Based on the odors and some limited sampling, the railroad company provided either a carbon filter or a cash settlement to those with affected water supplies. The only remediation by the railroad company at the spill site was to construct ditches and berms in the spill area, which were flooded with water in an attempt to flush the trichloroethene out of the ground. No further remediation occurred.

In 1989, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) sampled a private water supply as part of an investigation for another nearby site. The sample contained trichloroethene. Based on reports of trichloroethene being spilled at the 1970 Lehigh Valley Railroad Derailment, a private well sampling program was initiated to determine if this was the source of the contamination. In 1991, NYS DOH, in cooperation with the Genesee, Livingston and Monroe County Health Departments, sampled private water supplies to the east of the spill site. These sample results showed that the trichloroethene plume had migrated from the Lehigh Valley Railroad Derailment site and several wells were contaminated with trichloroethene above the NYS DOH and United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) drinking water standard of 5 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) for public water supplies. The NYS DOH and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) requested assistance from the US EPA, which subsequently installed granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment systems on 35 water supplies. The NYS DEC installed GAC treatment systems on 3 additional water supply wells.

Groundwater is the sole source for drinking water in this rural area. Due to the shallow overburden and highly fractured bedrock, contaminants from the site have migrated about 3.5 miles to the east and discharge via springs into the trout stream, Spring Creek. Since January 1991, over 120 private residential and commercial drinking water supply wells in the area have been tested. Thirty-eight of these water supplies contained trichloroethene above the NYS DOH drinking water standard (Figure 2, Appendix A). GAC treatment systems have been installed on all 38 water supply wells. The NYS DEC is currently responsible for the operation and maintenance of the treatment systems.

In November 1991, the site was added to the NYS Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites. On March 28, 1997, the NYS DEC signed a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Lehigh Valley Railroad Derailment site. The ROD action plan for the site includes:

  1. Design and construction of a waterline extension which will connect all impacted residents to a potable water supply. The waterline extension will extend from the existing Monroe County Water Authority water main in the Town of Wheatland and run through the Towns of Wheatland and LeRoy and the Villages of Caledonia and Mumford. The water line extension will be designed to provide current fire flow demand.
  2. Tentative expansion of the water line extension component of the remedy to include the section from Spring Street, west along George Street/Flint Hill Road to Lime Rock Road. A final determination will be made based upon additional engineering and hydrogeologic analyses to be conducted during the design phase of the waterline extension.
  3. Design of source control measures which will include a detailed pilot study.
  4. Excavation and treatment (vapor extraction) of about 10,000 cubic yards of trichloroethene-contaminated soil at the former spill site. This will include removal and replacement of a portion of Gulf Road. Treated soil will be placed back on site.
  5. Installation of a bedrock vapor extraction system within the approximately 10 acre non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) zone.
  6. Initiation of a long term monitoring program designed to protect human health and the environment during and after construction of the above remedial plan.

Due to the scope of the contamination problems noted at the site, the NYS DEC also nominated the site for the federal National Priority List (NPL), better known as the Federal Superfund List. The nomination is subject to review by the US EPA.

B. Site Visit and Physical Hazards

In January 1991, the NYS DOH, with representatives from the Genesee, Monroe and Livingston County Health Departments and NYS DEC, visited the site to familiarize themselves with the area of the spill and locations of private drinking water wells in the area. There were no obvious physical hazards associated with the site. There was evidence that the railroad track bed was being used by all-terrain vehicle operators for recreation. In June 1991, NYS DOH again visited the site with representatives of the US EPA to familiarize them with the site and the locations of private wells in the area. Since that time numerous site visits have occurred.

The most recent visit was made by Mr. David Napier of the NYS DOH during October 1996. Conditions had not changed since previous site visits. The site is accessible, but there is no evidence of trespass and no obvious physical hazards associated with the site. Representatives from NYS DOH and county health departments collected water samples from private wells in the area on a quarterly basis from October 1991 through 1994. Since 1994, sampling has been on a semi-annual basis. The sampling is to monitor the status of the contaminant plume, to evaluate potential exposures, and if necessary, to identify the need for additional treatment systems.

C. Demographics

The NYS DOH estimated, from the 1990 Census, that 3,807 people live within one mile of the wells which have detectable levels of trichloroethene contamination. Of this population, 96.3 percent is of the white race, 2.8 percent of the black race and 0.9 percent of other races. Within this area, 9.1 percent of the population is under 6 years of age, 18.9 percent is 6 to 10 years of age, 60.4 percent is 20 to 64 years of age and 11.6 percent is 65 years of age or older. In 1990, there were 856 females of reproductive age (ages 15-44) within one mile of the contaminated wells. The median household income in LeRoy, where the derailment occurred, was $31,603 in 1989, with 6.5 percent of the population living below the poverty level.

D. Environmental Contamination and Exposure Pathways

As part of a 1993 remedial investigation, NYS DEC's consultant Dunn Engineering Company installed 55 monitoring wells at 17 locations. Up to four wells were installed at each location to monitor groundwater at different depths. In the area adjacent to the spill site, trichloroethene was detected at a maximum concentration of 58,000 mcg/L. The average level of trichloroethene in the spill area ranged from 1,000 to 10,000 mcg/L depending on the depth of the well. Due to the high levels of trichloroethene, these samples had to be diluted for analysis. Cis-1,2-dichloroethene, a breakdown product of trichloroethene, was not detected in most samples, possibly due to the dilution. Outside of the spill area, the maximum level of trichloroethene detected was 2,100 mcg/L; most samples contained trichloroethene below 100 mcg/L.

The NYS DOH has collected water samples at 127 private wells in the area. Trichloroethene has been detected in 49 private wells at concentrations from 0.5 to 7,200 mcg/L. Most of the contaminated wells contain trichloroethene at levels between 5 and 100 mcg/L. Cis-1,2-dichloroethene has also been detected in a few private wells adjacent to the site at concentrations from 0.5 to 38 mcg/L. Although carbon treatment systems were provided to some of the residents with contaminated wells by the railroad company immediately after the spill, there was no follow-up testing and maintenance of the systems. Residents with contaminated water supplies may have been exposed to site-related contaminants via ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact for up to about 20 years.

Subsurface soils (1-10 feet below ground surface) at the spill site are contaminated with trichloroethene at levels up to 550 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). The soil contaminated area encompasses an irregularly-shaped source area of about 1.5 acres, with an average concentration of 100 mg/kg of trichloroethene. The maximum concentration of 550 mg/kg was detected in soil in a bedrock fracture. The potential for exposure to these levels of trichloroethene is unlikely by ingestion, dermal contact and inhalation, given that the contaminant was only detected in on-site subsurface soil. However, since the site has not been remediated; the contaminated subsurface soil, along with pure product within the bedrock continues to act as a source of contamination to the groundwater.

E. Health Outcome Data

The NYS DOH maintains several health outcome data bases which could be used to generate site-specific data, if warranted. These data bases include the cancer registry, the congenital malformations registry, the heavy metals registry, the occupational lung disease registry, vital records (birth and death certificates) and hospital discharge information.

In May 1991, the NYS DOH initiated a health and exposure survey for residents living near the site. Questionnaires were distributed to 89 households from which water samples were collected as part of the investigation of the site. Of these, 74 households participated in the survey for an overall response rate of 83.1 percent. Questionnaires were completed by 226 individuals in these households. The questionnaire asked for information about water usage, historical water problems and individual health information. The survey data were separated into groups according to exposure status. The unexposed group included 151 individuals in households with no detectable level of contamination in the water. The exposed group included 75 individuals in households with a detectable level of contamination in the water. A summary of the results of the survey was released in November 1992. The proportion of the exposed persons reporting symptoms was slightly higher than the proportion of unexposed persons reporting symptoms, but the difference was small. The difference was not statistically significant, but the power of the statistical test was low due to the small number of people in the investigation.

F. Community Health Concerns and Current Issues

In 1991, the NYS DOH held three public informational meetings and distributed fact sheets to community members and interested parties. The purpose of the meetings was to inform them of the contamination, to provide advice and to listen to their concerns. Affected residents were advised not to drink the water and on how to take additional precautions to reduce potential exposure from cooking and bathing. Bottled water was provided to people whose wells contained trichloroethene above the NYS DOH drinking water standard until treatment systems were installed. The NYS DEC has assumed responsibility for sampling the water supplies and operation and maintenance of the treatment systems. The NYS DOH and the Genesee, Livingston and Monroe County Health Departments sample private wells to monitor the contaminant plume and determine if additional wells are contaminated. Residents have voiced concerns about the effect the site has on their property values.

On March 4, 1997, the NYS DEC and NYS DOH held a public meeting to discuss a proposed remedial action plan for the site. The components of the proposal are: 1) extension of public water supply lines to the affected area, 2) excavation and on-site treatment of contaminated soils at the spill site, and 3) installation of bedrock vapor extraction wells to remove trichloroethene from the bedrock.

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