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Plumes of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) extend from the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive Superfund site, south of St. Joseph, Michigan, northwest to Lake Michigan and northeast to Hickory Creek. The northwest plume flows beneath a residential area. Since October 1984, water from one residential well in the northwest plume area has been documented to contain VOCs, specifically trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride, at concentrations higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Maximum Contaminant Levels for Drinking Water (MCLs). The house this well serves was connected to the St. Joseph municipal water system in April 1984. Since that time the well has only been used for lawn watering. There are no earlier water quality data available for this well or any wells in the area. However, the plume probably reached this well and several other residential wells in the area some years before the residences served by these wells were connected to the municipal water system.

The contamination plume extends from the site and vents to Lake Michigan, but it is on the bottom of the aquifer with a layer of cleaner water above it. However, because of the depth of the plume no one using the beach for recreation is likely to be exposed to the contaminants. The contaminants from the plume have never been detected in the lake water. Workers in subsurface excavations and homeowners with basements in the area would not be at risk from direct contact with groundwater or from VOCs volatilizing from the groundwater, because the contaminated groundwater is far below surface and an upper layer of much cleaner groundwater is on top of the plume.

Currently, no one is being exposed to the contaminated groundwater. However, residents of the plume area might have been exposed in the past. Contaminants in the plume include several proven or probable carcinogens (vinyl chloride, 1,2-dichloroethane, trichloroethylene) at concentrations which might increase the risk that a person consuming the water for a long time would contract cancer, possibly a long time after their exposure. MDCH recommends that all available private wells in the affected area that have not been sampled should be sampled, to help estimate possible past exposures, then properly and permanently abandoned. MDCH offers to residents of the area and their physicians information on the potential health effects of their possible past exposures to groundwater contaminants.


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has asked the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) for assistance in determining the household use of groundwater near the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive site. The site was placed on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) National Priorities List (NPL) (also called the Superfund list) on February 21, 1990.

The Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive NPL site is located in Lincoln Township, Berrien County, Michigan, south of the city of St. Joseph, on a 36-acre lot at 3737 Red Arrow Highway/South Lakeshore Drive (Figure 1). Since 1981, sampling of monitoring wells around the property have found high concentrations of various volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in the groundwater on the property and in plumes extending to the northeast as far as Hickory Creek and northwest as far as Lake Michigan (Table 1) (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The contamination has been traced to closed lagoons in the southeast corner of the property, a loading dock area, and a secondary source beneath a parking lot north of the property (1). The lagoons were used from 1965 to 1975 for the disposal of waste water which allegedly contained chlorinated organic solvents, cutting oils, paints, chromium, and lead. The site owners drained the lagoons and filled them with soil in August 1978. Soil samples collected from the lagoon area in 1982, 1984, and 1994 contained several VOCs (Table 2) (1, 2, 3, 4). During the Remedial Investigation of the site in 1994, Bosch Braking Systems, current owner of the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive site, found very high concentrations of VOCs in groundwater from temporary monitoring wells located at the lagoons and at a parking lot across Maiden Lane north of the Bendix building (Table 3) (1). The parking lot area is considered a secondary source area, where chemicals migrated after being released into the environment elsewhere. The northwest plume extends under a residential area between South Lakeshore Drive and Lake Michigan north of Lake Bluff Terrace Road (Figure 2).

In October 1984, a water sample was collected from a residential well near the intersection of Lake Bluff Terrace and Lakeshore Drive, northwest of the Bendix site (RW-1 in Figure 2), and several VOCs, 1,1-dichloroethane, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride, were detected, with trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride concentrations above U.S. EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) (Table 4). The following February, three additional residential wells in the same area were sampled (RW-2, RW-3, and RW-4), and no VOCs were found (3). In October 1986, RW-1 and RW-2 were sampled, and RW-1 again contained several VOCs, trichloroethylene and unquantifiable amounts of 1,1-dichloroethane and 1,2-dichloroethane, while water from RW-2 contained no detectable amounts of these chemicals. RW-2 was sampled again in September 1988, and no VOCs were detected (9).

In August 1997, Bosch conducted a survey to locate private wells at all houses along Lake Bluff Terrace and several houses and businesses along Lakeshore Drive/Red Arrow Highway and Maiden Lane in the vicinity of the Bendix site. The survey found three private wells in use for some purposes, RW-1, RW-2, and RW-5, five inactive wells along Lake Bluff Terrace, including RW-4, and five inactive wells, including RW-3 and RW-6, along Lakeshore Drive (10). At that time, RW-1 and RW-5 were only used for lawn watering, the residences they serve were connected to the municipal water system, and RW-2 was used for all household purposes. Except for RW-3 and RW-4, there is no record that the currently inactive private wells have been sampled. There is no information in the survey on whether the inactive wells had been fully abandoned, that is, sealed so they could not be used in the future. Also in August 1997, the company collected samples of water from the active wells. RW-1 contained several VOCs, 1,1-dichloroethane, cis- and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene, trichlorethylene, and vinyl chloride. RW-2 contained a trace of chloroform, a common contaminant not associated with the contamination at Bendix site. RW-5 contained traces (3 ppb or less) of several VOCs, 1,1-dichloroethane, cis-1,2-dichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and trichloroethylene (also in Table 4). Only the trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride concentrations in RW-1 exceeded MCLs. Neither chloroform nor 1,1,1-trichloroethane is considered a major contaminant of concern at the Bendix site. After the August 1997 sampling, Bosch offered to fund abandonment of the three active residential wells and connection of the one residence to the municipal water system (9). The residents have agreed, and the abandonment and connection are scheduled for later in April 1998 (11).

On February 14, 1992, the Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH)1, working under a cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), issued an Interim Preliminary Health Assessment (IPrHA) for the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive site. The recommendations in the IPrHA included continued groundwater monitoring to follow the plume migration and to detect when nearby private wells may become threatened. It also recommended sampling of endangered private wells on a yearly basis (2).

The MDCH initiated this Health Consultation in response to the information provided by the Bosch private well survey. At the time the IPrHA was prepared, the available information indicated that the one private well that was known to be contaminated (RW-1) was only used for lawn watering, and the residence it served was connected to the municipal water system for all other uses. The other active private wells in the area were not contaminated. The Bosch survey disclosed that RW-1 had provided all the household water until April 1984, when the house was connected to the municipal water system and only 6 months before the contamination in the well was detected. This raised the possibility of past exposures to the contaminated groundwater and the MDCH began this Health Consultation to evaluate the potential health hazards.

 1    On April 1, 1996, the Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH) Division of Health Risk Assessment (DHRA), which carries out the work required in the cooperative agreement with ATSDR was absorbed into the newly-formed Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) as the Environmental Epidemiology Division. The site history and background section of this department uses the departmental identifiers in effect at the time of the events.

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