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A plume of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) extends northwest from the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive Superfund site, south of St. Joseph, Michigan, to Lake Michigan. The plume flows beneath a residential area. Since October 1984, water from one residential well in the 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). This well is currently only used for lawn watering, however, the house it serves was not connected to the St. Joseph municipal water system until April 1984. Although there are no earlier data for this well or any wells in the area, it seems likely that the contamination plume had reached that well and several other residential wells in the area some years before the residence was connected to the municipal water system.

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 can cause adverse health effects after long latency periods. MDCH recommends that all private wells in the endangered area be sampled, to help estimate 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 past exposures to groundwater contaminants.


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has asked the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) for assistance concerning potential health risks of past 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) 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 and northwest (Table 1) (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The contamination was attributed to several closed lagoons in the southeast corner of the property, used from approximately 1953 to 1975 for the disposal of waste water which allegedly sometimes 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 1984 contained several VOCs (Table 2) (1, 2). There is, however, some uncertainty over whether the lagoons are the sole source for the groundwater contamination. 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 at concentrations above U.S. EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) (Table 3). 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. 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 in September 1988, and again no VOCs were detected. In August 1997, Bosch Braking Systems, current owner of the Bendix Corporation/Allied Automotive site, conducted a survey of all houses along Lake Bluff Terrace and several houses and businesses along and east of Lakeshore Drive/Red Arrow Highway in the vicinity of the Bendix site. The survey found three wells in use, 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 (8). Except for RW-3 and RW-4, there is no record that the currently inactive private wells have ever been sampled. The company sampled the active wells, and 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, and 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 3). After the August 1997 sampling, Bosch offered to fund abandonment of the three residential wells in use and connection to the municipal water system (9).

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 (1).

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