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The Marshall Elementary School was built adjacent to a former municipal and construction debris landfill that operated from 1952 to 1958. A grass-covered playing field next to the school is on top of the closed landfill bordering Beitz Creek to the east. The banks of Beitz Creek have eroded exposing buckets, drums, and other construction debris from the closed landfill. Public concern focuses primarily on the possible health implications that the closed landfill presents to school children playing on the grassy field. This public health assessment evaluates existing environmental data and community health concerns to determine possible impact to human health of the landfill.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has classified this site as No Apparent Public Health Hazard based on the levels of contaminants found around the Marshall Elementary School site. A review of environmental data shows that the on-site soil, ambient air, sediment, surface water, and groundwater around Marshall Elementary School do not pose a health threat to children playing on the grassy field or attending Marshall Elementary School. However, combustible gases should be monitored at least twice a year around Marshall Elementary School to detect any gases emitted from the closed landfill that may cause an explosion or fire. The Beitz Creek stream bank should be fenced to restrict access of school children who could injure themselves on debris exposed by further erosion.


The Marshall Elementary School in Livonia, Michigan is adjacent to a seven acre former landfill. The landfill accepted municipal and construction debris from approximately 1952 to 1958. The elementary school's grassy playing field is currently situated on top of the former landfill. A group of citizens petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to evaluate the potential health impact from the closed landfill to the children attending Marshall Elementary School or playing on the field. The purpose of this public health assessment is to identify potential human exposures related to the Marshall Elementary School site by evaluating existing environmental data, community health concerns, and to recommend appropriate public health follow-up activities.

Site Background

A construction debris and municipal landfill called the Curtis Avenue rubbish dump was operated from approximately 1952 to 1958 on a seven acre parcel of land. Aerial photos indicate that by 1960 vegetation had grown over the landfill. In the 1960s Marshall Elementary School and Stevenson High School were constructed on 77 acres of land over the former landfill. A grass-covered playing field between the two schools was developed on the former landfill and it is bordered on the east by Beitz Creek. A map with the location and demographics of the Marshall Elementary School site is located in Appendix A. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MIDEQ) received complaints in 1991 that buckets, glass, metal drums, plastic items, and orange leachate had been seen along the banks of Beitz Creek. MIDEQ visited the site and observed that erosion of the stream bank had exposed material that had been buried. They also noted that the orange leachate was caused by rust from the metal drums and that this was seeping into Beitz Creek [1]. MIDEQ inspected the site in 1992 and 1994 and conducted assessment activities that included a site inspection, interviewing school representatives, and the collection of on-site soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water, and ambient air samples to be analyzed for chemical contamination [2]. Results of ATSDR's evaluation of the environmental monitoring are presented in the Discussion section of this document.


Livonia residents were concerned with the overall potential health effects of the Marshall Elementary School children who play on and near the closed landfill. Since the completion of the Integrated Assessment in 1994, county and state health authorities have received no further complaints of exposed waste material along the Beitz Creek banks.


There are approximately 12,000 people living within a one mile radius of Marshall Elementary School (Appendix A) [3]. The population is 98% white, and 2% black, Hispanic, Asian, or another race. In 1990, 8% of the population that lived within a mile radius were under 6 years old. Also at this time, there were about 4,300 housing units within one mile of Marshall Elementary School.


A. Methods

The following sections contain an evaluation of the environmental data available for the Marshall Elementary School site. In preparing this evaluation, ATSDR uses established methodologies for determining how people may be exposed to potential contamination related to Marshall Elementary School and what harmful effects, if any, may result from such exposure. Chemical exposure pathways (or routes of physical contact with chemicals) that ATSDR evaluates are ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact. ATSDR uses comparison values (CVs), which are screening tools used to evaluate environmental data that are relevant to the exposure pathways. Comparison values are concentrations of contaminants that are considered safe levels of exposure. Chemicals detected below CVs are not likely to represent a health concern; chemicals detected above CVs require a more detailed evaluation of site specific exposure conditions. For a complete discussion of these criteria (quality assurance considerations, human exposure pathway analyses, ATSDR health comparison values, and the methods of selecting contaminants above comparison values), refer to Appendix B.

B. Extent of Contamination


A total of 28 surface and subsurface soil samples were taken from the Marshall Elementary School site during the site investigation. These samples were analyzed for volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and pesticides [2]. Semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and pesticides were detected in surface and subsurface soil samples. The concentrations of these contaminants were below the Environmental Protection Agency's health screening values(1) and were at levels that would not cause health effects [4]. Based on the soil sampling results, ATSDR concluded that the contaminants detected in the soil around Marshall Elementary School and the playing field near the school are not at levels of public health concern.


During the inspection of the Marshall Elementary School site in 1994, MIDEQ performed ambient air monitoring with the following instruments:

  • A photoionization detector to detect any gases coming from the closed landfill
  • An explosimeter to measure the levels of combustible gases
  • An oxygen meter to see if oxygen levels are adequate
  • A radiation monitor to detect radiation around the landfill

The ambient air around Marshall Elementary School was safe based on the readings from these instruments. However, decaying matter within the landfill continually emits gases that have the potential to cause fires and explosions. ATSDR recommends that surface soil gas should be monitored to measure the levels of combustible gases at least twice a year. This type of monitoring would detect any potentially explosive gases that may be generating within the landfill.

Beitz Creek Sediment and Surface Water

The sediment samples collected from Beitz Creek contained semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, and pesticides. The concentrations of these contaminants were not at levels that would cause health effects [2,4]. Surface water samples also contained no contaminants at levels of health concern [2,4]. Therefore, the sediment and surface water in Beitz Creek do not pose a threat to public health.


The groundwater flow direction at Marshall Elementary School is generally east and southeast, flowing towards Beitz Creek [3]. Groundwater samples were collected on and near the grassy playing field on top of the closed landfill. Benzene, metals, and semi-volatile organic compounds were detected in the groundwater of a shallow aquifer. This indicates that waste materials have been released from the closed landfill into the groundwater. Clay layers in the ground have prevented contaminants from migrating into deeper aquifers [3]. There are no residential or municipal wells within a four mile radius of the Marshall Elementary School [3]. Groundwater from the shallow or deep aquifers is not used as drinking water. The city of Detroit and its surrounding communities receive drinking water from surface water intakes in Lake Huron and the Detroit River [5]. There is no human exposure to the contaminants detected in the groundwater at Marshall Elementary School.

C. ATSDR Child Health Initiative

Children are at greater risk than adults from certain kinds of exposure to hazardous substances emitted from waste sites and emergency events. They are more likely to be exposed for several reasons; children play outside more often than adults, increasing the likelihood that they will come into contact with chemicals in the environment. Since they are shorter than adults, they breathe more dust, soil, and heavy vapors close to the ground. Children are also smaller, resulting in higher doses of chemical exposure per body weight. The developing body systems of children can sustain damage if toxic exposures occur during certain growth stages.

Many children live in the city of Livonia and attend Marshall Elementary School and Stevenson High School. ATSDR closely reviewed possible exposure situations to these children while evaluating this site. ATSDR also used the Environmental Media Evaluation Guidelines (EMEG) for children, who are considered the most sensitive segment of the population. ATSDR did not identify any chemical contaminants at levels of health concern to children attending Marshall Elementary or Stevenson High School or playing on or near the grassy playing field above the closed landfill.

D. Physical Hazards

The Beitz Creek banks continue to erode and remain accessible to the public. As long as the stream banks remain accessible and subject to further erosion, there is a potential threat that children will be exposed to the physical hazards posed by the unearthed debris.


  1. The levels of contaminants detected in the on-site soil, sediment, and surface water will not cause harmful health effects.

  2. There is no human exposure to benzene, metals, and semi-volatile organic compounds detected in the groundwater below the grassy playing field.

  3. The ambient air at Marshall Elementary School contained no hazardous substances at levels of health concern.

ATSDR uses one of five conclusion categories to summarize our findings of the site. These categories are: 1) Urgent Public Health Hazard, 2) Public Health Hazard, 3) Indeterminate Health Hazard, 4) No Apparent Public Health Hazard, and 5) No Public Health Hazard. A category is selected from site specific conditions such as the degree of public health hazard based on the presence and duration of human exposure, contaminant concentration, the nature of toxic effects associated with site related contaminants, presence of physical hazards, and community health concerns. Based on these criteria, ATSDR categorized the Marshall Elementary School site as a No Apparent Public Health Hazard based on the levels of contaminants found around the Marshall Elementary School site and near the closed landfill.


  1. Monitor surface soil gas at least twice a year to verify that levels of combustible gases are below hazardous levels (i.e., 10% of lower explosion limit [LEL]) in on-site buildings and enclosed spaces.

  2. Remove any debris that becomes exposed from the erosion of the banks of Beitz Creek that could present a physical hazard to the public.

  3. Restrict access to Beitz Creek to prevent children from injuring themselves on landfill debris that may become exposed from future erosion of the stream banks.


The actions described in this section are designed to ensure that this public health assessment identifies public health hazards and provides a plan of action to mitigate and prevent adverse health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

Actions Completed:

  1. MIDEQ has completed a full site investigation in 1994 that included:

    • Interviewing city officials, school staff members, and community members
    • Monitoring environmental media
    • Evaluating exposure situations

  2. In 1995, the Livonia Public School system commissioned soil borings around Marshall Elementary School to characterize the soil before installing new playground equipment. The soil appeared clean and free of landfill debris.

  3. ATSDR inspected an open excavation (from construction) on Marshall Elementary School grounds and determined that the school building itself was not built directly on top of the landfill.

  4. ATSDR has evaluated existing environmental data pertaining to the Marshall Elementary School site as a basis for this Public Health Assessment.

Actions Ongoing:

  1. There are no current ongoing activities at this site.

Actions Planned:

  1. ATSDR will review additional environmental data if site conditions change.


Kimberly K. Chapman, MSEH
Environmental Health Scientist

Reviewers of Report:

Donald Joe, PE
Section Chief

John E. Abraham, PhD
Branch Chief

Review and Approval of This Public Health Assessment for Marshall Elementary School


Environmental Health Scientist, PRS, EICB, DHAC

Section Chief, PRS, EICB, DHAC

Branch Chief, EICB, DHAC


  1. Applied Science and Technology, Inc. August 14, 1992. Phase I Environmental Site Review of Marshall Elementary School. Prepared for TMP Associates.

  2. United States Bureau of the Census. 1990. Census of Population and Housing: Summary Tape File 1B. U.S. Department of Commerce.

  3. Eastern Research Group, Inc. September 26, 1997. Report on the Marshall Elementary School, Livonia, Wayne County, MI. Prepared for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Atlanta, GA. Task Order No. 0901-12.



Site Map and Demographics


Quality Assurance

In preparing this report, ATSDR relied on the information provided in the referenced documents and by contacts with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MIDEQ), Michigan Department of Health, Wayne County Department of Health, Wayne County Department of Environment, Livonia Public Schools, and community members. ATSDR assumes that adequate quality assurance and control measures were taken during chain-of-custody, laboratory procedures, and data reporting. The validity of the analyses and conclusions drawn in this document are determined by the availability and reliability of the information.

Human Exposure Pathway Evaluation and the Use of ATSDR Comparison Values

ATSDR assesses a site by evaluating the level of exposure in potential or completed exposure pathways. An exposure pathway is the way chemicals may enter a person's body to cause a health effect. It includes all the steps between the release of a chemical and the population exposed: (1) a chemical release source, (2) chemical movement, (3) a place where people can come into contact with the chemical, (4) a route of human exposure, and (5) a population that could be exposed. In this assessment, ATSDR evaluates chemicals in environmental media that people living in nearby residences may come into contact with.

Data evaluators use comparison values (CVs), which are screening tools used to evaluate environmental data that is relevant to the exposure pathways. Comparison values are concentrations of contaminants that are considered to be safe levels of exposure. Comparison values used in this document include ATSDR's environmental media evaluation guide (EMEG) and cancer risk evaluation guide (CREG). Comparison values are derived from available health guidelines, such as ATSDR's minimal risk levels and EPA's cancer slope factor.

The derivation of a comparison value uses conservative exposure assumptions, resulting in values that are much lower than exposure concentrations observed to cause adverse health effects; thus, insuring the comparison values are protective of public health in essentially all exposure situations. That is, if the concentrations in the exposure medium are less than the CV, the exposures are not of health concern and no further analysis of the pathway is required. However, while concentrations below the comparison value are not expected to lead to any observable health effect, it should not be inferred that a concentration greater than the comparison value will necessarily lead to adverse effects. Depending on site-specific environmental exposure factors (for example, duration of exposure) and activities of people that result in exposure (time spent in area of contamination), exposure to levels above the comparison value may or may not lead to a health effect. Therefore, ATSDR's comparison values are not used to predict the occurrence of adverse health effects.

The comparison values used in this evaluation are defined as follows: The CREG is a concentration at which excess cancer risk is not likely to exceed one case of cancer in a million persons exposed over a lifetime. The CREG is a very conservative CV that is used to estimate cancer risk. Exposure to a concentration equal to or less than the CREG is defined as an insignificant risk and is an acceptable level of exposure over a lifetime. The risk from exposure is not considered as a significant risk unless the exposure concentration is approximately 10 times the CREG and exposure occurs over several years. The EMEG is a concentration at which daily exposure for a lifetime is unlikely to result in adverse noncancerous effects.

Selecting Contaminants of Concern

Contaminants of concern (COCs) are the site-specific chemical substances that the health assessor selects for further evaluation of potential health effects. Identifying contaminants of concern is a process that requires the assessor to examine contaminant concentrations at the site, the quality of environmental sampling data, and the potential for human exposure. A thorough review of each of these issues is required to accurately select COCs in the site-specific human exposure pathway. The following text describes the selection process.

In the first step of the COC selection process, the maximum contaminant concentrations are compared directly to health comparison values. ATSDR considers site-specific exposure factors to ensure selection of appropriate health comparison values. If the maximum concentration reported for a chemical was less than the health comparison value, ATSDR concluded that exposure to that chemical was not of public health concern; therefore, no further data review was required for that chemical. However, if the maximum concentration was greater than the health comparison value, the chemical was selected for additional data review. In addition, any chemicals detected that did not have relevant health comparison values were also selected for additional data review.

Comparison values have not been developed for some contaminants, and, based on new scientific information other comparison values may be determined to be inappropriate for the specific type of exposure. Contaminants are included as contaminants of concern if current scientific information indicates exposure to those contaminants may be of public health concern.

The next step of the process requires a more in-depth review of data for each of the contaminants selected. Factors used in the selection of the COCs included the number of samples with detections above the minimum detection limit, the number of samples with detections above an acute or chronic health comparison value, and the potential for exposure at the monitoring location.


ATSDR held a public comment period between September 16 to October 30, 1999 to address further questions regarding Marshall Elementary School (a/k/a West Beitz Creek Fill Area) Public Health Assessment. No public comments were received by ATSDR during this time period.

1 For a complete discussion of health screening values, refer to Appendix B

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