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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has requested that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) evaluate the public health hazards posed by exposure to contaminants detected in the soil at Altgeld Gardens in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. USEPA collected the surface soil samples during a site investigation in 1996. In October 1998, USEPA requested this health consultation through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [1], which forwarded the request to IDPH in November 1998.

Altgeld Gardens is a Chicago Housing Authority community of about 10,000 people on the southeast side of Chicago, Illinois (Attachment 1) [1]. Altgeld Gardens covers about 190 acres, and is bordered on the north by 130th Street, on the south by 134th Street and the Little Calumet River, on the west by St. Lawrence Avenue, and on the east by the Beaulien Woods Forest Preserve. This land is north and west of a wetland area and was reportedly agricultural land before development [2].

In response to community concerns, USEPA conducted a site investigation at Altgeld Gardens in 1996. The purpose of the investigation was to learn if hazardous materials were present due to previous activity in the area. The investigation was limited to ten surface soil samples collected over the entire community. Samples were collected from grassy areas near housing units, schools, and a community clinic. The samples were collected from the top 3 inches of soil, and were analyzed for metals, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, and cyanide.


IDPH compared the results of each soil sample with the appropriate screening comparison value used to select contaminants for further evaluation for carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic health effects. Chemicals found at levels greater than comparison values or those for which no comparison value exists were selected for further evaluation. A discussion of each comparison value used is found in Attachment 2.

The levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in the soil are within ranges typically found in urban areas, and are not known to cause adverse health effects at these levels [3]. DDT, DDD, and DDE were found at elevated levels in several samples, but only one sample, collected near housing units 706 and 708 in Block 16 (Attachment 1) contained levels greater than comparison values. These maximum levels were: DDT at 31.4 parts per million (ppm), DDD at 5.8 ppm, and DDE at 31.6 ppm.

Children's Health Section

Children are a sensitive sub-population. Special consideration is given to potential exposures to children in the following discussion.

Residents can be exposed to these chemicals in the soil (Attachment 3). Routes of exposure include ingestion, skin contact, and inhalation; however, exposure to contaminated soil is limited by the grass cover at all of the sample locations [1]. The potential for exposed persons to experience adverse health effects depends on --

  • how much of each chemical to which a person is exposed,
  • how long a person is exposed, and
  • the health condition of the person being exposed.

If a child growing up in the community or an adult living in the community were exposed to chemicals at the highest levels detected in the soil, for nine months of each year, the estimated exposure would pose no apparent increased cancer risk. The estimated low level of exposure would also not be expected to cause any non-cancer health effects.

According to USEPA, there is no known source of DDT, DDD, and DDE at Altgeld Gardens [1]. These pesticides could be related to past mosquito abatement activities or past agricultural activities at or near the community. In 1972, USEPA banned all uses of DDT, except in cases of public health emergencies, because amounts were building up in the environment and possibly hurting wildlife [4].


Based on the limited information reviewed, IDPH concludes that no apparent public health hazard exists from exposure to the surface soil contamination detected at Altgeld Gardens in the 1996 site investigation. The source and extent of the pesticide contamination is not known.


IDPH recommends that USEPA collect more surface soil samples in the vicinity of the sample with the greatest pesticide levels to confirm the elevated levels found and to more fully characterize the potential exposure in the area.


Ken Runkle
Environmental Toxicologis
Illinois Department of Public Health


This Health Consultation for Altgeld Gardens Soil was prepared by the Illinois Department of Public Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the Health Consultation was initiated.

Roberta Erlwein for
Gail Godfrey
Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC), ATSDR, has reviewed this Health Consultation and concurs with its findings.

Richard Gillig
Section Chief, SPS, SSAB, DHAC, ATSDR


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consultation Request to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, October 22, 1998.

  2. Illinois Department of Public Health files, Altgeld Gardens.

  3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, December 1996.

  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR Toxicological Profile for 4,4'-DDT, 4,4'-DDE, and 4,4'-DDD, December 1996.

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