Feds say no health problems from Milford Hills wells

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – Chemicals found in the groundwater of the Milford Hills and Milford Terrace neighborhoods are not at levels to cause health concerns, a federal public health agency said after completing a yearlong study.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said the chemicals do not appear to come from nearby industrial facilities.
“No future health risks are expected from the groundwater near the industrial facilities of interest along Jake Alexander Boulevard,” according to the 73-page report, which was released Aug. 14.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in Atlanta, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It evaluates the potential for health problems from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.
Petitioners who requested the study, including Dr. Rick Weisler of Raleigh and retired Rowan County Health Department Director Leonard Wood, have not had a chance to discuss the report, Weisler told the Post.
Weisler, who grew up in Milford Hills and pushed for a full study of health risks posed to residents over the years, said he plans to confer with fellow petitioners and prepare a response to the report.
The health consultation evaluated the migration of groundwater contaminants from nearby asphalt and petroleum facilities into the Milford Hills and Milford Terrace areas.
Federal scientists investigated the possible contamination of private wells and potential health problems in residents who drank that water.
They also evaluated possible worker exposure to groundwater contaminants, as well as potential exposure to groundwater contaminants from other smaller facilities, including the National Guard Armory.
“No other volatile organic compounds were detected in residential or industrial drinking water wells at levels considered to increase adverse health effects,” the report said.
Scientists reached the following conclusions:
• Adverse health effects are not expected among residents who drank well water in the Milford Hills or Milford Terrace areas or workers who drank water from the on-site well at the N.C. Department of Transportation testing facility no. 45.
• Adverse health effects also are not expected in workers or nearby residents from breathing trichloroethylene, or TCE, in contaminated well water used for settling dust or washing vehicles at the N.C. DOT site.
• Private wells in Milford Hills and Milford Terrace are not affected by the groundwater contaminants at the sites.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommends the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources continue periodic sampling of the four private wells being used in the Milford Terrace community.
The agency also recommends owners should permanently seal contaminated commercial or residential private wells that are no longer used.
To conduct the study, scientists analyzed data provided by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which tested 23 private wells in the neighborhood from 1989 to 2010, as well as numerous groundwater monitoring wells.
Based on the concentration of chemicals found in those environmental samples, scientists determined whether people would have experienced health problems as a result of exposure, the agency said.
“Given the site-specific exposure scenario (how they were exposed, the duration of their exposure, age, and frequency of their exposure), individuals exposed to those levels are not expected to experience adverse health effects,” the agency said.
Residents and workers in the area were not examined physically.
Chemicals found in the groundwater included tetrachloroethylene, or PCE; 1,1-dichloroethylene, or 1,1-DCE; and trichloroethylene, or TCE.
The source of the chemicals found in private wells of Milford Hills and Milford Terrace neighborhoods is unknown, the agency said.
The chemicals are not from nearby industrial facilities because “extensive site characterization and groundwater sampling” done by N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has shown that the Milford Hills and Milford Terrace neighborhoods are uphill from contamination plumes, and that those plumes are mostly contained within the sites’ boundaries, the agency said.
One well contained TCE. It was an on-site private well at the former N.C. Department of Transportation asphalt facility.
One well contained 1,1-DCE. It was directly adjacent to one of the asphalt sites, which could have been a source of 1,1-DCE, the agency said.
Private wells in the neighborhoods are roughly more than 500 feet away from the contamination sites and are all uphill, the agency said.
This is the third study the agency has conducted in the area.
In 2006, scientists found “statistically significant” higher rates of cancer – in particular, lymphoma and brain cancer – in the Milford Hills and Meadowbrook neighborhoods from 1990 to 2000.
But that report said health officials could not establish a direct relationship between elevated cancer rates and industrial facilities along Jake Alexander Boulevard.
The report cautioned that its finding was based on only seven lymphoma and six brain cancer cases over that decade within the two Census blocks.
Weisler’s mother, who lived in Milford Hills, died of cancer in 2001. Since then, he has tried to show a possible link between airborne emissions and soil and groundwater contamination from the industrial operations and above-average rates of cancers in the two neighborhoods.
In 2007, the agency reported that a four-month study of air quality surrounding the two asphalt facilities near Milford Hills showed the air “generally did not pose a health hazard.”Scientists said some levels of particles released from the facilities were above regulatory standards and could have caused “respiratory irritation to asthmatics and other sensitive individuals.”
The four months of air sampling were done in 2001 near the Associated Asphalt terminal and APAC Carolina Inc. hot-mix asphalt plant, located next to each other on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
At the time, residents had lodged hundreds of complaints about sulfurous smells coming from the asphalt operations.
To read the groundwater health consultation, go to http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/HCPHA.asp?State=NC .
A copy is also available at Rowan County Library, 201 W. Fisher St.
For more information, community members can contact Rob Robinson, environmental health scientist, in Atlanta at RERobinson@cdc.gov or 770-488-3334 or by calling 800-CDC-INFO.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.