Dioxin Developments

November 21, 2016 | Complex Torts & Product Liability | General Liability

Black River PCB Site Is Not Expected to Cause Medical Problems, N.Y. State Health Department Concludes

The New York State Department of Health (“NYSDOH”) has issued a public health assessment about the potential health risks associated with contaminants in the Black River PCBs site in Carthage/West Carthage, New York.


As the public health assessment explained, the Black River PCBs site consists of polychlorinated biphenyl (“PCB”)-contaminated sediment that was derived, in part, from wastewater discharged from the Carthage/West Carthage Water Pollution Control Facility (i.e., the sewage treatment plant or “STP”).

Historical information indicated that tanneries, paper mills, and other industries have operated along the Black River in the villages of Carthage and West Carthage since the 1890s, and that they may have contributed to PCB contamination in the river. Two active paper mills, one inactive paper mill, a machine shop, the Carthage/West Carthage STP, and a hydroelectric power plant currently are located along the Black River in the villages of Carthage and West Carthage.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) report that some local residents use the Black River for recreation such as canoeing, kayaking, and swimming, and that people reportedly fish in the Black River and eat their catch.

On March 4, 2010, the EPA proposed that the Black River PCBs site be added to the National Priorities List (“NPL”), which is the list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories. The identification of a site for the NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in:

  • determining which sites warrant further investigation to assess the nature and extent of the human health and environmental risks associated with a site;
  • identifying what federal Superfund-financed remedial actions may be appropriate;
  • notifying the public of sites EPA believes warrant further investigation; and
  • serving notice to potentially responsible parties that EPA may initiate Superfund-financed remedial action.

The EPA added the site to the NPL on September 29, 2010.

Under the law, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSDR”) is required to evaluate each NPL site. Now, the NYSDOH and the ATSDR have completed a public health assessment as part of that requirement.

The Report’s Conclusions

The report first concluded that, based on available data, contact with PCBs or polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (dioxin-like compounds, or “DLCs”) in sediments and PCBs in surface water during recreational activities, including canoeing, kayaking, and swimming in the Black River, is not expected to harm people’s health.

As a basis for that conclusion, the report explained that sampling results showed that most of the PCB and DLC contamination is in deeper sediments at least 30 centimeters (about one foot) or more below the sediment surface. Exposure by incidental ingestion and dermal contact is limited to the top layer of sediments (15 centimeters, or about six inches below the sediment surface), and the levels of PCBs and DLCs in these sediments pose a “low” or “insignificant” increased risk for getting cancer and a “minimal risk for noncancer health effects” for people who use the river for recreational activities, according to the report.

In addition, the report added, sediments are underwater and in many cases unavailable for human contact.

For surface water, it found, the highest level of PCBs is below the federal and New York State drinking water standard for PCBs in public water systems, and, the report said, that level “poses an insignificant risk for cancer and a minimal risk for noncancer health effects for people who might ingest the water while swimming or during other recreational uses of the river.”

The NYSDOH and ATSDR also concluded that if the public follows the DOH fish consumption advisories, eating fish from the Black River PCBs site is not expected to harm people’s health. The general health advisory for fish consumption, which currently applies to the Black River PCBs site area, is appropriate for the area where samples were taken to evaluate the site, according to the report. The general advisory states that people can eat up to four one-half pound meals of fish a month from New York State fresh waters and some marine waters near the mouth of the Hudson River, providing no specific, more restrictive advisory applies to the particular waterbody.

As support for this conclusion, the report said that the NYSDOH evaluated fish contaminant data collected by the NYSDEC and the federal EPA, and that the results of that evaluation “did not change the overall general health advisory for fish consumptions that currently applies to the Black River PCBs site.”

Next Steps

The NYSDOH recommended that the EPA continue to evaluate the flood history along this section of the river to determine possible floodplain locations and if soil sampling within any identified floodplain areas is needed.

The NYSDOH and the ATSDR said that they will evaluate EPA data as it becomes available to determine whether further public health actions are needed.

Finally, fish contaminant data will be reviewed by the NYSDOH and the NYSDEC as it becomes available and, if the fish contamination data review shows that a change in the fish advisory is warranted, the NYSDOH said that it will prepare a health consultation describing the change and the basis for the change and that it will conduct additional outreach activities to communicate the revised fish advisory to local residents and stakeholders.

* * *

Support for, and Objections to, EPA’s San Jacinto River Waste Pits Plan

Some community members are supporting and some are objecting to the plan unveiled recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to remediate the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site in Harris County, Texas.


In late September, the EPA announced a proposed plan to address contamination at the San Jacinto Waste Pits. It said that its preferred remedy was to remove a total of about 202,000 cubic yards of contaminated material from the northern and southern impoundments at a cost of nearly $96.9 million.

At the time of the announcement, the EPA’s regional administrator, Ron Curry, said, “Based on the recommendation of EPA site managers and the on-going maintenance and repairs of the temporary cap, we are proposing to remove contaminated material and provide the community with the most protective cleanup plan for the San Jacinto waste pits site. We encourage everyone to review our plan and provide us comments so we can reach the best decision to protect San Jacinto-area communities and the river itself.”

Public Meeting

The EPA hosted a public meeting at the Highlands Community Center in Highlands, Texas, on October 20, 2016, where members of the community were invited to offer comments.

Community members attending the meeting supported and objected to the EPA’s proposed plan.

According to a newspaper report, most who spoke at the meeting supported the plan. One community member was quoted as saying, “Containment has not worked and will not work,” and “[w]e sincerely appreciate EPA for recognizing this.”

Others indicated that they would prefer to see the waste remain in its current location, concerned about the risks of transporting it.

Final comments on the EPA’s plan may be submitted until November 28.

* * *

EPA Study Finds Pella Had Inadvertently Released Two Chemicals into Groundwater

Pella Corporation had inadvertently released pentachlorophenol and dioxin into groundwater at its plant in Pella, Iowa, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has found.

The EPA study stemmed from a settlement the company reached with the EPA in 2010, which required that it test for 30 different possible sources of contamination; the two chemicals were found to be at higher than acceptable levels, according to the Des Moines Register.

Pella used pentachlorophenol to treat wood.

The Des Moines Register reported that local officials said that the chemicals did not affect the city’s drinking water, which is approximately two miles from Des Moines River.

The newspaper also quoted Jim Nieboer, Pella’s engineering manager of environmental, safety and sustainability, as saying, “There’s very limited exposure to human health for this,” and, “really, it’s limited to people who work in our buildings and grounds crew who may be digging in our soil periodically planting flowers and tulips.”

For further information, please contact James V. Aiosa, Paul V. Majkowski, Lawrence S. Han, or your regular Rivkin Radler attorney.

Related Publications

Legal updates and news delivered to your inbox