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Draft Public Health Assessment - Hamden Middle School

Report Name:
Draft Public Health Assessment: Evaluation of Soil, Groundwater, Soil Gas and Indoor Air Data, Hamden Middle School, Hamden, Connecticut
Connecticut Department of Public Health
September, 2003

Why Was The Study Done?

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) did a study to find out if the Hamden Middle School building and the land around the school are harmful to students and staff. The school fields and building were built on an old landfill. The landfill was used as a dump for garbage and chemical waste. The DPH was asked to find out if the old chemicals and garbage in the old landfill soils could be harmful to people.

What Was Found?

The DPH looked at the results of water, air and soil testing at the school. The tests were done by the Department of Environmental Protection and others. The tests showed that there are some harmful chemicals in the old landfill soils underneath the school building and athletic fields. The tests did not find any harmful chemicals in the school or on the surface of the athletic fields. Here is what was found:

• PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the soil below the school and fields. PAHs are chemicals that form when coal, oil, garbage, and similar things are burned. Some PAHs can cause cancer if people touch or breathe them for long periods of time. PAHs occur normally in soil almost everywhere. • Low levels of lead in some areas of soil below the school and fields. Lead is a metal that is commonly used for making equipment and other items. Lead can cause a lot of different health problems if a person breathes in or swallows enough of it. • Very low levels of PAHs in the air of the auditorium – too low to be harmful • Dirty air ducts (pipes) and some moisture in the school • Air testing showed no harmful gases in the school • Methane gas was found under the boiler room. This gas forms naturally at landfills. It is not harmful to breathe. The gas was not found in the boiler room itself or anywhere else in the school. • Testing of the school’s drinking water found no chemicals from the landfill. The drinking water does not come from under the school. It comes from a lake far away that is clean.

Should I Be Worried?

No. The DPH does not believe the chemicals in the old landfill will harm students or staff. They also do not believe a study of the health of people using the school is needed.

Why Is There No Danger?

To see whether chemicals may be harmful to people, the DPH looks at the ways people could come into contact with the chemicals. At the school, there is no harm to people if they do not come into contact with the landfill soils where the chemicals are.

The DPH believes there is no harm to students and staff at the Middle School because:

• Clean soil was placed on top of the school fields, front lawn, side lawns, and yard behind the auditorium. This clean soil is 3 feet thick in most places. This layer of soil forms a “cap” that prevents the chemicals in the soils below from coming up. On the front and side lawns, the clean soil was separated from the landfill soil by a sheet of material called a “liner”. The liner is an extra barrier between the clean soils and the landfill soils. Even without the liner, the clean soil cap protects people from the chemicals below.

• With the cap in place, DPH sees no ways for students or staff to come into contact with the chemicals in the landfill soils.

• DPH believes the amount and types of chemicals in the old landfill soils are not enough to cause harm to students and school staff even if there was contact.

What Improvements Were Made Because Of The Testing?

• To fix the air quality problem in the school building, the inside of the school was cleaned and new air filters were added. The filters will help clean the air in the school.

• Methane gas was not found in the boiler room, but steps were taken to prevent problems. Vents were placed underneath the boiler room to allow the gas to go outside. Methane gas is not harmful to breathe. However, in large amounts methane gas can be explosive. To make sure the gas won’t build up and cause an explosion, a monitoring alarm was installed. The alarm will sound before the methane can build up too much.

What About Health Risks Before The Soil Was Capped?

Some people using the school may have had some contact with the landfill soils in the past, before the cap was installed. But the DPH believes the amount of chemicals in the soil was not enough to cause health problems because people were not in contact with the soil for long periods of time day after day.

What Else Can Be Done?

To protect the health of students and school staff, the DPH says the following can be done:

• Do not allow digging in the soil on the school grounds • Inspect the cap over the old landfill soils on a regular basis • Inspect the methane alarm in the boiler room on a regular basis • Continue testing the air in the school building to ensure good air quality

[Note: This health study was based on information given to the DPH by other agencies. New information could change some of the findings of the study.]