WARREN RECYCLING LANDFILL STUDY Hydrogen sulfide linked to irritation
A final report is expected in the next year.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Eye irritation and breathing problems increased as people spent more time near the Warren Recycling Landfill and when they smelled rotten egg or sewer odors, according to a federal study.
Preliminary results of the study of the health effects of hydrogen sulfide emissions from the landfill were released Tuesday by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable, toxic gas with a rotten egg-like odor that emanates from putrefying matter.
Although the study found statistically significant associations between neighbors' hydrogen sulfide exposures and their symptoms, Lynn Wilder, ATSDR environmental health scientist, said she couldn't unequivocally state that the hydrogen sulfide emissions from the landfill triggered their symptoms.
"It doesn't establish cause and effect," Wilder said of the study.
The study found that the use of breathing medications, such as inhalers, was linked to smelling rotten egg or sewer odors. "The odds of taking rescue medication, or the inhalers, were four times greater when people smelled rotten eggs than when they didn't,'' she said.
Addressing a hazard
"It's pretty much what we, as a community, already knew. It just reaffirms what we've been saying," said Debbie Roth, president of Our Lives Count -- a community activist organization concerned about the landfill and its health effects.
"Hopefully, the U.S. EPA action will correct the problem, and we'll have a safe place to raise our families again in our community," she added.
The U.S. EPA is spending $2 million to clean up the landfill to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions. The EPA is capping the landfill with compacted clay soil and grass, trying to dry out the landfill, controlling surface water runoff and building an on-site treatment facility for water that has been contaminated with landfill contents.
In 2002, neighbors of the construction and demolition debris landfill reported experiencing breathing difficulties, eye irritation, headache and fatigue. The next year, ATSDR declared the landfill "an urgent public health hazard."
In June and July 2004, ATSDR scientists spent more than a month in Warren collecting information for the study, in which 107 volunteers living, working or attending school within a mile of the landfill participated.
The volunteers filled out daily diaries about unpleasant odors and their health symptoms, and some of them used a breathing monitor twice daily and wore badges that measured hydrogen sulfide in the air around them.
Five participants allowed ATSDR to install monitors to measure the gas in the air outside their homes.
A final report of the study is expected in the next year, once the agency's findings have been reviewed by independent scientific peers outside the agency, Wilder said.
"If they think that hydrogen sulfide is making them sick, they need to talk to their doctor," Wilder said. "If they have problems breathing or eye irritation, they also need to talk to their doctor," Wilder added. If they have a breathing emergency, they need to call 911, she said.
If people smell bad odors, they should call the U.S. EPA, she added.
Roth said the hydrogen sulfide levels shown in the study may have been reduced because the landfill shut down five days into the study and resumed operation after the study period before shutting down at the end of 2004. Wet and pulverized drywall in a landfill produces hydrogen sulfide, she said.
The researchers did not find a link between decreased breathing capacity among study volunteers and increased hydrogen sulfide readings on their badges. They may not have found it because the landfill was closed during most of the study period, and the hydrogen sulfide exposure patterns may have been too complex for their equipment to measure, ATSDR said.