Minor Health Woes Found Near Dump
Residents living near a Monterey Park landfill have more headaches, sore throats and nausea, but no increase in the incidence of cancer, liver disease, birth defects or other serious health problems, a state and county study has found.
The California and Los Angeles County departments of health services drew those conclusions from a survey of about 1,400 adults and 470 children in Monterey Park and Montebello neighborhoods surrounding the Operating Industries Inc. hazardous waste site.
“The study found that current residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the site have not experienced a significant excess in any major health problem,” a summary of the study said.
“We have seen, however, that several symptoms are reported more often in these neighborhoods than we would have expected. These symptoms include headache, sore eyes, sore throat, skin irritation, nausea, trouble sleeping, and feeling tired.”
The summary cautioned that those symptoms could not be linked directly to the landfill.
“With the information that is available to us, we cannot be certain if chemicals from OII (Operating Industries Inc.) have caused these symptoms or whether they are due to air pollution, people’s heightened awareness of problems and concerns . . . a combination of these factors, or some other reason,” the summary said.
Community Meeting Planned
The full report is scheduled for release Nov. 20, Kenneth Satin, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services, said last week. A community meeting on the study will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at Schurr High School in Montebello.
Meanwhile, the study drew fire because it did not include every resident surrounding the dump and people who moved out of the area. Phyllis Rabins of Homeowners to Eliminate Landfill Problems, a community group, questioned its validity.
“When we asked for the study, we asked for every house to be contacted,” said Rabins, who lives in Monterey Park. “They never went to find those people who had left the area. We do know a lot of the people who left the area do have health problems.”
The landfill was closed in late 1984 after accepting residential and industrial waste since 1948. The landfill, which spreads over about 180 acres, is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list as a priority site for the cleanup of hazardous waste.
Residents miles away have long complained of a pungent odor from the landfill, and past inspections detected carcinogenic vinyl chloride gases, potentially explosive methane gas, low-level radioactive liquid and other hazardous materials at the site.
State and county officials surveyed residents by telephone from May to October, 1984, said Satin, who added that he could not comment on the study until its release. A control group--adults and children living 10 miles east in Hacienda Heights--also was polled.
The communities surrounding the dump were
grouped into blocks and every third household was invited to participate in the study. About 80% did so, the summary said.
“For most of the OII neighborhoods, the amount of cancer was less than or the same as that in the comparison neighborhood,” the summary said. “However, one OII neighborhood, (northwest of the dump in Monterey Park), reported more cancer.”
Twenty-seven cases of cancer were reported in the northwest area, while 11.7 cases were expected based on findings in the comparison neighborhood, the summary said. There were no reports of cancer in any of the children in the study.
Cancers Not Related
The summary cautioned that epidemiologists do not think the additional cancer cases are related to potential exposure to toxic materials from the dump. The northwest group was farther from the dump than the four other study areas, and residents there reported fewer odors from the landfill than residents in the other groups.
The summary also noted it takes 10 to 20 years for cancer to develop after exposure to most carcinogenic chemicals.
“Since relatively few people have lived near OII for this period of time, we would not expect to see any excess cancers for quite some time if there were a causal relationship,” the summary said.
“Furthermore, if the recent (1983) limited offsite air monitoring information reflects past exposure levels for chemicals, we could not expect to see increases in (serious) health conditions.”
Epidemiologists will continue to study the cancer cases, the summary said.
Residents also were queried on problem pregnancies, including miscarriages, birth defects, stillbirths, low birth weight and premature births.
“Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), birth defects and stillbirths occurred slightly more often in the OII area than the comparison area, but the differences were not statistically significant or medically alarming for each of those outcomes,” the summary said.
Fewer premature babies and infants with low birth weights were born in the study area than in the comparison area, but again, the difference was statistically insignificant.
Liver Problems Studied
The study also sought information on liver cancer and other liver problems because exposure to vinyl chloride in occupational settings at levels 1,000 times greater than those found at the dump have been shown to cause such problems, the summary said.
One person living in the study area reported having liver cancer, but it was unknown if it was the type related to vinyl chloride exposure, the summary said.
Fourteen people in the study area reported liver problems, while 7.5 were expected, a difference the summary called statistically insignificant. No liver problems were reported in children.
But there were significant differences in the reporting of symptoms associated with potential exposure to contaminants. Area water companies using local ground water reported that no ground-water contamination has occurred, so breathing contaminated air was the most likely avenue for exposure, the summary said.
People living in the east-southeast and west areas around the dump reported odors more frequently.
“Compared to Hacienda Heights residents and people living farthest away from the site, two to four times as many people living downwind of the site had complaints of health problems,” the summary said. Adults most frequently reported headaches, sore eyes and throats, skin irritation, nausea, sleeping difficulties and tiredness. Children complained of headaches and trouble sleeping in the areas where more odor was reported.
The study turned up no significant differences in deaths in the neighborhoods surrounding the dump.
The study found that more than 90% of the adults surveyed did not change for health reasons the amount of time they spent outdoors. In one of the study neighborhoods, 17% of the children surveyed said they spent less time outdoors two years before the study, but there was no change for the children in the other areas, the summary said.