For decades, hundreds of homes in a section of Union, New York known as Endicott have been sitting above a plume of TCE and PCE contaminated groundwater. TCE and PCE are man-made solvents historically used by corporations to strip grease and grime off metal parts. Endicott is just south of a former IBM manufacturing facility that released thousands of gallons of these solvents into the environment. One of these solvents, TCE, has recently been classified as a known human carcinogen by the USEPA. Although the dangers of drinking TCE and PCE laced-water have been documented for years, less research has been devoted to the inhalation of TCE and PCE. Endicott, with its long history of groundwater contamination, provided researchers with valuable insights into the dangers of inhaling TCE and PCE.
The Endicott Study, conducted by researchers at New York’s State Department of Health is one of the first studies to examine the health effects of breathing PCE and TCE contaminated air from vapor intrusion. Vapor intrusion is the process whereby TCE and PCE in groundwater beneath homes vaporizes and moves up through the ground and into the air inside homes.
Department of Health Researchers looked at health statistics from 1,440 live births to mothers living above the Endicott groundwater plume between 1978 and 2002, and compared them to health related statistics for children born throughout New York. Their findings were alarming. The researchers found that children born in the Endicott Study area had higher rates of adverse health issues including heart defects and low birth weight. In addition to these findings, a previous health statistics review of the Endicott area by the Department of Health also found a significant elevation in the number of kidney and testicular cancers.
This study is significant because it provides tangible support for the proposition that inhalation of TCE and PCE via vapor intrusion can be dangerous to human health. Our hope is that the Endicott Study, which is slated for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives, will be used by state and federal environmental and public health regulators as support for tougher clean-up standards at contaminated industrial sites and to force the corporate polluters responsible for environmental contamination to respond quickly to protect homeowners and their families from the health threats posed by vapor intrusion.