Hazard Ranking System Should Include Vapor Intrusion Assessment, EPA Told

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Citizen activists Feb. 24 strongly endorsed evaluation of risks posed by vapor intrusion into buildings as part of the process of determining which waste sites qualify for superfund cleanups.

“This is 15 years overdue,” said Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association in Edison, N.J. Cases of vapor intrusion are well documented and are pervasive at many hazardous waste sites, he said during an Environmental Protection Agency “listening session” that was webcast.

While contaminated water, food, and soil can be avoided for the most part, “you can't stop breathing,” Spiegel said.

“Vapor intrusion is a cute name, but it's really poison gas coming into homes, day care centers, and other buildings,” Spiegel said.

Vapor intrusion describes the migration of chemicals, especially volatile substances, from contaminated groundwater or soil into the atmosphere and is a particular concern if vapors enter an overlying building, according to EPA.

The listening session was the first of three scheduled by EPA to obtain public input on whether vapor intrusion should be part of the superfund hazard ranking system. The agency will hold other sessions on March 16 in San Francisco and March 30 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Children, Pregnant Women.

Adding vapor intrusion as a component to the Hazard Ranking System--used by EPA to identify sites for the National Priorities List--would allow the agency to address health risks for children and women of childbearing age, according to an agency document.

It also would help EPA address indoor air contamination issues for low-income, minority, indigenous, and Native American communities, where the design and condition of structures may result in vapor intrusion, the agency said.

Low-level chemical exposures over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease, according to EPA.

All nine speakers who participated in the webcast urged EPA to include vapor intrusion in the Hazard Ranking System, and many said the agency should address the issue before a final rule is issued.

One speaker represented the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in Falls Church, Va., and the others were advocates for cleaning up specific sites in New Jersey and North Carolina.

No Reason for Question.

“Why are we even asking if vapor intrusion should be added” to the Hazard Ranking System, Cheryl Rubino of the Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, asked. “There's no reason for us to be having this conversation when human lives are at stake.”

Pompton Lakes is a borough in Passaic County, N.J., with about 4,000 residences. Several commenters told the webcast that former and current residents have developed cancer and other illnesses at an unusually high rate. They attributed this to contamination from a munitions factory operated by DuPont from 1902 until 1994.

Barry Durand, a resident of Asheville, N.C., also said EPA should not be asking whether vapor intrusion should be on the HRS. Instead, it should be asking, “How do we weight it?” he said. “To not include vapor intrusion would be an incomplete assessment of the risk.”

Vapor intrusion should be acknowledged as a risk factor and not only at superfund sites, he said. Durand lives near CTS of Asheville, a former electroplating facility, where he said groundwater has been found to be contaminated with trichloroethylene.

Spiegel said that including vapor intrusion in the hazard ranking system would probably increase the number of superfund sites and that EPA should look for increased funding for the program. He suggested a tax, which he said citizens would be willing to pay if they were educated on the problems.

DuPont did not immediately respond to BNA's request for comment.

By Pat Ware

Additional information on the listening sessions is available from David Yogi of EPA at (703) 347-8835 or yogi.david@epa.gov.

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