Calling vapor intrusion – the contamination of indoor air by toxic volatile chemicals from polluted soil and groundwater – one of the most significant public health threats posed by contaminated Superfund and Brownfield sites, Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli (D-Great Neck) today released a final summary report from a series of public hearings held across the state and called on the Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) to take a preventive approach to eliminating the toxic exposures caused by vapor intrusion.
DiNapoli, Chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, held a series of three hearings in Endicott, Ithaca (Tompkins County) and Hopewell (Dutchess County) over the past year. Testimony was gathered from government officials, public health and environmental experts and citizens representing affected communities.
“DEC and DOH should adopt a general presumption that all homes will be mitigated where contamination is detected and may be caused by vapor intrusion,” DiNapoli said. “A large number of findings from the Committee’s hearings support this recommendation, including the difficulty of accurately measuring vapor intrusion; the controversy regarding TCE toxicity, and the comparable cost of mitigation and monitoring.”
While DEC, DOH and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have all issued draft guidelines pertaining to various aspects of vapor intrusion, no guidelines have been finalized. In New York, recent efforts to revisit sites with a potential for vapor intrusion have led to the discovery of vapor contamination at several Superfund sites, including the IBM Facility site in Endicott, the Emerson Power Transmission site in Ithaca, and the federal Hopewell Precision Area site in Hopewell Junction (Dutchess County).
Another recommendation in the report was underscored by Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, (D-Endwell), who said, “Landlords should be required to disclose vapor intrusion problems to their tenants, including offers to sample or mitigate, and any sampling results. I will be introducing legislation which will require landlords to disclose test results and clarify the state’s power to enter properties to conduct testing. This is in response to the fact that here in Endicott, as well as Ithaca, some landlords appear to have failed to inform tenants of vapor intrusion problems. State agencies were refused access to properties for testing, and in at least one instance a landlord refused to accept a mitigation system.”
One of the most controversial issues associated with vapor intrusion is the toxicity of TCE. In October of 2003, DOH established an air guideline for TCE of 5.0 mcg/m3. This guideline is two orders of magnitude higher than the most protective risk-based concentrations for TCE in air developed by California, Colorado, New Jersey and several EPA regional offices based on the most protective assumptions about TCE toxicity presented in a draft toxicity assessment released by EPA in 2001.
“DOH should revise its current guideline for TCE to match those developed by a number of other states and EPA regional offices based on more protective assumptions, which range from 0.016 to 0.02 micrograms/meter cubed (mcg/m3)” DiNapoli said.
Other recommendations of DiNapoli’s committee include:
- Upon request, DEC and DOH should test the indoor air of any resident living near a contaminated site with a potential for vapor intrusion, but outside the perimeter of the current testing area.
- Once direct exposures have been mitigated, sources of vapor intrusion, i.e. soil and groundwater contamination, should be cleaned up as quickly and aggressively as possible.
- DOH should make every effort to educate communities about the limitations of health studies and increase the ability of science to measure the negative health impacts of vapor intrusion, including expansion of its VOC registry to include vapor intrusion sites.