Does the contamination of some wells in Broad Run Farms with a carcinogenic solvent have anything to do with incidents of cancer among current and former residents?
Some people in that community are questioning whether the
Trichloroethylene (TCE) discovered in 22 wells this year, other environmental factors or aging could have caused the various illnesses suffered by some residents.
TCE, a carcinogen, is used as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts and as an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids and spot removers, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports. ÒToxFAQs for TrichloroethyleneÓ describes the
consequences of drinking small amounts of TCE-contaminated water for long periods of time: it can cause liver and kidney damage, an impaired immune system and impaired fetal development in pregnant women.
A survey of 40 residents living on a half-mile stretch of the eastern end of Youngs Cliff Road indicates some current and former residents and their animals have contracted cancers of the kidney, liver, bladder, lung, breast, esophagus, prostrate, colon, bone marrow and other areas of the body.
The diseases have surfaced not only in the eastern area of the community where TCE has been detected but outside those perimeters as well.
It is very difficult to pinpoint the cause of any particular incident of cancer, said Carolyn Halbert, statistical analysis coordinator of the Virginia Department of Health Cancer Registry. The risk of cancer also increases with age. In addition, more than 10 years can pass between exposure to a carcinogen and a diagnosis of cancer, making it difficult
to tell if the environment triggered the disease, she said.
Asbestos and radon are among environmental causes of cancer, health experts said last week.
THE LOUDOUN COUNTY Health Department and the Solid Waste Department discovered two TCE-contaminated wells in 1989 and five more in the ensuing 16 years, county records show. Officials, however, waited until March 2005 to test other wells in Broad Run Farms to see if the pollution was
widespread and to notify residents of the potential danger. The tests, conducted on 67 of the neighborhoodÕs approximately 350 wells, confirmed that 22 were contaminated with TCE. These particular wells were all
north of Persimmon Lane in the eastern part of Broad Run Farms.
Denise Mazzan, a Youngs Cliff Road resident for 13 years and survivor of breast cancer, is calling on the county and state health departments to take a closer look at the situation. ÒThe Health Department is the one who ignored TCE in 1989, for 16 years, allowing this neighborhood to be blinded about the TCE,Ó said Mazzan in an interview last week. ÒNow that there is a health risk, they should look into it.Ó
ÒAbsolutely,Ó said Billy Oswald, who grew up in Broad Run Farms and lives on White Oak Drive. Oswald had not given the cancer incidents a lot of thought until last week, but itÕs clear that health officials should, he said.
Robin Franz, a Youngs Cliff Road resident since 1989, said she and her daughter have seen a doctor and learned that their immune systems have been compromised. ÒIÕm really scared,Ó she said. ÒIt bothers me.Ó
Her two dogs and a horse contracted cancerous tumors and died and another horse has the tumors, she said.
Lisa Heavilon said she lived on Persimmon Lane before moving to Young Cliffs Road. Her family always drank bottled water, but she gave tap water to her dog. He died of cancerous tumors on his adrenal gland, she said.
ÒI think it would be a good idea if someone examined the health conditions of long-term residents,Ó Heavilon said.
Mary Yateman, a Youngs Cliff Road resident since 1960, is one of two people on the road who contracted kidney cancer and beat it. ÒI donÕt believe itÕs the water,Ó she said. ÒItÕs excellent water. I hope and pray itÕs not the water.Ó
Ray Tokeshi lived in the neighborhood from 1978 to 2000, then moved to another section of Sterling after his wife died of a respiratory illness. He said he learned that he had lung cancer in 1999, but is free of the disease today. He was surprised when he contracted the disease, because he
stopped smoking in 1981. But when he told his doctor he had smoked earlier in his life, the doctor did not look for any other causes.
Two non-smoking residents of Broad Run Drive, which runs through the center of the community, have died of lung cancer in the past five years.
Jeanne Brooks, a resident of Youngs Cliff Road for 29 years, said her husband, Jack, died of cancer of the esophagus. ÒI think there is a lot of cancer in society these days,Ó she said.
THE VIRGINIA HEALTH Department studied the disease patterns in Broad Run Farms between 1998 and 2002 Ñ the most recent available data Ñ and earlier, but did not find any cancer clusters. Halbert said a cancer cluster occurs when there are many cases of a particular disease within a group of people, a geographic area or a period of time. A cluster also involves rare types of cancer or a greater number of cases of a certain type of cancer that is atypical for a group of young people, she added.
She said her research did not take into account those residents who lived in Broad Run Farms for many years, who moved away, and were subsequently diagnosed with cancers. The Health Department gathers information only on where a person is living when the diagnosis is made.
The state Department of Environmental Quality has paid for charcoal filtration systems for residents with TCE in their wells. When the department first offered to fund them, the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee reviewed an ÒInformation Item,Ó dated March 28, explaining the ramifications of the contamination. It said the TCE did not pose any imminent public health risk, but the EPA Òbelieves that some people who drink water containing elevated levels of TCE over many years could experience adverse health effects, such as problems with their liver or an
increased risk of getting cancer.Ó
THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted tests in September on the adjacent Hidden Lane Landfill to determine if it was the source of the TCE. According to documents provided by the county health and solid waste departments, the dump, which operated 17 years without a county permit, repeatedly violated restrictions on what was allowed to be dumped at the site. The unlawful waste led Loudoun officials to file suit in 1983 to shut it down.
The owners of the landfill are Philip Smith and the late Albert Moran. Smith and the Moran estate were trying to sell the land to a developer earlier this year, when news of the TCE surfaced.
Smith's attorney, Richard Dixon, in a telephone interview Thursday, said there is no Òempirical dataÓ showing the landfill is the source of the TCE.
There is no evidence of an underground spring running from the dump to the wells, he said. ÒWe have no reason to think it is the source.Ó
Dixon said Smith has been cooperating with authorities, providing permission for them to conduct tests on the landfill. ÒWeÕre waiting for the results, like everyone else,Ó Dixon said.
MAZZAN, WHO RESEARCHED county records dating back to the early 1980s and has been vocal about her outrage over the contamination, is one of at least three residents who contracted breast cancer. She said one of her dogs also
died of cancerous tumors. With TCE potentially compromising immune systems, it is not surprising that so many residents have contracted cancer, she said.
Mazzan suggested that the TCE could have spread beyond the roads closest to the landfill between 1989 and 2005 and then receded. ÒIt could have been all through the neighborhood,Ó she said. ÒWe have no idea, because the
Health Department never tested these homes.Ó
TCE can branch out in different directions, contaminating wells at two adjacent homes and then skipping the next house and striking another, said Jeff Bar, health technical specialist with the county Health Department. One of the seven wells that tested positive for TCE between 1989 and 2005 had the carcinogen in 2000, but no trace of it in 2004.
The Health Department conducts quarterly tests on four wells outside the perimeter of the contaminated area to determine whether the pollutant has expanded.
Jeff Widmeyer, environmental health specialist, said last week that he tested wells in July and September and the results showed they had not been contaminated with TCE. He took more samples last week. He said the department would continue testing until a resident no longer wanted to participate or the Board of Supervisors instructs it to stop.
WidmeyerÕs letters to the homeowners participating in the well-testing said their wells showed no traces of TCE. ÒImportantly, this result just represents a snapshot in time and does not, by itself, guarantee that your well water may not have shown a greater level of contamination in the past
or become more contaminated in the future,Ó Widmeyer wrote.
THE EPA HAS not released results of its preliminary assessment, said Richard Doucette, waste program manager of the Northern Regional Office of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The process is lengthy, because the EPA conducts an extensive data validation procedure, he
Linda Baxter, Region III EPA site assessment manager, said she would have no comment until the investigation is complete.
Doucette explained the process. The EPA will score the site, using the Hazard Ranking System. The system assesses the potential of sites to post a threat to human health or the environment. If the landfill receives a high ranking, it could qualify as a Superfund site. The EPA then funds the cleanup and seeks reimbursement from the party responsible for the
A Òstake-holder work groupÓ has formed to address the TCE contamination. According to county Health Department records, its goals are to obtain a sustainable, safe, reliable water supply, to deal with concerns that the filtration units are a temporary solution and to clean up the source of the