The Virginia Department of Health knew two wells in Broad Run Farms were contaminated with a carcinogen in 1989, but officials waited 16 years to investigate whether the problem was widespread, records show.
Authorities even suspected the adjacent landfill was to blame for the trichlorethylene (TCE) in the two wells, and six other wells between 1989 and 2005, Loudoun County Department of Health documents said.
Residents are questioning why officials waited so long to alert the rest of the neighborhood that the hazard might be extensive.
Denise Mazzan, a mother of three who has lived on Young Cliffs Road for 13 years, said she wonders whether the TCE could have affected her health. "I had breast cancer. It was very aggressive. I had a child with a birth defect," she said Sunday. "Why didn't they make everyone aware before? Why now?"
Although she cannot say conclusively that the TCE caused the cancer, the disease was not hereditary, she said. Mazzan beat it after a four-year battle.
Virginia Brown, a Redrose Drive resident who had cancer, also questioned the delay. "I'm disappointed the county didn't see fit to inform us," she said. "I might have missed the cancer then."
DR. DAVID GOODFRIEND, director of the Loudoun County Department of Health, said Monday that the state, not the county, was responsible for testing in 1989. "I can't tell you exactly what they were thinking then," he said, adding that if he had encountered the situation 16 years ago, he would have directed his staff to do widespread testing.
"From the standpoint of the state, if they knew then what they knew now, they would have done a greater investigation," he added.
Brown expressed concern about future health hazards. She is worried about liver cancer, because studies have shown a direct connection after continuous exposure to high levels of the carcinogen.
Goodfriend has described Broad Run Farms' levels as "low" in comparison to levels in industrial plants where the contaminant is used as a degreaser or where the degreaser is manufactured. "We know a lot about high doses in employees, but it's difficult to determine what diseases might come up in the future [in the case of lower levels]," he said.
TCE IS A CHEMICAL used to remove grease from metal parts. Drinking water with small amounts of TCE over long periods of time might cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said.
He said a person's risk factors may increase a person's chances of getting the cancer, but not necessarily cause the cancer. He compared it to the risks associated with smoking. "When we look at cancer clusters, we look at other risk factors," he said.
Breast cancer, for instance, is common among women. Family history, obesity, age, child bearing at a late age are among the factors that contribute to the disease. "It's hard to know in that instance whether one can associate it with TCE."
Liver cancer, however, is not common, because people received a hepatitis vaccine, which helps to prevent liver cancer.
In an interview last month, Goodfriend said the TCE levels were low enough that residents did not have to seek medical tests for cancer. Last week, however, he said some people could be at a greater risk than others, based on their age or genetic makeup. "They should talk to their doctor if someone individually believes he is particularly at risk," he said.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT records also highlight another concern. In a letter dated Feb. 26, 1990, Terrance Wharton, director of the county Building and Development Department, addressed concerns about the landfill's methane gas. He wrote to Steven McDermott, a resident of Brinks Court in Countryside, that the landfill is producing methane gas that can be explosive if it accumulates in confined spaces. There also is a potential for lateral migration of the gas. A weekly gas monitoring program was in effect.
"If the continued monitoring indicates a rise in methane levels posing an imminent threat to your homes, the county is prepared to take necessary action to eliminate that threat," he wrote.
Wharton could not be reached.
DR. GOODFRIEND said health officials will meet with residents and recommend they install a whole house water filtration system, even if their wells are free of TCE.
Alan Brewer, the department's environmental health manager, said it would be inadequate to install a filter on the kitchen faucet. It is unhealthy to breathe TCE when bathing or showering, he said.
The $3,500 whole house system is a tank that would be placed outside at the point the water line enters the house.
Sandy Parke, a Young Cliffs Road resident, joined her neighbors in seeking answers as to why the county did not tackle this problem earlier. "The county had all that information," she said. "Why not put two and two together?"
Eric DeJonghe, president of the Broad Run Farms Civic Association, said residents also want to know who is responsible. So far, there only has been "finger pointing," he said. People suspect the source is the Hidden Lane Landfill adjacent to Redrose Drive. He questioned why a test has not been conducted on the dump. Richard Doucette of the Department of Environmental Quality, did not return a phone call in time for deadline regarding that concern.
In a memo dated Aug. 21, 1989, Dr. Carl Armstrong, then-director of the Health Hazards Control division of the Virginia Department of Health, wrote about the TCE levels found in two wells, then-owned by Veda Marie Walker and Rick Weber. "Although the presence …. does not pose an imminent threat, trichlorethylene has been classified by EPA in Group B2: Probable Human Carcinogen." The memo was sent to Jack Philip Keeves, then-director of the Loudoun Health District. As a result, residents were to be advised not to drink the well water unless they installed "granulated carbon filters," the memo said.
In 1988, the county passed an ordinance requiring well testing before developers or individuals could obtain a building permit. Dr. Goodfriend's environmental health staff started "putting pieces together" in January of this year, realizing that the TCE could be more widespread. "Just as soon as the picture became clear, we acted on it," Goodfriend said. "This would never have surfaced at all if not for the county ordinance."
THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT started offering free well testing in March. It tested 67 wells and 22 contained TCE. The levels ranged from trace amounts to the highest level of 22 times the maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the wells adjacent to the landfill, the department conducted "full chemical" testing, Brewer said. They analyzed the drinking water for TCE heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, nitrates, inorganic compounds, organic compounds and other chemicals, he said. The analysis showed TCE trace amounts of its products, he said.
DeJonghe said residents will petition the EPA to designate the landfill as a Superfund site — defined as any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment — to clean it up and stop the TCE from spreading through the ground water.
He expressed concern about a tree growing on the landfill, which was closed and capped to prevent pollutants from spreading. Only grass is supposed to grow; the tree's roots could provide a vessel for the ground water to permeate the cap, he said.
Cathy Davis, a Redrose Drive resident, said she hoped that the EPA would pay for the estimated $1.7 million cost of bringing public water to the community. Cray Adamson, whose well is contaminant free, said he might buy the filtration system, but that much money, he would like the system to filter more than just the TCE. "I want to protect the kids and all," he said. "I wish somebody else would pay for it."
Parke said she does not have to worry, because she installed the filtration system before building her house. "Most everyone else is frantic now to see how to get clean water in their house," she said.
The 35-acre landfill, owned by Mrs. A.E. Moran as identified in Health Department records, was supposed to be a stump dump, allowed to receive only construction-type waste, but apparently other debris was dumped in it besides lumber and related construction materials. The records show she authorized county staff and consultants to enter the landfill in March 1998 to conduct observations, measure landfill gas and monitor ground water wells on the property