Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#115 - Landfill Study Finds Low Birth Weight In Babies, Adult Cancers, 06-Feb-1989

A study of the health of residents living near the nation's No. 1
superfund site--the Lipari landfill in Pitman, NJ-revealed last week
that excessive rates of leukemia among adults and low birthweight among
newborns have been found in those living closest to the landfill. The
leukemia numbers are small (3 cases expected, 6 found), so the study
does not prove beyond a doubt that the landfill caused the cancers;
such increases could have occurred by pure chance. The low birthweight
evidence is stronger and implicates the landfill with statistical
significance. When all the facts were judged, the New Jersey Department
of Health, which conducted the study, concluded that the need to clean
up the site is "bolstered by the suggestive results of this study."

The Lipari study was undertaken at the request of local people. The
study reveals some of the problems that can result from such a health


Nick Lipari bought a 15-acre site in Gloucester County, NJ, for a sand
and gravel operation in 1958; in the mid-'60s he dumped large amounts
of solid and liquid industrial wastes. Up to 1971, the site accepted an
estimated 2.9 million gallons of liquid waste plus 12,000 cubic yards
of solid waste, much of it toxic. In 1970 the New Jersey Department of
Health reported thick brown residues with a "pungent irritating odor"
leaking from the site into a nearby stream. In 1971, nearby residents
signed an affidavit complaining of intolerable odors, headaches, nausea
and inability to breathe. The source of the odors was the landfill
itself and a community lake 1500 feet downstream of the landfill.
Because of these complaints, the NJ Department of Enviromnental
Protection closed the landfill operation.

For the next eight years, some people in the community used the
landfill as if it were a park. Children from the area played on the
site and a motocross bike trail developed. Joggers and hikers
crisscrossed the area. The lake itself borders on three community
parks, so swimmers and picnickers were exposed.

In 1979, NJ state government investigated a nearby marsh and found bis
(2-chloroethyl) ether (BCEE) at 120 ppm [parts per million], methyl
isobutyl ketone (83 ppm), acetone (51 ppm), phenol (28 ppm), toluene
(16 ppm), methyl ethyl ketone (9 ppm). They also found pesticides,
lead, arsenic, and other metals and organics. No action resulted from
these findings until 1982-83 when the site was fenced off and capped
with plastic film.

As awareness of the site grew, people began to ask whether birth
defects, miscarriages, and lung cancer could be resulting from the
chemical exposures. They also thought school absenteeism might be
increasing as a result of children's exposure to the landfill. A
citizens group formed, called the Pitman Alcyon Lake Lipari Landfill
Community Association (PALLCA). PALLCA became aggressive, demanding a
health study.

The New Jersey Department of Health agreed to do a study, but they soon
convinced the community that proper data were not available to measure
birth defects or miscarriages and, even in those cases where data might
exist, it would cost too much to get it. The state has a cancer
registry and it has a birth registry, so everyone agreed to study not
what the community thought needed to be studied, but what was possible
to study cheaply.

Now there is always a delay (called a latency period) between the time
a cancer begins and the time it become apparent. The latency period for
most cancers exceeds 25 years. The longest period of exposure to the
Lipari toxics that anyone can find was 1967 to 1984 (18 years) so no
cancers with latency periods greater than 18 years could be revealed by
such a study. The latency period for leukemia is 17 to 20 years, so it
is interesting that 3 excess leukemias were found, even though it
proves nothing. It is surprising that the community wanted a cancer
study done at all, since everyone knew from the outset that a cancer
study would have to reveal "no problem." It was predestined.

The presence of low birth weight among newborns whose mothers lived
within a mile of the site was "statistically significant," meaning the
observable decrease in the weight of newborns probably didn't occur by
chance. This finding adds to the growing body of scientific knowledge
indicating that living near a toxic landfill is not good for humans--a
conclusion many people, using common sense, have already reached
without needing scientific proof.

NEAR THE LIPARI LANDFILL (Trenton, NJ: NJ Department of Health, 1989);
phone Jackie Solomon at (609) 633-2043.

--Peter Montague



Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), the nation's largest waste hauler, owns
and operates at least 115 landfills nationwide. The company owns a part
interest in many other dumps. At a time when it is univerally
recognized that landfills pollute the environment, WMI is our most
aggressive and committed landfiller. Many, if not all, WMI landfill
sites seem likely to become superfund sites in the future. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency will then hire a contracter to try to
clean up these sites at substantial cost to the taxpayer. One major
contractor in the superfund cleanup business is Waste Management, Inc.,
and they have, in the past, won EPA contracts to clean up sites that
they themselves contaminated. In the muddied moral environment of
official Washington, such arrangements hardly even raise eyebrows

On the basis of their landfill operations alone, we believe it is
correct to characterize WMI as the nation's largest polluter. A study
of the waste hauling industry in 1986 by the Council on Economic
Priorities also found that Waste Management is the least law abiding
waste hauler in America. They have a record of environmental violations
unparalleled among waste haulers.

For the last five years WMI has been conducting a public relations
program to blunt efforts by the environmental community to curb the
company's worst excesses. WMI's latest endeavor involves direct
payments to environmental organizations. Here is a partial list of the
groups that applied for, and received, funding from Waste Management,
Inc. during 1987 and 1988: National Audubon Society (New York),
$35,000; National Wildlife Federation (Washington, DC), $35,000; Center
for Environmental Education (Washington, DC), $25,000; California
Environmental Trust, $15,000; Inform, Inc. (New York), $10,000; General
Federation of Women's Clubs (Washington, DC), $1,000; The Nature
Conservancy (Arlington, VA), $70,000; Sierra Club of California,
$1,500; The Wilderness Society (Washington, DC), $5,000; Conservation
Foundation (Washington, DC), $10,000; Keystone Center (Keystone,
Colorado), $20,000; Natural Resources Defense Council (New York),
$10,000; Environmental Law Institute (Washington, DC), $15,000;
National Wildlife Federation, $2,500; World Resources Institute
(Washington, DC), $5,000; Izaak Walton League (Arlington, VA) $3,000.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: funders; wmi; foundations; health effects; studies;
landfilling; water pollution; health studies; superfund; lipari
landfill, nj; nj; leukemia; air pollution; low birth weight; (2-
chloroethyl) ether (BCEE); methyl isobutyl ketone; acetone; phenol;
toluene; methyl ethyl ketone; pesticides; lead; arsenic;