Backyard Talk

Toxic Vapor Health Problems

A new study links congenital heart problems, low birth weight and other birth defects to soil toxic vapors from industrial contaminants that have lurked in the groundwater beneath Endicott in upstate New York. The NYS State Department of Health found infants born to mothers living in a 70-block area, south of the former IBM manufacturing facility, had health problems at higher rates than those born in the rest of the state.

The area is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), two industrial solvents that have been connected to health problems, including cancer. Although the dangers of TCE and PCE have been relatively well-documented, most research has focused on exposure through drinking water — which is not believed to be a problem in Endicott. “This is the first that we know of that involves the soil vapor intrusion pathway,” said Department of Health research scientist Steven Forand, who co-authored the study looking at people impacted by the Endicott plume between 1978 and 2002.  For more information, contact NYS DOH at 518-474-4394.