Rod Harvey of the Chicago-based environmental consulting firm, Carnow, Conibear & Associates, told District 428 officials the news. Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) was present at measurable levels at three locations inside Cortland Elementary School and the toxic gas was present at a much stronger level just outside of the school.
Those who oppose the proposed major expansion of the landfill located just one-half mile south of the school will point to those results to say ease-off on those plans at that location. Those who live in the subdivision surrounding the school will agree. Its safe to say that an overwhelming majority of the residents of Cortland Township wholeheartedly agree that its better to be safe than sorry.
Waste Management of Illinois (WMI) will likely say its best to go ahead with their plans to expand the landfill because their siting application has been approved by the DeKalb County Board. The County’s appointed administration, Patrick Engineering, and Illinois EPA Director-turned-consultant, Renee Cipriano, will likely all agree with WMI. So will proponents of the use of tipping fees for expanding the courthouse and building the jail.There are even those who say that District 428 deserves the darn dump because they never should have built the school so close to the landfill in the first place. Its safe to assume that none of those people have children attending Cortland Elementary School. They probably don’t live in Cortland, either.
Turn up your volume.
A Tale of Two Tests
Carnow, Conibear & Associates conducted tests for H2S for Dist 428 in May 2010 at Cortland Elementary School. Two out of three indoor locations tested revealed a presence of H2S. A level of 14 parts per billion was detected in one location and a level of 8.1 parts per billion in the other The amount outside of the school, on a day when the wind was blowing from the north toward the landfill, measured 0.82 parts per million, ten times the amount inside the building. Tests were taken in one day.
WMI conducted tests from March 30-April 6 at the landfill (not the school) after concerns were raised when the County Board conducted a public hearing required in the siting application process. According to a report that recommended approval of WMI’s siting application filed by Renee Cipriano, 588 air samples were collected over a seven day period and only one was found to contain H2S at a detectable concentration of 4 parts per billion. The recommendation pointed out that single detection of H2S was 2,500 times lower than the federally enforceable OSHA standard.
About the OSHA Standard
OSHA permissible concentrations of H2S (10 parts per million) do not pertain to “Domestic Exposure” situations. Their regulations pertain to “Occupational Exposure” for healthy adults. The more sensitive population including the elderly, the very young and those with pre-existing illness are not considered in OSHA standards.
The outdoor or ambient air amount of H2S detected on the south side of Cortland Elementary School where the children have their outdoor recess was 0.82 parts per million. Children inhale significantly more pollution per pound of body weight than do adults because they are more active. Because H2S is heavier than air it collects in a plume just above the ground. Younger, smaller children are then more prone to exposure.
Domestic exposure (in the home) is considered different than occupational exposure (in the workplace) because people spend much more of their time at home. Thus, the domestic exposure is many hours longer (168 hr x 0.8 = 134 hrs per week) versus occupational exposure (40 hours per week). It is common to divide the OSHA PEL by the ratio of number of hours per week 168 hrs) to the number of work hours per week (40), which comes to 4.2. The product of this division is considered to equate in home exposure to work exposure regulatory concentrations.
Chronic Low Level Exposures of H2S (sources noted in bold)
The Illinois Institute For Environmental Quality reported its findings on Hydrogen Sulfide Health Effects and Recommended Air Quality Standards in 1974. The Illinois Institute summarized the literature on human health effects and their observations on the health effects in Illinois ambient air concentrations. In general the following was reported:
|Concentration of H2S||Symptoms|
|Increased mental depression, dizziness and blurred vision|
|Increased incidence of nausea, loss of sleep, shortness of breath, and headaches|
|Increased incidence of decreased corneal reflex (convergence and divergence)|
|Irritation of conjunctiva, fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia|
The Illinois Institute recommended a standard for gaseous hydrogen sulfide of 0.015 mg/m3 (0.01 ppm) to minimize adverse health effects from chronic exposure in urban air.
Kilburn KH and Warshaw RH. Hydrogen sulfide and reduced-sulfur gases adversely affect neurophysiological functions. Toxicology and Industrial Health, Vol 11, pp. 185-19, 1995.
Kilburn KH, MD. (2004) Endangered Brains. Princeton Scientific Pulications Co. Inc., Birmingham, Alabama. ISBN : 0-9745460-0-3. pp. 77-85.
Ex-workers and neighboring residents (total of 35 individuals) were compared to 33 unexposed controls. The ex-workers and residents were exposed to hydrogen sulfide and other reduced-sulfur compounds emitted from a refinery. The concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and other reduced-sulfur compounds were monitored at ground level. Depending upon the day and year hydrogen sulfide concentrations ranged from a low of 10 ppb to 8.8 ppm. Reduced sulfur compounds (dimethylsulfide, mercarptans, carbon oxide sulfide) ranged from 2 ppb to 71 ppm.
Symptoms involving the respiratory tract (chest tightness, palpitations, chest pain, dry cough, cough with blood, dryness (mouth, nose, throat,), throat irritation, eye irritation, reduced sense of smell were greater in the exposed than the controls.
Neurological symptoms were also elevated over the controls. These included: dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of balance, lack of concentration, recent and long-term memory loss, mood unstableness, irritability, exhilartion.
Sleep disturbances were also noted in the exposed, which were: cannot fall asleep, wake frequently, sleep few hours, somnolence.
Skin symptoms were itching, dryness and redness.
General Symptoms were: headache, nausea, libido decrease, excess fatigue, indigestion, loss of appetite, lack of tolerance to alcohol.
Neurophysiological deficits were found in the exposed group: simple reaction time was increased; sway speed was faster, color discrimination was reduced and psychomotor speed was time was increased.
The neurological injury is accumulative. That is each exposure results in increased brain damage. The damage individual does not recover, and brain dysfunction continues for years. These observations are supported by research on animals, where it has been shown that accumulative exposures adversely affect cytochrome oxidase enzyme activity and changes in the hippocamal EEG
Profile Mood States (POMS) also showed abnormalities when compared to controls. There were increased scores for anger, depression, tension, confusion, fatigue and vigor.
The automatic (subconscious) parts of the neuro-axis were impaired. Impaired performance was accompanied by reduced perceptual motor speed.
The exposure to reduced-sulfur gases, predominantly hydrogen sulfide, was considered the most plausible explanation of the neurotoxic effects in this study.
Gaitonde UB, Sellar RH and O’Hare AE. Long-term exposure to hydrogen sulphide producing subacute encephalopathy in a child. British Medical Journal. Vol 294, pp. 614, 1989.
This is a report on a 20-month old infant exposed for a year to 0.6 ppm hydrogen sulfide downwind from a burning tip gas ignition point for a colliery. The child had subacute necrotizing encephalopathy in the basal ganglia and white matter.
Chronic Reference Dose (RfD) Based upon animal studies and the child reported by Gaitonde et al, the U.S.E.P.A. has recommended a RfD of 0.8 micrograms per cubic meter of air for both subchronic and chronic human inhalation exposure. The RfD is that concentration at which no adverse health effects should occur. Concentrations above the RfD may result in adverse health effects, including neurotoxicity.
Conclusion: Chronic and subchronic exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and other organosulfur compounds (reduced sulfur compounds) do cause long-term health problems in humans. These problems appear as various symptoms of the upper and lower respiratory tract, central nervous system, skin and eyes. The central nervous system symptoms are associated with permanent neurophysiological deficits. Injury to the central nervous system includes damage to the basal ganglia and white matter.
What to do?
The absolute source of the H2S detected at Cortland Elementary School is not known. Its presence is undeniable. The dangers are real. District 428 has no responsible choice other than to remove the children from harm’s way. The Illinois Department of Public Health has no responsible choice other than to conduct an H2S audit to identify sources of H2S in the area. The Illinois Pollution Control Board and the current EPA director need to work together to oversee a mitigation plan that includes early detection and public warning of the dangers present.
And the landfill?
If the location and the site design/operational plans are so safe then WMI can resubmit their application, with any adjustments made necessary from an independent (IDPH) H2S audit, in two years… that is AFTER the current plans are rejected by the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
Click Here To Submit A News Tip Or Story