IBM Still Paying For Toxic Chemicals Effects On Upstate New York Town Old Former Repair Site
July 14, 2014
Kyriaki (Sandy) Venetis in EPA, breast cancer, cancer, central nervous system damage, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, pollution, tetrachloroethene (PCE), trichloroethene (TCE)

The Southern District Court of New York ruled that IBM must reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for past costs incurred by the agency for the toxic waste cleanup of the East Fishkill area of Dutchess County, N.Y.

Water pollution effects from IBM waste. Photo by

The pollution contaminated local drinking water which resulted from the company’s use of a contracted facility (J. Manne Inc.) to clean and repair its computer chip racks.

The majority of the cleanup has been the responsibility of IBM, with oversight from the EPA. So far, the company has spent approximately $46 million on cleanup of the area.

Between 1965 and 1975, J. Manne Inc. operated a facility that used industrial cleaning solvents containing chemicals including tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE), which are volatile organic chemicals whose exposure can cause serious health impacts.

The NYS Department of Health says that short-term exposure to PCE can affect the central nervous system causing problems including dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, lightheadedness, and poor balance.

Long-term exposure to PCE can lead to health impacts including liver and kidney damage, reduced red blood cells, as well as effects on the immune system, such as increasing white blood cell count and antibodies.

The NYS Department of Health has also associated PCE exposure to several types of cancers including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Limited studies have also shown links to cancers of the esophagus, kidneys, lungs, liver, cervix, and breasts.

In addition, the NYS health agency looked at the effects of TCE and also found that short-term exposure was liked to problems associated with the central nervous system including effected motor coordination, nausea, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, blurred vision, and fatigue.

Other common health problems associated with short-term exposure to TCE are irritation of the mucous membranes, eyes, and respiratory tract.

The NYS Department of Health has also found that long-term exposure to TCE has included damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as having adverse effects on reproduction (damage to the fetus and low sperm count).

The NYS health agency has also found increased long-term exposure to TCE to be associated with higher risk of cancers including cancers of the kidney, liver and esophagus, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Where these issues concern IBM is that the company contracted J. Manne to clean and repair their equipment, which involved a process using solvents, including PCE and TCE, and then disposed them in a 1,200 gallon metal septic tank and an in-ground acid pit located at the property that is now known as the “Shenandoah Road Groundwater Contamination Superfund” site.

The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA added the Shenandoah site to the Superfund National Properties List on June 14, 2001, after contamination was found in a number of residential drinking water wells in the area.

On April 12, 2000, the EPA and the NYS Department of Health received information from a local resident about the possible contamination of a private residential water well with PCE. 

The NYS health agency and the EPA conducted a residential well sampling in the area which  indicated that a total of 60 residential wells had been contaminated at or above the federal maximum contamination level of 5 parts per billion (ppb) for PCE and/or TCE.

The levels of PCE detected in the residential wells were well above the EPA’s removal action level of 70 ppb and immediate action was taken. The agency said that following the discovery of the contaminated wells, it began an emergency first response and began delivering bottled water to the affected residence.

Following the bottled water, the agency proceeded in installing treatment systems on all of the effected wells to remove the contaminants. The agency added that, “these initial actions were taken to protect the health of the public until a more permanent solution could be implemented.”

As part of an agreement with the EPA for a permanent solution, IBM took on the responsibility of finding a new water supply for the effected residents and creating an infrastructure for their homes to reach it. In August 2004, the Town of Fishkill municipal water supply was selected as the permanent water supply for the affected residents in the area.

IBM was responsible for the design, construction, and installation of the transmission lines, as well as the distribution system, and the house plumbing connections for the Shenandoah town water district. The permanent public water supply is in place and currently operating. To date, 120 homes are receiving public water and no longer on private wells.

Another issue that also had to be addressed was cleaning up and disposing of the PCE contaminated soil from the industrial facility’s septic tank and buried acid pit. In May 2001, IBM signed an agreement with the EPA to assume responsibility for the completion of the soil removal at the site.

The environmental agency said that approximately 4,000 tons of contaminated soil associated with the former septic tank was removed for off-site treatment and disposal by IBM. In addition, excavation and disposal of contaminated soil associated with the acid pit was estimated at about 4,500 tons with the work being completed in January 2001.

The EPA is also continuing to look into concerns about air pollution resulting from the site. Since 2004, the agency says that it has been conducting indoor air sampling and subslab sampling at a number of residences in the area were groundwater contamination occurred, and finds that “at the present time” it doesn’t see any public health issues concerning indoor air quality resulting from the site.

Additional Resource

Shenandoah Road Groundwater Contamination Superfund

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