Questions & Answers
1. What is the Center for Environmental Health, Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (BEHA)?
The Center for Environmental Health, Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (BEHA), is housed within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). BEHA has a broad mission of protecting the public from a variety of environmental exposures. Through its six programs BEHA responds to environmental health concerns by providing a variety of services including conducting indoor air investigations in public buildings and schools, providing environmental health education to communities and health professionals and performing Public Health Assessments at hazardous waste sites. In July 2001 BEHA released a Public Health Assessment for the Atlas Tack Corporation site.
2. What is the Atlas Tack Corporation Site?
The Atlas Tack Corporation site is a former manufacturing facility located in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, at the corner of Pleasant and Church streets. Various metal products were manufactured on site from 1901 - 1985. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process were released on-site and as a result contaminated the soil on the site as well as the surface water, sediment and clams in Boys Creek.
3. Why did BEHA conduct a Public Health Assessment for Atlas Tack Corporation Site?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the Atlas Tack Corporation site on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1990. NPL sites are sometimes referred to as "Superfund sites." When a site is proposed for listing, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is required by federal law to conduct a Public Health Assessment (PHA) for the site. MDPH has a cooperative agreement with ATSDR to conduct PHAs at NPL and other sites in Massachusetts. In this capacity, MDPH conducted a preliminary PHA for the Atlas Tack site in June 1990. The follow-up PHA, released in July 2001, was conducted at the request of EPA and provided a review the environmental data that have been generated since 1990 and to update the previous assessment.
4. What was the goal of Atlas Tack Corporation Public Health Assessment?
The Public Health Assessment was done to determine the past, current or future public health implications of the Atlas Tack Corporation site. Public health assessments are based on environmental characterization information (including information on environmental contamination and exposure pathways), community health concerns associated with the site, and community-specific health outcome data. They make recommendations for actions needed to protect public health (which might include the development and issuing of health advisories), and they identify populations in need of further health actions or studies.
5. What was done to evaluate the Atlas Tack Corporation site for the Public Health Assessment?
To evaluate whether the site poses an existing or potential hazard to an exposed or potentially exposed population, BEHA reviewed all available on-site and off-site environmental contamination data for all media. Specifically, BEHA evaluated data on contamination in surface soil, subsurface soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater, and biota (i.e., hard shell clams, soft shell clams, mussels) from environmental sampling conducted in and around the Atlas Tack site from 1991 through 1999. We also examined whether there was any potential for exposure to these contaminants to people living near the site or to people who may trespass onto the site.
6. What were the Conclusions of the Atlas Tack Public Health Assessment?
The evaluation concluded that for people who trespass on the site, the site poses a past and present public health hazard due to the contamination present in the soil on-site and the dilapidated buildings that can pose a physical hazard to trespassers. The site has been fenced and guarded to prevent access to the site for anyone other than authorized personnel.
7. What did the Atlas Tack Public Health Assessment conclude about health concerns for nearby residents?
The Public Health Assessment concluded that opportunity for exposure to site-related contaminants should not pose health concerns for off-site residents or others (e.g. school children). Some contamination was found in Boys Creek but the opportunity for exposure to these contaminants is limited because the water from Boys Creek is not used for potable or recreational purposes and the shellfish beds are closed.
8. What are the recommendations made in the Atlas Tack Public Health Assessment?
The Public Health Assessment recommended that the fence surrounding the site continue to be maintained in good condition and that security continue to be provided. Also, potential exposure to contaminants in several areas on the site (e.g. the industrial debris area) should be eliminated through remediation or institutional controls. Additional on-site soil samples should be taken near the fence that is adjacent to the residential area during future remedial activities, to provide a complete characterization of potential exposures opportunities to adjacent residents.
9. What is the Public Health Action Plan for the site?
BEHA staff has met with Fairhaven Board of Health to discuss and plan education and outreach activities. BEHA will continue to provide input to EPA and local officials on enhancing security measures around the site. Upon EPA's request, BEHA will review additional site data. Lastly, if members of the public express health or exposure related concerns to BEHA with regard to new data or information (such as remedial plans), BEHA will discuss concerns with members and determine an appropriate response, such as health consultation, technical assistance or education and outreach.
10. Who can I contact for more information about the Atlas Tack Corporation Public Health Assessment or to receive a copy of the document?
You can contact BEHA by telephoning us at 617-624-5757.
A copy of the Public Health Assessment is also available on-line at:
This information is provided by the Environmental Toxicology Program within the Department of Public Health.