Air samples taken at the Hillcrest plastics recycling plant in Attica reveal elevated levels of benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials.
The federal agency Friday concluded its investigation of a burning pile of recycled plastic at the facility, which village residents say has led to a foul smell and health concerns.
"While the numbers we use in determining health risk are conservative, there is no doubt that benzene is bad for people, and this data underscores the need to put this fire out as quickly as possible, which the EPA is now working to do," said Judith A. Enck, regional administrator for the federal agency, in a statement released Friday.
The EPA stepped in at the request of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and on Sept. 13 took air samples at 10 locations on the Hillcrest site and in the community surrounding the site. The samples were analyzed for 68 individual volatile organic compounds, 31 of which were detected in elevated levels.
In addition to benzene, they included toluene, ethylbenzene and styrene, which were detected on top of the burning pile of recycled plastic. According to federal officials, most were well below health-based screening values.
However, levels of benzene in two off-site samples were elevated above health-based screening values, which suggests to federal environmental officials that benzene may be migrating outside of the recycling plant and into the surrounding community.
"We have consulted with health experts, and we will be suppressing dust and smoke from the site to minimize the amount of pollution leaving the immediate site, and we will be doing further air monitoring," Enck said.
EPA officials said that while the monitoring is under way, there may be an increase in smoke, steam and odors emanating from the facility. Residents are advised to keep their windows closed. Children, elderly residents and those with respiratory conditions also are advised to avoid going outdoors if smoke is visible from the plant.
Updates and other information about the EPA's response will be posted on its website at htt://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/removal/hillcrest/index.html.