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EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic)
EPA ID# PASFN0305457
6th Congressional District
Last Update: Last Update: July 2001
Current Site Status
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final report in November 2000 summarizing the study of farm production and dairy herd health problems reportedly occurring in the area of Boyertown. State and local agricultural and veterinary specialists collaborated with EPA throughout the investigation which included soil and crop sampling; radiological monitoring; ground water sampling; and veterinary examination, including the clinical evaluation of farm animals. In addition, the investigation performed an evaluation of historic and present activities at the Cabot Performance Materials (Cabot) facility located in proximity to two of the farms of concern.
EPA found no indication that either the cows or farm production were significantly effected by hazardous substance pollution in its report. The farm problems were determined to stem, instead, from conditions existing at the farms in question and from herd management practices.
Analytical results from soil, ground water, air, vegetation, surface water, and sediment indicate that certain elements, including those associated with local industrial activities, rise above levels typically found in the area. However, the analytical data do not support a finding, at this time, that local industry poses a health risk.
In EPA’s initial sampling efforts, elevated uranium and arsenic were detected in a well water sample taken from one of the farms. However, both the uranium and arsenic were detected at concentrations below EPA’s removal action level and may be attributed to naturally occurring conditions (geology). The arsenic was also below the maximum contaminant level allowed in a public water system. The finding of boron and arsenic in ground water is being investigated and addressed separately from the farm issues. EPA now refers to the boron and arsenic investigation as the Congo Road Boron Site.
Site DescriptionThe Boyertown Farms Site consists of a small number of farms that have reported elevated livestock mortalities and abnormalities, decreased crop and dairy milk production, and unusual crop discolorations in the general vicinity of Boyertown and Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Media attention was significant, initially, with several investigative reports by the print and visual media resulting in widespread interest and growing concern by the surrounding non-agricultural population. Following the release of EPA’s Interim Report, which stated that there was no significant, wide-spread, hazardous substance pollution and that the farm problems appeared to be related to conditions at the farms or to farm management practices, media interest subsided.
- Site Responsibility
- This site is being investigated through EPA Removal Program authorities.
- NPL Listing History
- Not a Superfund NPL or Removal Site.
Threats and Contaminants
Agricultural problems were first noted at one farm after an apparent misapplication of agricultural herbicide in 1991. The farm owner reported significantly reduced crop production and unusual soil and crop abnormalities. In early 1993, an increase in pig mortality and disease was reported, and the farm owner, reportedly, experienced personal deterioration of his health. The situation was investigated by the Montgomery County Extension Service, University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Veterinary Center, the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and ultimately by the EPA. Penn State cited several possible biological explanations for the crop and soil abnormalities and a UPenn noted bacterial infectious disease and nutrient deficiencies in a number of the pigs necropsied and examined. Chemical contamination of significance to animal health, although investigated and initially suspected, was never substantiated (a single elevation of arsenic in soil was discovered by sampling analyses funded by the farm owner).
Despite the livestock management issues and lack of evidence of a chemical or metals “toxics” problem, concern remained among some members of the cited organizations about the possibility of the existence of an undiscovered hazardous substance.
In 1995, EPA received a jointly signed letter from the above cited organizations seeking sampling and analytical assistance. EPA’s Removal Program sampled soils at the farm but found nothing out of the ordinary and did not replicate the farm owner’s arsenic results.
In December 1998, the owner of a second nearby farm contacted EPA regarding an increase in dairy cattle morbidity and calf birth deformities that his herd suffered over an eighteen month period in 1996-1997. The farmer also noted corn abnormalities and said that his farm hands had reported having health problems while working in certain fields. He requested EPA to conduct a sampling investigation to determine if hazardous chemicals or radiation might have caused the problems. The farmer believes that a nearby chemical company, Cabot Performance Materials, is the cause of the problems. Earlier, UPenn Vet had investigated the livestock problems and made farm management recommendations to the farm owner. The PA Department of Agriculture had also investigated and collected samples for chemical analyses at both this farm and a third farm during the 1996 through 1998 period. Reportedly, no chemical concentrations of concern were identified.