CARRBORO - Researchers from UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health are seeking grant funding for the first health assessment study on the Rogers-Eubanks Road neighborhood.
Dr. Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson and graduate student Julia Naman are submitting a proposal for a $75,000 grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The study would run for 18 months.
The historically African-American neighborhood has housed the landfill for Orange County since 1972.
The Board of Orange County Commissioners voted to close the landfill in June 2013 and has been exploring new locations, particularly a transfer station in Durham.
In Oct. 2011, the commissioners approved water hookups for 67 homes in the community. But not all homes are connected to water lines, and none of them are hooked up to sewer lines. After the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association requested the neighborhood be connected to sewer lines, the Historic Rogers Road Task Force was formed to investigate the cost of constructing sewer lines.
Orange Water and Sewer Authority staff estimate the total cost of construction and installation to be about $5.8 million. But this does not include the cost of actually connecting homes to the sewer system, which would be provided by a private plumbing contractor.
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted recently to provide up to $900,000 to fund the construction of the sewer system. The county has put the sewer discussion on hold while the Chapel Hill Town Council explores funding options, such as grants and cost sharing.
The health study would be the first to estimate the number of illnesses in the Rogers-Eubanks community that can be attributed to landfill contamination, lack of sewer service and lack of water service to some homes.
MacDonald Gibson said she is interested in the larger issue of minority communities that do not have access to municipal services.
“I wanted to start small by looking at a specific community,” said MacDonald Gibson, an assistant professor at the Gillings School. “We can use this to inform the options of what can be done with this land in the future, after the landfill closes.”Building on past research
She said they will measure the health of the community through detailed health surveys and use an Environmental Protection Agency model to measure the pollution from trucks that deliver garbage to the landfill. The study will also use previous studies to gain information about the pollutants in the air and water.
“No one has actually done a health assessment,” said Naman, a first-year graduate student at the Gillings School.
In 2011, the Gillings School partnered with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association on a study that examined air pollutants from the landfill.
Landfill neighbors recorded odors, daily activities, and mood states in diaries while the hydrogen sulfide air measurements were recorded every 15 minutes, said Chris Heaney, a researcher involved in the study.
“We were able to look at the relationship between people documenting the odor and [hydrogen sulfide] measurements being made objectively,” he said.
Hydrogen sulfide, a colorless gas, has a foul odor and is a common air pollutant found around landfills, said Heaney, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study showed that the complex mixture of hydrogen sulfide and other air pollutants produced by the landfill can trigger negative moods and physical symptoms, such as upper respiratory problems, headaches, and feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
During his time at the Gillings School, Heaney was involved in another study that looked at the water quality of households and surface water in the Rogers Road neighborhood. This study has been approved for publication and is set to be published in 2013. Heaney said the water-quality study found bacteria indicative of fecal contamination in private well water supplies, but not in households that had water service by OWASA.
Fecal coliforms, like E. coli, and enterococci bacteria in well water, suggest the presence of fecal contamination, Heaney said.
“However, there exist numerous sources of these indicators of fecal contamination, including domestic and wild animals, stormwater run-off, failing septic systems and landfill leachate,” he said in an email.
In 2010, an Orange County Health Department study examined water wells and the functionality of septic systems in the Rogers Road neighborhood. Of the 45 septic systems assessed, the study reported two septic systems needed maintenance and 12 septic systems were malfunctioning.
Alderwoman Michelle Johnson said the health assessment study could indicate a need for sewer lines in the neighborhood.
Johnson, a member of the Historic Rogers Road Task Force, said local officials have long questioned the possible health effects of the landfill.
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