A Waterford road restoration project from 2009 is now deteriorating. Residents claim the roads churn up a very fine dust, and after breathing it for years, some believe it has even led to life-threatening conditions.  

"It's very fine and it's like drywall dust. it goes everywhere, on everything, and you can't keep it out," said Dave Knepper, a long-time Waterford resident on Plank Road. 

Knepper is talking about an unusual dust that comes off of Plank Road. He and some other residents fear that it could contain
silica and hexavalent chromium – both known carcinogens. 

“It's irritating to your eyes, your throat, you see it on your counter tops, in your food. It's on everything, it's everywhere,” Knepper said.

It started after three dirt roads in Waterford – Plank, Himrod, and Lowe roads - underwent an improvement project in 2009 called a Full Depth Reclamation (FDR) 

Simply put, the process mixed up existing dirt on the road with Portland Cement to create a harder surface, which would reduce erosion and prevent runoff from polluting the streams that flow into Lake Erie.

However, roads that have undergone a FDR are supposed to be sealed, according to Mike Polak, a partner at the paving tech company, “E.J. Brenneman,” the contractors for the project.

“As Portland cement dries, it gets dusty. We would've put a prime coat over it to seal it, but it's temporary and would be nonexistent over a couple of months,” Polak said. 

The cement contains small amounts of silica and hexavalent chromium. 

The Erie County Conservation District (ECCD) sponsored the project through grants and found the contractors, though the agreement specifies that future care of the roads – which would include any final sealing or paving - falls under the township’s responsibility. 

“They (the township) came to us and asked us to go through this grant process so they could get the roads stabilized. Now, hat the municipalities choose to do after they get the roads stabilized is up to them,” said Earl Brown, district manager at the ECCD.

But without a seal on the roads – something like a tar and chip, or asphalt overlay –  some residents say the cement is crumbling, and the dust is making them sick.

Kneppler’s wife, Jan, was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

His biggest concern at the moment? “People’s health,” Kneppler said. When asked if he thought people’s health have already been impacted, he replied, “I’m sure it has.”

Another Plank Road resident, Tony Gentile, also believes his family’s health has been impacted by the cement dust. His wife’s diagnosis: a progressive autoimmune disease.

She didn’t start getting sick until about after they grated the roads,” Gentile said. “It’s progressive disease, and its just getting worse and worse,” he said.

Rob Petro has lived on Himrod Road in Waterford for more than 20 years, and he’s concerned for his family’s health, and his son’s in particular.

“He’s an athlete, a hockey player, and he’s been experiencing shortness of breath on the ice during wind sprints, things like that. We’re in the process of contacting a physician to have him checked out,” Petro said. “Now we’re linking the fact that he has a shortness of breath, to maybe it has a link in the road.”  

Those types of conditions are all listed on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Portland Cement, the aggregate used to stabilized the three dirt roads. The warnings and hazards are intended those who actually work with the product, but include a long list of potential side effects from Portland Cement dust.

Warnings under inhalation say that some studies have shown breathing in silica may be “associated with an increased rick of autoimmune disorders, chronic kidney disease, and end stage renal disease.” 

The MSDS document says years of lower exposure can cause silicosis, a chronic and progressive lung disease that includes symptoms like “cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, decreased pulmonary function, and changes in chest X-rays.”

“AVOID BREATHING CEMENT DUST,” the section summary reads in caps lock.

Though warnings are addressed to people who regularly work with Portland Cement, some residents on the roads in question believe they might be exposed to even more dust than cement. 

“It’s unbelievable to me that we should be forced to live in conditions where people who work with it every day aren’t exposed to that much dust,” Lowe said. “They have all types of protective gear and workplace standards.”

“There’ve been too many coincidences to say that that (the dust) didn't cause it,” Gentile said, referring to the various illnesses that residents have contracted.

“And that chocolate lab barking in the window,” he said, gesturing back towards his house. “She’s blind. That happened after they put in the Portland Cement and they ground it up.”

Impaired visibility from exposure to cement dust is also one of the potential health effects listed on the MSDS sheet.

Despite the “coincidences,” there’s not enough evidence – at least not yet – to show there’s enough dust with carcinogens coming off the roads to be causing the health problems.

But the residents say it’s more than just the health concerns, it’s also about the township’s supervisors fulfilling what they’ve promised.

Minutes from the Waterford Township meeting on August 21st of 2013 shows a unanimous vote to cover Plank Road with gravel, as well as permanently seal the road with tar and chip in 2014.

“Plank Road: Supervisor McCall made a motion to gravel and roll, this year, then next year 411 and tar and chip, seconded by Chairman Kondzielski and carried, 3-0,” the minutes read.

The road did get graveled, which significantly reduced the dust. However, now it doesn’t appear that the tar and chip will be taking place this construction season.

Concerned residents are frustrated.

"And all of us are getting sick because of it (the dust), and they refuse to do anything!” Gentile said to the supervisors at the July 2nd meeting.

Gentile, Knepper, and Petro all believe the graveling is a temporary solution to keeping the dust down.

“It’s just been a band-aid on top of a band-aid,” Petro said. “I would really just like to see the job finished, and a follow through on the unanimous vote of last year to go ahead and rectify the situation,” he said.

Despite many efforts via phone and in person to reach the township supervisors – Bruce Coffin, Flory Kondzielski, and Jack Stull, all three supervisors refused to comment on record about the situation.

I believe close to 30 families directly live on these roads and their health and their children’s health are at risk,” Petro said. “I think they (the supervisors) are going to do the right thing, I just don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

Gentile submitted a dust and dirt sample to RJ Lee group last week, a materials characterization lab in Allegheny County. He plans to pursue legal options.

The next Waterford Township supervisors’ meeting is on August 6th.