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PETITIONED PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

CALDWELL SYSTEMS INCORPORATED
LENOIR, CALDWELL COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA


SUMMARY

The Caldwell Systems Inc. (CSI) incineration unit is in a rural area near Lenoir, Caldwell County, North Carolina. The facility was originally built and operated by the county to incinerate solvents, paints, and lacquer dusts discarded by local furniture manufacturers. The county operated the incineration unit under a state air permit from March 1976 through March 1977. The facility was leased to and operated by CSI from 1977 until 1989. During that period, CSI operated under a state permit as an interim status Resource Conservation and Recovery Act facility for incineration of hazardous chemical wastes.

In 1987, contaminated soil, surface water, and groundwater were detected on an adjacent property. Former CSI workers reported that they had occasionally dumped waste on that property. The public expressed considerable concern about the potential health effects of exposure to airborne contamination from the incineration operation and the potential health effects of the groundwater contamination.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region IV, requested a health consultation from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The health consultation, which was released on May 21, 1990, concluded that the waste-handling operations at the facility posed a health threat to facility employees and a potential threat to area residents.

U.S. Representative Cass Ballenger petitioned ATSDR to study the facility further. In addition, Mr. Greer Tidwell, Regional Administrator, EPA Region IV, asked ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment of the site and to pursue any other environmentally related health activities needed to evaluate human exposures to materials that were handled at CSI. ATSDR issued a public health advisory on July 25, 1990, that outlined the site's threat to the health of former CSI employees. On July 26-28, 1990, ATSDR staff held public meetings and availability sessions in Lenoir, NC. ATSDR and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have since studied former employees, their families, and area residents.

ATSDR has concluded that past activities at the Caldwell Systems Incorporated facility were a public health hazard to workers and their families; in addition, the site was a public health hazard to community members who were exposed to air contaminants from the facility. Current site conditions pose no apparent public health hazard.

In addition to characterization that has already taken place, ATSDR recommends characterizing the full extent of groundwater contamination and continued groundwater monitoring. ATSDR also recommends that the appropriate agency should ensure the safety and health of workers conducting remedial activities at the site. Moreover, NIOSH has recommended education and training about the risks of exposure for all workers at hazardous waste facilities. ATSDR will evaluate the Caldwell County Landfill as public health needs dictate and as resources permit.

Recommendations from the disease and symptom prevalence study conducted by ATSDR include additional evaluation of residents living 0.9 miles from the incinerator using biomarker testing. ATSDR's Division of Health Studies is presently conducting that follow-up study.


BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The Caldwell Systems Inc. (CSI) facility is in a rural residential area near Lenoir, Caldwell County, North Carolina. CSI occupies 1.2 acres in the west-central part of a 105.5-acre plot of land that also encompasses the Caldwell County Landfill and the former Truitt Haas Dairy Farm (see Appendix A, Figure 1). Currently, CSI is not operating; the facility is undergoing closure and cleanup. Public access is restricted by a chain-link fence. A guard is also present at the landfill. Individuals who wish to gain access to the site must pass by the guardhouse through the fence enclosing the county landfill.

The incineration unit was originally built and operated by Caldwell County to incinerate solvents, paints, and lacquer dusts discarded by local furniture manufacturers. The county operated the incineration unit under a state air permit from March 1976 through March 1977. The facility was leased to and operated by CSI from 1977 until 1989. During that period, CSI operated under a state permit as an interim status Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) facility for incineration of hazardous chemical wastes.

The types of material, and quantities, incinerated at CSI have not been definitively identified, allegedly the result of a fire that destroyed CSI records. According to annual reports submitted by CSI to the State, the majority of waste stream materials incinerated at CSI included furniture industry wastes (toluene, xylene, and other halogenated and nonhalogenated solvents, paint, and lacquer) and waste torpedo fuel (Otto Fuel II).

As a result of the waste handling and incineration at CSI, the public expressed considerable concern about the potential impact on drinking water supplies of surface water and groundwater contamination; contamination of soil; and direct exposure to airborne contaminants. Several state and federal investigations were conducted during the operation and after the closing of the CSI facility (1). The sampling investigations determined that releases of hazardous substances from CSI contaminated soil, surface water, and groundwater.

In 1987, off-site soil, surface water (two springs), and groundwater (well) contamination was detected on an adjacent property (former Haas Dairy Farm). The contamination appears to have resulted from past CSI practices. Former CSI workers claim to have occasionally dumped wastes onto the property. Approximately 30 dairy cattle grazed on the former Haas Dairy Farm. Although chemicals were never detected in the milk or blood of the cattle, the customer stopped purchasing milk from the farm. The dairy cattle operation was abandoned, and the land is now owned by Caldwell County (2).

Because of findings from the sampling investigations and complaints from local residents, and following a fire at the facility, CSI was ordered by the Caldwell County Superior Court to cease operations and remove all waste from the facility by December 1, 1989. CSI complied with the order and submitted a RCRA closure plan to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of North Carolina. As part of the closing, the facility was required to decommission all equipment and to remove all residual hazardous wastes. Currently, the concrete pad, buildings, secondary containment structures, and bulk storage tanks (emptied) are all that remain on site. Final RCRA closure of the facility has not been completed (1).

The adjacent Caldwell County Landfill, which is east and north of CSI (see Appendix A, Figure 1), received wastes from CSI. From 1977 until 1980, ash from the CSI incinerator was disposed of at the Caldwell County Landfill. In addition, CSI disposed of an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 empty containers in the landfill (1977-1986). Witnesses report that the tops and bottoms of the containers were removed and crushed before disposal in the landfill. However, signed affidavits from former landfill and CSI employees indicate that thousands of the CSI drums contained from 1 inch to 1.5 feet of hazardous wastes. Some of the liquid wastes are said by employees to have leaked from the drums in the landfill. In addition, runoff from spills at CSI is reported to have drained into the landfill (1). EPA is currently conducting a separate investigation of the environmental contamination associated with the Caldwell County Landfill.

This public health assessment evaluates CSI's past operating procedures, the environmental contamination found at the facility, and the environmental contamination that may have migrated away from the facility. Environmental contamination associated with the Caldwell County Landfill is not addressed in this public health assessment. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will evaluate the Caldwell County Landfill as public health needs dictate and as resources permit.

B. Actions Implemented During the Public Health Process

After receiving a request for assistance from Region IV EPA, the Division of Health Assessment and Consultation released a health consultation on May 21, 1990.

According to health reports and employee affidavits, CSI employees daily inhaled and had dermal contact with hazardous materials at the facility. Employees were not provided personal protective equipment. For those reasons, ATSDR issued a public health advisory on July 25, 1990, to alert concerned parties (EPA, State of North Carolina, and the public) of the seriousness of the past human exposures (2). ATSDR has determined that there is a significant threat to the health of some former CSI employees because of past workplace conditions. In addition, preliminary investigations indicate that family members of some former CSI employees may also have been placed at risk. Documented adverse health effects -- including toxic encephalopathy, dermatitis, respiratory complaints, arthritic complaints, and chest pain -- in several of the former employees may be associated with past exposures to the wastes handled at CSI (2). Secondary exposures and subsequent health problems in some family members of CSI workers are suspected to have occurred (2).

U.S. Congressman Cass Ballenger, 10th Congressional District, North Carolina, petitioned ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment and a health effects study to determine extent of exposure and contamination as a result of the operation of the former CSI hazardous waste incinerator (3). In addition, Greer C. Tidwell, Regional Administrator, EPA Region IV, asked ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment and any other appropriate, environmentally related health activities to evaluate human exposure to materials handled at CSI (4). This public health assessment is part of ATSDR's continued activities at the CSI site. In conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ATSDR is conducting a health investigation of CSI personnel and family members who may have had contact with the hazardous waste.

Other public health actions that have taken place at the site include environmental health education for local health care providers, conducted by ATSDR's Division of health education in 1990.

ATSDR's Division of Health Studies conducted a study of area residents and family members of former employees in 1991. The Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health examined the health of former CSI employees in 1990 and 1991.

ATSDR released this document for public comment on July 28, 1994. No public comments were received during the public comment period, which ended September 9, 1994. ATSDR will continue with all other ongoing public health actions for this site.

C. Site Visit

On July 25, 1990, ATSDR released a public health advisory for Caldwell Systems Inc. On that date, Robert Safay, Michael Straight, Lynn Wilder, Virginia Lee, and Mike Greenwell attended a press conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, announcing the advisory. Following the press conference, Safay, Straight, and Lee travelled to Lenoir, North Carolina, to attend a public meeting (July 26, 1990), visit the site, and hold public availability sessions (July 27-29, 1990).

Safay and Lee toured the site with a Caldwell County representative. To reach the site, visitors must first pass the entrance to the county landfill, which is fenced, and then drive up a short dirt road. A county worker was on duty at the landfill guardhouse. The incinerator area also is fenced and has a locked gate.

At the time of the site visit, the incinerator had been dismantled and cleaned. The two burners were still on site. The stacks had been moved off site. The baghouse system built in 1987 for air pollution abatement remained on site. Storage tanks were in the baghouse area. The ashpile from the incinerator had been moved. A drainage pipe from the ashpile to a concrete cistern (approximately 4 feet by 8 feet by 12 feet [deep]) remained. Approximately 1 foot of standing water remained in the bottom of the cistern at the time of the site visit. The concrete pad on which the incinerator and tank farm were built was cracked in areas. A trailer used for offices remained at the gate. Equipment that EPA used for sampling was inside the fenced area. Just outside the inner fence, downgradient of the facility, is the county landfill. On the opposite side of the facility from the landfill is the top of the mountain ridge. At the time of the visit, several members of the community were carrying signs at the entrance to the facility.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Caldwell County is a rural area; its population in 1980 was 67,746. The City of Lenoir population was 13,748 in 1980 (20% of the county population). Ninety-four percent of the county population in 1980 was white. Persons younger than 18 years were 30% of the population in 1980; persons older than 65 years were 9% of the population, indicating a fairly young population.

The CSI facility was in the Hudson township section of Caldwell County during the 1980 census. The population of the township in 1980 was 10,026; 99% were white. Thirty-three percent of the township population were younger than 18 years; 6% of the population were individuals over the age of 65. For the 1990 census, the CSI site was in census tract 312; the population in that 79-square-mile area was 7,031 in 1990. The population remained 99% white. Twenty-eight percent of the population were below the age of 10 years. The median housing value was about $55,000, indicating a middle-income area.

Land use within 1 mile of the facility consists of the Caldwell County Landfill, low-density housing, light agriculture, and the Hudson Dragstrip (see Appendix A, Figure 1). The landfill, which is east of CSI, currently covers 75 acres. The Mount Herman subdivision and former Haas Dairy Farm, southwest of CSI, are within a mile of the facility. The former dairy farm was purchased by Caldwell County in 1988 after soil and groundwater contamination was found in 1987. North of CSI, mountainous terrain dominates for several miles.

The majority of residents within 4 miles of the site receive their drinking water from one of five municipal systems: Caldwell County Water, Lenoir City Water, Hudson Public Works, Saw Mills Water, and Joyceton Water. The Lenoir City Water system receives all of its potable water from an intake on the Catawba River, upstream of CSI. Lenoir sells water to Caldwell County Water, Hudson Public Works, Saw Mills Water, and Joyceton Water. Joyceton Water has two municipal wells that contribute approximately 50% of the water in its system. Those wells are 2 to 3 miles from the site.

Residents within 4 miles of the site obtain their drinking water from private wells, unless they are served by the municipal system. Approximately 1,460 individuals receive their drinking water either from private wells or from the Joyceton municipal wells. The nearest potable water well is approximately 1,900 feet southwest of CSI. Other residents obtain their water from springs (1).

Runoff from CSI drains north and south. The runoff could enter the Upper Little River (1 mile north of CSI) and Gunpowder Creek (1.1 miles south of CSI). An intermittent stream, fed by springs at the northeastern section of the former Haas Dairy Farm, flows to Brushy Fork before entering Gunpowder Creek. The Catawba River is the discharge point for Gunpowder Creek (13.6 miles southward) (1).

Both the Upper Little River and Gunpowder Creek are used for recreational fishing, particularly near Lake Hickory (Catawba River). The Upper Little River and Gunpowder Creek also may be used to water dairy cattle, as are most streams and creeks in the area. The Catawba River also is used for boating and recreational fishing (1).

E. State and Local Health Data

North Carolina provided vital statistics at the county level for the years 1975 and 1980. The information is not site specific, but does provide some background on health problems in the general area.

Age-adjusted cancer rates for the years 1970-1988 were provided for the county and state. That information will be evaluated in the Public Health Implications section of this document.

NIOSH conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation of the workers at Caldwell Systems and Mitchell Systems in 1990 and 1991. The purpose of the September 1990 evaluations was to develop criteria for health outcomes (case definition) for an epidemiologic study to determine whether reported neurologic disorders were associated with exposures to hazardous wastes at CSI. Fifteen workers were given two questionnaires, a general physical exam, examinations by two neurologists, and an interview with a psychiatrist. In November 1991, 54 current and former Caldwell employees participated in screening examinations directed at finding movement disorders. Results of those studies are discussed in the Public Health Implications section of this document.

As mentioned previously, ATSDR's Division of Health Studies has conducted a disease-and-symptom-prevalence study of residents in the community surrounding the site. ATSDR interviewed residents living within 1.5 mile of the site and compared the interview results with results of a survey of an unexposed, comparison town. Results of that study are included in the Public Health Implications section of this document.


COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

Information about community health concerns was obtained at a public meeting and several public availability sessions. The community had expressed great frustration about the response to their concerns about the impact of the facility while it was operating.

Public availability sessions were held on July 26-28, 1990, to gather information about the community's health concerns. Information was obtained from 33 former workers and 51 families from the nearby communities.

During CSI incineration operations, many residents in areas adjacent to the facility complained of respiratory problems, eye and skin irritations, and nausea. A concerned citizens group reported that approximately 60 residences were within a half-mile radius of the CSI facility (2).

Community members reported that the facility was the source of smoke and odors, and of soot that was deposited in their homes. Individuals who resided less than one-half mile from the facility were much more likely to have such complaints. As would be expected from the complaints made during the public availability sessions, the most common concerns of nearby residents involved respiratory problems. The most common respiratory complaints included bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Several former workers at CSI have reported health problems since their employment at the facility. Those problems were predominantly neurologic -- ataxia (loss of motor coordination), migraines and other headaches, memory loss, tremor, and difficulty controlling blood pressure. Physicians in Lenoir and Hickory, at Duke University, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and at the University of California in San Francisco have documented health effects in former CSI employees that are consistent with the adverse health effects known to be caused by exposure to many of the substances in the waste stream at CSI. In addition, family members may have been at risk of exposure through contact with workers' contaminated clothing. Family members reported health complaints such as asthma and dizziness. One family had a two-year-old child who developed asthma. When the child's parent stopped wearing work clothes home, the child's symptoms disappeared (47).



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