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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

ORDNANCE PRODUCTS, INCORPORATED
NORTHEAST, CECIL COUNTY, MARYLAND


SUMMARY

Ordnance Products, Inc., (OPI) was an ordnance manufacturing facility that operated from 1960 to July 1973. It produced grenade fuses, detonators, ignition components and pyrotechnic signals for the Vietnam War. Waste materials were buried on the site; they were also burned in open pits on the southern portion of the site. Waste materials were also placed in drums. Five surface lagoons were used for the disposal of metal plating wastewater and possibly other waste during OPI's operation. The property was determined to be a hazardous waste site as a consequence of activities conducted during OPI's tenure.

OPI is located at 1079 Mechanics Valley Road in Cecil County, Maryland. The site occupies 94.6 acres approximately two miles northeast of the city of North East. It is currently an industrial park and warehouse known as the Mechanics Valley Trade Center (MVTC). The property consists of open and wooded terrain, containing about 58 buildings, some trailers, several wells, and the five lagoons.

The OPI site has been designated as a public health hazard because exposure to contaminants in the groundwater and surface soil has occurred in the past. Exposures are possibly occurring now and could occur in the future. Major contaminants of concern include trichloroethene in residential wells, nickel and chromium in on-site soil (Area F), and antimony, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, nickel, and lead in the sediments of on-site impoundments. Exposure to contaminants in the air occurred in the past, but that exposure has been eliminated. Exposure to contaminants in off-site groundwater has been addressed with individual groundwater treatment systems. However, the extent of the plume of contamination is currently being characterized to determine whether other residential wells are at risk of contamination. Additionally, physical hazards on-site, including buried ordnance, pose a public health hazard to employees and clients of on-site businesses and to trespassers who may gain access to the site. Off-site soil in the residential yards between the site and Little Northeast Creek was recently sampled to explore whether surface run-off from the site had caused contamination. No significant site-related contamination was found in the off-site soil samples.

When organic chemical contamination of on-site supply wells and off-site residential wells was discovered in 1987, bottled water was recommended to avoid potential health consequences of ingesting contaminated water. Water treatment systems were subsequently installed. The on-site well water treatment system has reportedly been vandalized in the past, but is currently maintained. Businesses currently operating on the site report they are not using the on-site well as a drinking water source, but instead use bottled water. The residential water treatment systems are maintained and sampled every six weeks.

In 1992, squatters were discovered living in mobile homes on the property. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the squatters to vacate the premises in April 1992. During a December 1993 site visit, the site contained at least three mobile homes that could be used for occupancy. A follow-up visit to the site was conducted in March 1994 to establish with certainty the presence and number of on-site residents. The visit confirmed that only one trailer was occupied by one resident at the time. An EPA representative reported that this individual has left the site, and that there are currently no people living on the property defined as the Mechanics Valley Trade Center.

There is little documentation of community health concerns in the present or past. Several complaints were made to the Cecil County Health Department by nearby residents in 1971 and 1972 about air pollution caused by the burning of defective smoke bombs on site. OPI modified its burning procedures to reduce the problem, which was eliminated when OPI ceased operations. Over a ten to twenty year period, there have been anecdotal reports of the following adverse health effects: elevated blood lead levels, cancer, liver damage and respiratory problems in employees and others associated with the OPI site. MDE has no record of any follow-up actions to these reports. Present community concerns were solicited in two public availability sessions held during the public comment period.

Based on the findings of this public health assessment, the following recommendations are made: 1) Continue to monitor all off-site residential wells located between the site and Little Northeast Creek; 2) Restrict access, such as through erecting fences and posting warning signs, to on-site areas where ordnance is thought to be buried; 3) Restrict access to surface water impoundment areas (including ponded water in Area D) by means such as encircling with fences and posting warning signs. Although the site boundaries are partially fenced, the fence does not adequately restrict access to the site and, thus, the surface water impoundments; 4) Establish security measures to prevent future unauthorized habitation of the site, because of potential exposure to contaminants through groundwater and soil pathways; and 5) Assure that the water treatment system for the on-site supply well is functioning properly.

The data and information developed in the Ordnance Products, Inc., Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that site-specific health education is indicated for the community and health care professionals with special attention to known chemical and physical hazards. The HARP agrees and endorses the concern expressed in the public health assessment for the potential presence of buried ordnance and incompletely characterized physical and chemical hazards. The HARP strongly endorses the recommendation to restrict access and provide warnings to protect the public. ATSDR will reevaluate this site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available.

Based on the recommendations made in this Public Health Assessment, the following public health actions have or will be undertaken: 1) MVTC is currently under Order from EPA to restrict access to the site; MDE will urge EPA Region III to see that this Order is enforced in a timely fashion; 2) MDE worked with EPA to carry out recommended additional off-site environmental soil sampling; 3) As part of community health education, MDE conducted a public availability session during the public comment period of this public health assessment; 4) MDE will identify health professionals in the community surrounding the site for ATSDR so that health professional education can be conducted.

BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

Ordnance Products, Inc., (OPI) was an ordnance manufacturing facility that operated from 1960 to July 1973. It produced grenade fuses, detonators, ignition components and pyrotechnic signals for the Vietnam War. Waste materials were buried on the site; they were also burned in open pits on the southern portion of the site. Waste materials were also placed in drums. Five surface lagoons were used for the disposal of metal plating wastewater and possibly other waste during OPI's operation. The property was determined to be a hazardous waste site as a consequence of activities conducted during OPI's tenure.

OPI is located at 1079 Mechanics Valley Road in Cecil County, Maryland. The site occupies 94.6 acres approximately two miles northeast of the city of North East. It is currently an industrial park and warehouse, known as the Mechanics Valley Trade Center (MVTC). The property consists of open and wooded terrain, containing about 58 buildings, some trailers, several wells, and the five lagoons. The lagoons are located immediately west of Mechanics Valley Road near the main entrance to MVTC.

The site is bounded on the north by Stevenson Road and on the east by Mechanics Valley Road and Deans Lane. Parallel and immediately east of Mechanics Valley Road is Little Northeast Creek. West of the property is cultivated land; Bouchelle Road, which runs northwest from Mechanics Valley Road, is the closest street west of the property. The southern boundary of the property lies adjacent to railroad tracks. Although the property includes undeveloped land east of Mechanics Valley Road, all current industrial operations are located west of this road. Figures 1 and 2 depict the site and its immediate surroundings.

Prior to 1960, the site was privately owned wooded land and open fields, with scattered buildings on it. OPI bought the property in 1960 and built additional structures for the manufacturing, storing and packing of ordnance products. In 1969, Kraus Design, Inc., (KDI) became a holding company for OPI. When OPI operations ceased in 1973, waste products, including drums of solvents and acids, detonators, and grenade fuses, were left above ground. No production operations occurred on the property from 1973 to 1986. KDI became full owners of the property in 1986, and sold it to MVTC the same year. MVTC, in turn, sold seven acres of property to the Polo Pallet Company, a wooden pallet assembly business. On the remaining land, MVTC operated an industrial park, leasing the land to various commercial enterprises. In 1990, Key Properties purchased the property. As of December 1993, several businesses were present on the site although the leasing arrangements between Key Properties and these businesses were not ascertained by MDE.

Concerns about the site were documented during OPI's operating years. In 1972, OPI received several complaints about smoke emissions caused by the burning of waste material in on-site burn pits. The on-site septic system also leaked occasionally, resulting in complaints and an investigation by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH).

In 1987, the Waste Management Administration of MDE learned of allegations that OPI had buried waste on the property during its years of operation and issued a Site Complaint to the then current owners, MVTC. Sampling done by Crippen Laboratories for MDE in July 1987 in response to this allegation revealed elevated concentrations of metals in several drums, lagoon surface water, and soils on the property. Additional on-site sampling conducted by MDE in late 1987 and early 1988 revealed elevated levels of organic compounds in soil borings, a drainage ditch, and wells, including a supply well which was used for drinking water at the time. In addition, surface water from Little Northeast Creek downstream -- but not upstream -- from the site was found to have elevated levels of trichloroethene (TCE). Off-site domestic wells in close proximity to the site were discovered to be contaminated with TCE, 1,2-dichloroethene (1,2-DCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and toluene.

In November 1987, MDE issued a Consent Order to KDI and MVTC to install residential water treatment systems in three homes whose wells were contaminated with site-related organic chemicals. KDI and MVTC complied. In December 1987, MDE issued another consent order requiring KDI and MVTC to remove and cleanup on-site hazardous wastes and to investigate the long-term hazards as well as the degree of surface and groundwater contamination associated with the site. This second order was not signed by KDI and MVTC. MDE then turned to EPA, which conducted an assessment of the site in March 1988. In June 1988, EPA ordered KDI to remediate nine areas of the site, to determine the nature and extent of groundwater contamination on- and off-site, and to maintain on- and off-site water treatment systems for contaminated wells. KDI hired O'Brien and Gere Engineers, Inc., (OBG) to carry out EPA's order.

OBG responded on a variety of fronts. It sampled 52 private residential wells in August 1988. Volatile organic chemicals were detected in five wells, including one that serviced an on-site mobile home. A drum and material removal program was carried out in October 1988 to inventory the types of waste on site and to determine appropriate disposal methods for this waste. UXB, a subcontractor specializing in pyrotechnics and explosives, assisted in the removal program. This program identified and excavated three burn/disposal pits containing 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of grenade fuses and slag. However, the waste from the pits was not removed from the site but instead was backfilled as soon as the material was identified. The program also identified, on the site's surface, containers of sludge with xylenes and chromium, white smoke mix (e.g., a blend of zinc oxide and hexachloroethane), hydrofluoric acid, an unknown acid, mineral spirits solvents, and caustic soda. OBG removed pyrotechnic devices, detonators, drums, and other containers from the site. These materials were disposed at USEPA-approved RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) disposal facilities.

Sampling, conducted in the fall of 1989, of on-site soil, stream water, and lagoon surface water and sediments confirmed the presence of heavy metals and organic compounds. OBG also installed 11 on-site groundwater monitoring wells. Samples from these wells and an on-site supply well contained excess organic chemicals.

In November 1992, OBG installed 5 pairs of shallow and deep off-site monitoring wells located 100 yards from the southeast border of the property. These wells lie between the property and Little Northeast Creek. They were installed to better characterize the zones of groundwater contamination. Sampling of these wells was conducted in January 1993. TCE was detected in three wells, two shallow and one deep well. The maximum concentration of TCE detected was 2,800 parts per billion (ppb).

The site was proposed to be placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in May 1993. This placement has not been finalized, and it is not known when it will be. The NPL is a list of all Superfund sites in the United States. In the pre-remedial phase, sites are added to the list if their initial evaluation yields a certain score based on a ranking system that is applied to all potential Superfund sites. Once a site is added to the Superfund list, a series of mandatory steps are initiated that eventually lead to site clean-up. The first step is the completion of a Remedial Investigation/ Feasibility Study (RI/FS) which involves a more complete determination of the nature and extent of site contamination and a detailed analysis of remedial (clean-up) alternatives. Following completion of the RI/FS, EPA issues a Record of Decision in which they select one of the remedial alternatives proposed for the site.

The pre-remedial phase for OPI has been completed. However, because, to date, the site has not been added to the NPL, a RI/FS has not been initiated. Delays have been caused by KDI, which claims it does not have the resources to pay for a RI/FS at this time; KDI wants to conduct the RI/FS in stages. EPA is currently reviewing KDI's financial data to determine whether the company's claims have merit.

B. Site Visit

On December 13, 1993, a three-hour site visit was made by Robin M. Wagner and Shannon Cameron, Environmental Toxicologists within the Office of Environmental Health Coordination of MDE, and Rick Grills, site Project Manager within the Waste Management Administration of MDE. An occupational medicine resident also accompanied MDE staff. Access to the site was obtained through the main entrance located off Mechanics Valley Road. Although the site was partially surrounded by a fence, the gate to the main entrance was open and unguarded. MDE staff surveyed the Mechanics Valley Trade Center (MVTC) property both by driving on the site's network of gravel paved roads and by walking on the grounds and inspecting buildings. The staff also observed the Polo Pallet Company, which is adjacent to MVTC and is part of the original Ordnance site.

Staff also spoke with two individuals associated with TNT auto repair shop, one of several businesses operated on the MVTC property. Other enterprises on the MVTC premises include a motorcycle repair shop, Sonny's, a septic tank business, and a non-commercial auto repair garage used for "tinkering" by a private party. Large propane storage tanks were also located on MVTC property; an Allied truck was observed refilling its tanks from the storage tanks during the site visit. All of the buildings housing these enterprises were dilapidated. In contrast, the Polo Pallet Company was located within a well maintained building and grounds.

Access to the site appeared unrestricted. The fence surrounding the MVTC portion of the site was composed of chain link where it bordered streets and of barbed wire where it bordered a cultivated field. As previously noted, entrance to MVTC was through an unlocked, unguarded gate. The portion of the site lying between Mechanics Valley Road and Deans Lane was completely accessible, i.e., there was no fence and homes were built on the property. However, an initial visual assessment of this part of the site made during the pre-remedial phase led to the conclusion that industrial activities were probably not conducted there; thus, this part of the site is not likely to pose a threat to public health. However, that assessment has not been confirmed by any sampling of environmental media.

In an earlier site visit, conducted on March 31, 1992, by EPA, MDE, and O'Brien and Gere Technical Services, several violations were documented that were still in evidence during the December 13, 1993 visit:

  • MVTC property is being used as a dumping ground for solid waste and garbage. It is extensively littered throughout with rusting vehicles and large appliances that could pose physical hazards to trespassers. The Ordnance site project manager from MDE Hazardous Waste Administration, who had last visited the site a year before, indicated that the amount of solid waste appears to have increased significantly over this time period. The source of dumping was not determined. However, since the site appears freely accessible, it is possible that nearby residents are contributing to this problem. One of the auto shop employees indicated that the garbage was going to be cleared from the site "within a week."

  • During the March 1992 site visit, squatters were discovered living in mobile homes on the property. EPA ordered the squatters to vacate the premises in April 1992. During the December 1993 visit, the site still contained about ten mobile homes.

Although most were abandoned, at least three mobile homes appeared to be occupied; locked padlocks were on one trailer and a functional heating fuel tank was connected to another. One of the TNT employees confirmed that one resident lived in another trailer.

  • On the March 1992 site visit, the on-site hazardous waste storage building used in earlier clean-up efforts was reported to be vandalized; the lock to the building was broken. During the most recent site visit, the lock was still broken and the building was open. The building contained about 20 drums. Some drums were empty, some were bolted and contained pyrotechnic fuses and explosives, and others contained salvageable or recyclable materials. The fuses and explosives had been mixed with concrete and placed in the drums. Thus, the drums were not at risk of exploding. On the December 13, 1993, visit, MDE staff also walked around three of the five surface water lagoons located immediately north of the main entrance to MVTC. All three contained liquids. Two were covered by what appeared to be green algae; one contained what appeared to be an oily mixture. Access to the lagoons was completely unrestricted.

Two of the 6 pairs of shallow and deep on-site monitoring wells (MW1D, MW1S, MW4D, and MW4S) were observed and found to be intact. The concrete vault surrounding the on-site supply well, Well 1, contained debris and dirty looking water. Well 1 is not secured. It could not be determined if Well 1 was used for drinking water by the squatters on-site at that time.

MDE staff also observed an area near Well 1 where, according to Mr. Grills, ordnance is buried. However, this area was not fenced nor were there any written signs to warn the public about this potential hazard. The staff also briefly observed a hummocky area (hilly area of mounds) in the southern most portion of the site which contained some of the most contaminated surface water found on-site. Smoke grenades were buried in the vicinity of Areas D and H. Again, no written warning signs were posted, nor was there any physical barrier present to prevent trespassing in this area.

After touring the site, MDE staff drove around the neighborhood. The area is rural and predominantly residential. About 15 older, wood-frame, free-standing houses are located immediately adjacent to the site on Mechanics Valley Road, Stevenson Road, and Dean's Lane. All of these homes have private drinking water wells, some of which have been shown to be contaminated by the site. Some of these homes had toys in the yards and children's garments on clotheslines, indicating the presence of children. Several farms and a mobile home were located further north on Stevenson Road. Approximately 15-20 newer looking free-standing homes and a duck pond were located on the part of Bouchelle Road near the site. Johnnies' Baseball Park, located about a quarter mile from the site at the intersection of Bouchelle and Mechanics Valley Roads, was the only recreational facility or park observed near the site.

The only industrial enterprise encountered in the vicinity, other than the Polo Pallet Company, was the Maryland Materials, Inc., Company, a large stone quarry operation located about a quarter mile from the site at the intersection of Stevenson and Lums Roads. No other commercial or public buildings, including schools, were seen by MDE staff within one mile of the site.

Little Northeast Creek flows adjacent to Mechanics Valley Road. It appeared to be an accessible, shallow brook in the vicinity of the site, although no people were seen fishing or playing in the Creek on the day of the site visit.

A follow-up site visit was conducted by MDE health assessment staff Robin M. Wagner, Shannon Cameron, and David Healy from the MDE Waste Management Administration in March 1994 to confirm the presence and number of people illegally living on the site. After examining the three trailers thought to be occupied during the December 1993 visit and speaking with an auto shop employee, MDE staff were able to determine that only one trailer, housing one resident, was occupied. MDE staff were not able to locate this person during the visit. According to the employee, at least one other person had lived on site in another trailer as recently as the summer of 1993. However, only one person lived on the site in March 1994. An EPA representative reported that, as of February, 1995, there has been nobody living on the Ordnance property.

During the most recent visit, MDE staff also looked into whether any persons on-site are currently exposed to contaminated water. The padlock on the building housing the water treatment system for on-site Supply Well 1 was broken, but the treatment system appeared intact. The auto shop worker indicated that on-site employees drink bottled water and showed MDE staff where the bottled water was kept. The auto shop worker also reported that the trailer resident drank bottled water. It has been reported that employees of all on-site businesses are currently using bottled water.

On March 20, 1995, OBG notified MDE in writing that the drums containing fuses and explosives were removed from the waste storage building and disposed of in accordance with local, state and federal regulations. The only drums that remained in storage building as of this date contained old granular activated carbon filters used to remove volatile organic site-related contaminants from affected groundwater.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics

OPI is located in zipcode 21901, which includes the towns of North East and Charlestown. The 1990 U.S. Census considered the entire area within the zipcode to be rural. The 1990 total population and number of households in this zipcode was 10,363 and 3,686, respectively (1990 U.S. Census). Three fourths of the residents own their homes, while the remainder rent their accommodations. About 28% of the residents are under 18 years old, 62% are between 18 and 64 years old and 10% are 65 years old or older. The area is predominantly white (96.5%); African Americans and other races represent 3.0% and 0.5% of the population, respectively. The median household income in 1989 was $34,932, and the per capita income was $13,913; 10% of the residents had incomes below the poverty level. About 63% of persons over 24 years old had a high school diploma or less education; the remainder had at least some college education. The unemployment rate for men and women over 15 years old seeking employment was 6.5% and 5.3%, respectively.

The nearest residences are about 30 feet from the site on Mechanics Valley, Stevenson, and Deans Lane. These homes have private residential wells that were used for drinking water prior to the discovery of chemical contamination.

Land and Natural Resource Use

The site's maximum elevation is 180 feet above sea level at the western edge while its minimum is 100 feet above sea level at Mechanics Valley Road. The property slopes downward from the west to the east about 3.5 percent. Thus, surface water runoff travels in a west to east direction. There is a small, intermittent stream which flows east from the site, running next to the lagoons and then into Little Northeast Creek. Thus, surface water runoff from the site eventually reaches Little Northeast Creek, which, in turn, flows south into Northeast Creek and eventually empties into Chesapeake Bay.

The sources of water for housing units in the zipcode were public water or private company (38%), individual wells (60%), and "other" sources (2%) (1990 U.S. Census). The homes within a mile of the site use private wells for drinking water. There is also currently one on-site well that could be used for drinking water, if bottled water is not available, by the businesses and residents living on the site. The city of North East, which is located within the zipcode, receives its water from a municipal system. This municipal system uses surface water from Northeast Creek at a location 2.46 miles downstream from the OPI site. The system delivers water to about 5,000 people. However, only 2,200 of the 5,000 people supplied are within a three mile radius of the site (MDE, 1990).

The land within a one-mile radius of the site is predominantly developed with private homes and farms. As previously noted, the only commercial activity observed within the one mile radius was the stone quarry operation, the Maryland Materials, Inc., Company. The city of North East is found within a three miles radius of the site. According to the records of the MDE/Residential Sanitation Division, 1,313 domestic wells have been constructed since 1969 within a three-mile radius.

D. Health Outcome Data

DHMH is currently in the process of gathering cancer incidence data for the State of Maryland dating back to 1983. Comparative cancer incidence data for the local (zipcode or census tract), county, and state are projected to be available sometime in the next two years. Cancer mortality data are available from DHMH through 1989. DHMH has provided MDE with cancer mortality data in electronic format for the years 1987 to 1989. Geographic coverage of the cancer deaths includes County, zipcode, and census tract.

The birth defects registry at the DHMH has data available from 1984 to 1988; however, the data are limited to 12 sentinel birth defects reportable by law(1), and the non-sentinel birth defects, which are voluntarily reported. Geographic coverage of this data is restricted to the County level. Evaluation of available health outcome data is presented in the Public Health Implications section of this document.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

There is little documentation of community health concerns in the present or past. Several complaints were made to the Cecil County Health Department by nearby residents in 1971 and 1972, when OPI was operational, about air pollution -- dense black and white smoke -- caused by the burning of defective smoke bombs on-site. In response to complaints, OPI agreed to modify their burning procedures to reduce the amount of smoke produced. Specifically, they agreed to bury rather than burn some waste, to burn smaller quantities at a time on a more frequent basis, and to not burn waste when the wind was blowing in the direction of houses adjacent to the site. These procedures apparently reduced the problem, which was eliminated when OPI ceased operations.

In 1981, a reporter from the local newspaper, the Cecil Whig, contacted the Cecil County Health Department to report a call from a local resident who feared her drinking water well might be contaminated as a result of buried waste at OPI (file correspondence from William Sumner, Cecil County Health Department, August 14, 1981). The resident was in poor health and thought contaminated water might be the cause. According to the Cecil County Health Department, the resident's well had been tested and no chemical contamination was found. The resident was apparently notified of the well testing results by the County Health Department. The County Health Department told the reporter it had learned that OPI burned smoke grenades which contained a carcinogenic compound, "benzathrone." The reporter also told the County Health Department that he had spoken with former OPI employees who indicated many of them had cancer, liver damage, lung problems and high levels of lead in their blood. The Cecil County Health Department referred the reporter to the Office of Environmental Programs of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It is not clear what, if any, follow-up actions were taken in response to these health claims.

When organic chemical contamination of on-site supply wells and off-site residential wells was discovered in 1987, bottled water was recommended to avoid potential health consequences of ingesting contaminated water. Water treatment systems were subsequently installed. The on-site water treatment systems are currently maintained and sampled periodically by O'Brien and Gere.

In 1987, MVTC's septic system was discovered to be leaking, discharging sewage directly onto the ground surface. This leakage was deemed a potential public health hazard. The Cecil County Health Department ordered MVTC to take corrective action, which it did.

No other community health concerns could be located in the documents available to MDE. MDE conducted two public availability sessions during the public comment release of this document that solicited current health concerns the community had about the site (see Public Comments section).



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