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PRELIMINARY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

SPECTRON INCORPORATED
(a/k/a GALAXY INCORPORATED)
ELKTON, CECIL COUNTY, MARYLAND


SUMMARY

The Spectron/Galaxy site, a former chemical recycling and solvent recovery facility, is located in Little Elk Creek Valley in northeastern Cecil County, Maryland, about seven miles north of the town of Elkton. The site is adjacent to Little Elk Creek. Chemical liquids and sludges were dumped in on-site open lagoons and sludge pits during the early period of plant operation (1961-1970). The use of the sludge pits was reportedly discontinued in 1969, and the lagoon was eliminated in 1970. After the lagoon and sludge pits were closed, Spectron plant wastes were either taken to other nearby dump sites, or hauled to a New Jersey waste-disposal facility.

Many complaints about strong odors were made by area residents to local and state health agencies in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. During this period, residents also complained of suffering from what they believed were exposure-related health effects. A group of local residents filed suit against the facility in 1968, seeking compensation for alleged health effects. Off-site air sampling conducted in the early 1970s identified volatile contaminants in concentrations which far exceeded acceptable levels of these substances. Elevated levels of contaminants were also identified in off-site air samples collected during the 1980s.

Contaminant levels which exceed drinking water standards have been identified in on-site monitoring well samples. Identified contaminants include many volatile organic solvents and several heavy metals. Included in this group are two chemicals that are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known human carcinogens (benzene and vinyl chloride) and a number of other substances which have been classified as probable or possible human carcinogens.

Prior to the EPA emergency removal action (1989-90), people living near the site were exposed to widely varying concentrations of chemicals in the air. People may also have been exposed to contaminants in off-site groundwater and off-site surface water and sediments. Low concentrations of several volatile organic contaminants, most notably tetrachloroethylene, were tentatively identified in some residential wells near the site. As a precaution, five residences were supplied with bottled water while the wells were resampled. Upon resampling, no chemical contaminants were identified in these wells, and the supplying of bottled water to these residents has been discontinued.

Area residents have both in the past, and more recently, expressed concern about potential long-term health effects resulting from exposure to site-related contaminants. In 1974, a task force headed by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) initiated an epidemiologic study of cancer mortality in the valley population. The study of deaths occurring to Providence Valley residents during the period 1967-1976, was completed in 1977. The task force reported a greater-than-expected number of deaths from all forms of cancer in the valley population. There was also a significantly greater number of cancers of the lymphatic and blood forming tissues than expected, and these cases appeared to cluster near the site. Only one of the 13 cases of cancer-related deaths identified in the study population was a person identified as a former Galaxy employee, as well as a valley resident.

The solvent recovery facility (Spectron) filed for bankruptcy in 1989, and at the request of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), EPA evaluated the site at that time. In June 1989, EPA initiated an Emergency Removal Action at the site; this was completed in 1990. The Spectron/Galaxy site was included on the National Priorities List (Superfund) in 1994. In 1992, the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs; companies identified as generating or transporting wastes processed by the former facility) initiated field activities to implement a EPA mandated Removal Action to prevent site-related contaminants from entering Little Elk Creek. After discovery that there were dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) in the aquifer beneath the creek, the EPA, State and PRPs all recognized that the proposed Removal Action would not be effective. The current revised Removal Action plan is scheduled to be installed in the summer of 1997.

Available information indicates that airborne exposures to site contaminants at certain times during the mid-1960s through mid-1980s represented an urgent public health hazard to some area residents. Air sampling conducted during 1987-1989 indicated levels of airborne contaminants near the site that were considerably lower than those measured in the past. The contaminant concentrations measured at this time did not pose an immediate public health hazard. Off-site air monitoring was conducted in August 1995 to determine current levels of airborne contaminants near the site. Results from this monitoring indicated that no airborne chemicals were present at levels of public health concern.

Surface water monitoring results from 1995 indicate that volatile organic chemicals from the site continue to be released into Little Elk Creek. Contaminants in the water of Little Elk Creek will continue to be monitored every six months.

The data and information developed in the Spectron/Galaxy Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that past exposures to site contaminants released into the air were a health concern and that evaluation of possible current exposures requires further water and air sampling data. HARP determined that community health education and health professional education are indicated in order for the community and health care providers better understand the public health implications of past exposures. A health statistics review, which should include cancer mortality and birth defects databases, was also indicated. HARP also recommended that a follow-up to the original task force cancer mortality study should be conducted, with an emphasis on cancers of the lymphatic and blood forming tissues (i.e., lymphomas and leukemias).

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and MDE have made recommendations to: 1) Maintain a periodic sampling program of local residential wells that are or may be potentially affected. If private wells are contaminated at levels of health concern, an alternate water supply or treatment system will be evaluated; 2) Determine the extent of site-related contamination in Little Elk Creek surface water and sediments downstream from the site; 3) Where appropriate, provide health education to the exposed and potentially exposed populations; and 4) If necessary records are available, update the cancer mortality study of the population of Providence Valley residents that was previously conducted for the years 1967 - 1976, with particular emphasis on deaths from cancers of the lymphatic and hematopoietic tissues (e.g., lymphoma, leukemia).

Action has been taken to address these recommendations. A total of 21 residential wells in the site vicinity were sampled in September and October 1995 and will continue to be monitored every six months. MDE is planning to update the previously conducted cancer mortality study of the population of Providence Valley. The recommendation that community health education is indicated has been provided to ATSDR's Division of Health Education (DHE). DHE will evaluate that recommendation.

BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The Spectron/Galaxy site, a former chemical recycling and solvent recovery facility, is located in northeastern Cecil County, Maryland, about seven miles north of the town of Elkton (Figure 1). The five acre site was occupied by paper manufacturing companies from the late 1800s until 1946, when a fire destroyed the existing facility. The site is situated along Providence Road in a valley formed by Little Elk Creek. The creek is adjacent to the site and flows through the valley in a northwest to southeast direction. Elk Valley Lane is east of the site, and Little Elk Creek Road is west and north of the site. The area surrounding the site is predominantly agricultural and residential use, with a relatively low population density.

A solvent recovery facility initiated operations on the site in 1961 under the name of Galaxy Chemicals, and operated sporadically until 1964 when it became fully operational. Galaxy Chemicals declared bankruptcy in 1975, and reopened under the name of Solvent Distillers, Inc., in 1976. In 1978 the name was changed to Spectron, Inc. Spectron ceased operation in June 1987 (1). On-site operations of all three companies involved reclaiming solvents from waste generated by electronic, pharmaceutical, paint, lacquer, coatings, and chemical process industries. Galaxy Chemicals was one of the main generators of waste that was dumped during the early 1970s in an abandoned quarry in Cecil County (2). The quarry, Maryland Sand, Gravel and Stone, is also a Superfund site, and is situated approximately 3 miles west of Elkton.

Complaints from local residents regarding chemical odors from the site started in 1962 and increased greatly from 1967-1972 (3). It appears that the main sources of these odors were an on-site evaporation lagoon and sludge pit. At that time maintenance at the plant was reported to be poor, and the use of open containers and lagoons for storage of waste materials was common (3). From 1961 to 1976, the Cecil County Health Department and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Bureau of Air Quality received approximately 685 odor complaints from people in the Little Elk Creek Valley (3). The sludge pit was eliminated in June 1969 and the lagoon in 1970, the latter action in response to a court order.

In 1969, several area residents filed suit against the facility, seeking damages for alleged adverse health effects as a result of exposure to plant emissions. The suit was settled in 1972, at which time the company was ordered by the court to compensate 10 residents for a total of $34,932 as reimbursement for medical and hospital expenses (4). A vocal critic of company operations during the late 1960s and early 1970s was Dr. Pietro Capurro, a pathologist at Union Memorial Hospital in Elkton, Maryland. Dr. Capurro lived about 1.5 miles down the valley from the plant and complained of personally suffering adverse health effects from plant emissions. Dr. Capurro also published papers in the scientific literature that described the conditions of local residents whom he believed were suffering from illness caused by exposure to plant emissions (5,6,7). Dr. Capurro also suggested that an unusually high rate of cancer existed among the residents of Little Elk Valley (7).

Investigators from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) concluded in 1970 that wastes disposed on site had migrated into the groundwater and into Little Elk Creek. In 1970, air sampling was conducted near the facility by Morton Thiokol, a contractor for the DHMH Bureau of Air Quality. A total of 16 different chemical compounds were identified in the air and concentration measurements were made of five commonly used industrial solvents (acetone, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, benzene, and toluene). DHMH filed suit against the company in 1970, and in 1971, the court ordered the plant shut down until operational changes were made which would decrease air emissions from the facility (3).

In 1974, the DHMH formed a task force charged with investigating the environmental health aspects of Little Elk Valley. The task force completed a study of cancer mortality among valley residents for the period January 1967 - June 1976, which compared valley residents' cancer mortality to what would be expected based on the rates for the white population of Cecil County during a similar time period (3). This study is discussed in section VI.B of this report (Health Outcome Data Evaluation).

In 1979, investigators from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) observed approximately 1,500 fifty-five gallon drums, on the facility property. Approximately 500 of these drums were described as damaged, rusting, open, or leaking (1). They also reported observing piles of waste sludge. Soon after this, DNR issued orders requiring Spectron to remove sludge, install diking (barriers to prevent off site runoff of contaminated water and liquid waste), conduct groundwater sampling, and eliminate an unpermitted discharge (1).

DNR and a private firm conducted an investigation of shallow on-site groundwater in 1980 and 1981. They reported elevated levels of organic contaminants, including the solvents methylene chloride, 1,2-dichloroethane, 1,1,1- trichloroethane, and toluene in several monitoring wells (1). In 1982, Spectron entered into an agreement with EPA that required the installation of a groundwater treatment system, which was completed in 1983. This groundwater treatment system was unable to reduce the levels of groundwater contamination found in on-site monitoring wells and was discontinued several years later. The site was also paved in 1983.

Spectron was ordered to install a vapor control system in April 1986 to prevent the escape of vapors and odors beyond the site boundary. In 1987-1989 the Air Management Administration, within the newly created Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), conducted monitoring of the ambient air near the facility and reported levels of several organic solvents which were above national and state averages (1). Spectron was closed in August 1988 by the State of Maryland for violation of a 1987 Settlement Agreement. In April 1989, Spectron, Inc., filed for bankruptcy. At that time MDE's Waste Management Administration requested that EPA evaluate the site for Emergency Removal Action under Superfund. During an inspection of the site in 1989, EPA investigators identified approximately 1,300 drums and 400,000 gallons of chemical waste in 62 tanks. As a result of this investigation, EPA declared that the site posed an "imminent and substantial threat" (8). Emergency removal of wastes from the site was completed in March 1990 (9).

In September 1991, a large group of former Spectron/Galaxy customers (referred to as Potentially Responsible Parties or PRPs) who provided or transported the chemicals which were recycled at the site, entered into an Administrative Order by Consent (AOC) with EPA. The intent of this AOC was to implement a groundwater extraction and treatment system designed to abate discharges of contaminants into the adjacent stream. An evaluation of the information gathered from the 1991-1992 pre-design study for the groundwater treatment system indicated that the proposed system would not be effective in abating the seeps since dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) were discharging into the creek. DNAPL chemicals are heavier than water, resulting in their accumulation in the lower part of the groundwater aquifer.

In October 1992, the Spectron/Galaxy site was proposed for addition to the National Priorities List (NPL). In March 1993, the PRPs, in consultation with EPA and MDE, initiated a Focused Remedial Investigation (FRI) to investigate the nature and extent of the DNAPLs and evaluate remedial measures to remove the DNAPLs and treat the groundwater. The FRI field work was completed and a draft final report issued in May 1994. Various options are now being evaluated to treat contaminated groundwater and prevent site-related contaminants from discharging into Little Elk Creek.

B. Site Visit

On August 18, 1993, a site visit was made by Shannon Cameron, environmental toxicologist from the MDE Office of Environmental Health Coordination, and Sesh Lal, an engineer from MDE's Waste Management Administration.

The following observations were made during the August 1993 inspection:

  1. The site is surrounded by a chain link fence with two entrance gates at opposite ends of the site which are secured with padlocks. Two bridges cross over Little Elk Creek: one car bridge on Providence Road and one footbridge which connects the site to a parking lot. The entrance from the footbridge is fenced and locked. There are at least four holes in the fence, which are large enough to allow entrance to the site. There was evidence of trespassing, including empty beer and soda bottles and graffiti on the buildings and equipment.

  2. The area is well marked by signs which read "Restricted Area No Unauthorized Personnel," "Hazardous Area Fire Protection Required Beyond This Point," which were posted during the operation of the facility. The east side of the site is bordered by Little Elk Creek. Little Elk Creek is approximately 30 feet wide and the depth ranges from approximately 10 to 30 inches as it passes the site. Although signs are posted on the fence which read "US EPA/MDE Recommends No Fishing or Swimming," there is easy access to the stream from adjacent residences.

  3. The majority of the site is covered by asphalt, with the remaining area covered by vegetation. The asphalt is cracked in many areas, with weeds growing up through the cracks.

  4. The buildings, storage tanks, and several old vehicles in deteriorated condition are still on site.

  5. Strong chemical odors were detected on site, particularly towards the east side near the stream. The strongest odors were detected standing on either of the two bridges over the stream.

  6. Four of the twelve monitoring wells on site and eight of the stream piezometers on site and in the stream bed were visible.

  7. Leachate seeps from the stream bank were visible.

In a more recent site visit (May 1995) conducted by Peter Ashley and Chad Roy of MDE Environmental Risk Assessment Program, it was noted that the holes in the perimeter fence had been repaired and the front gate reinforced to further restrict access.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics
The 1990 Census indicates that Cecil county has a total population of 71,347. A total of 94.5% of this population is white; 4.5% is black, and the rest (1%) are of mixed racial origin. The median age for the county population, according to the 1990 Census, is 32.6 years, up from 29.6 years of age in 1980. Approximately 27% of the population is under age 18, 62% are 18 to 64 years of age, and 10% are greater than age 65. The average population density of Cecil County is 205 persons per square mile. Elkton, a town of 9,073 residents (1990 Census report), is located about 7 miles south of the site. From 1961 to 1977, a total of 166 employees reportedly worked at the facility. No record of the number of employees working there after 1977 could be located.

Land Use
The area around the site is currently zoned for low density, residential use (allowing a maximum of 1 housing unit per 5 acres) (personal communication with Cecil county Planning Office official). Land in the area is also used for agricultural purposes. A small farm with pastured cattle was observed about a quarter of a mile from the site on Providence Road.

An estimated 95 people live within a quarter mile radius of the site, and several residences are situated within 200 feet of the property boundary (1) (US Census Data, 1990). An estimated 370 people reside within a one-mile radius of the site. The closest schools to the site are Kenmore Elementary and Cherry Hill Middle School, both located outside of the valley on Singerly Road, about 1.5 miles southeast of the site.

The western border of the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area is situated about 0.75 miles east of the site. This area is administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Natural Resource Use
All of the residents of the Little Elk Creek Valley (also referred to as Providence Valley) use groundwater as their source of drinking water (1). Residential wells in the vicinity of the site range in depth from 20 to 250 feet, with several wells having been hand dug. In 1987, there were twenty-one permitted residential wells within a 1-mile radius and several residential wells within several hundred feet of the site (10). In addition, several area residents obtain their drinking water from springs located on their property (11). While in operation, the Spectron facility also used groundwater as their source of potable water.

Groundwater in the valley is found within underlying layers of soil, weathered bedrock, and fractured bedrock. There are no impermeable materials separating the different underground layers; thus, groundwater is able to move between layers. These underlying layers represent unconfined aquifers (an aquifer consists of permeable materials that conduct and yield significant quantities of groundwater to wells and springs) that serve as water sources to valley residents. The water table within the valley is shallow, averaging about 10 feet, with seasonal fluctuations (10). Little Elk Creek is not used as a drinking water source, and because of its relatively small size downstream of the Galaxy/Spectron site, would not be expected to serve as a source of edible game fish. Children fish in the creek downstream of the site; however, residents have reported that any fish that are caught are thrown back. Children also swim in an area of the creek estimated to be about 1 mile downstream of the site (personal communication with local resident, August 24, 1993). The creek is dammed at the northern end of the site, creating an impoundment that was used as a source of cooling water by Spectron. The dam was originally constructed to provide hydroelectric power to a paper mill that was formerly located on the site.

D. Health Outcome Data

Available health data bases can be used to determine whether or not certain health effects occur more frequently in Cecil County than in the State of Maryland as a whole. This section describes these data bases; their evaluation is presented in the Public Health Implications section.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) maintains a birth defects registry. There are 12 types of defects which must be reported separately and are referred to as sentinel birth defects. The data in the registry are available at the county level. The birth defects registry has incidence (the number of new birth defects cases diagnosed during a given time period) data available for the period 1984 to 1991.

As part of the Maryland Cancer registry project, DHMH gathers cancer incidence data, although mandatory reporting has only been required for a few years. Cancer mortality data are available from DHMH through 1993.

Vital statistics (births and deaths) reports are available for Maryland counties from the early 1960s through 1993.

In 1974, the DHMH organized a task force to investigate the reports of elevated cancer mortality rates among residents of Little Elk Creek Valley. This final report on studies conducted in Little Elk Creek Valley during 1974-1976 was published in November 1977. The findings of the task force are discussed in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

As noted in the Background section, the site has been the focus of numerous health-related concerns in the past, especially during the late 1960s and early 1970s when there were open lagoons of solvents and sludge on the site. Dr Pietro Capurro, a local physician formerly on staff at Union Hospital in Elkton, Maryland, expressed concern in two published papers that many of the residents living in the valley near the Galaxy/Spectron site were suffering from symptoms which he believed were caused by exposure to airborne emissions from the site (5,6). Dr. Capurro reported that some of the most frequent health complaints included fatigue, irritability, headaches, and light-headedness. Dr. Capurro also expressed concern over what he believed to be a high cancer mortality rate among valley residents (7). In 1969, area residents brought suit against Galaxy Chemical for alleged adverse health effects, including respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system disorders, which they believed were caused by exposure to chemicals from the site.

More recently (1987), a local citizens group, Families Linked Against Chemical Contamination (FLACC), expressed concerns regarding the potential for long-term health effects among area residents exposed to site-related chemical emissions (12).

When contacted by MDE staff, officials with the Cecil County Health Department were not aware of any recent health concerns related to the Galaxy/Spectron site. Some families living near the site were contacted by telephone during the writing of this document and queried about their site-related health concerns. Some of these residents expressed continued concern about potential long-term health effects resulting from past exposure to site contaminants. Specific questions included whether or not past exposure to site emissions would increase their risks of cancer and heart disease. One woman also questioned whether the numerous miscarriages which she experienced during the 1970s may have been due to exposure to airborne contaminants from the site.

Site-related health concerns were also gathered at an availability session which was held by MDE and EPA staff on May 25, 1994, at Cherry Hill Middle School in Elkton, Maryland. Additional concerns expressed at that time included the following: potential effects on the health of young children; the possible contamination of drinking water; the level of contaminants in Little Elk Creek downstream of the site; and whether or not contaminants in Little Elk Creek would be expected to bioaccumulate (concentrate) in the tissue of fish and animals which eat fish.



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