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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

SHARON STEEL CORPORATION (FAIRMONTCOKE WORKS)
FAIRMONT, MARION COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA


SUMMARY

The Fairmont Coke Works site, formerly Sharon Steel Corporation in Fairmont, WestVirginia, is an abandoned coke production facility. The site covers approximately 107 acres, with57 acres utilized for coke plant operations, waste treatment, and disposal practices. Theremaining 50 acres comprise a wooded hillside that descends to the Monongahela River at thesouthern segment of the site. The site is bordered by another Superfund site, BigJohn's Salvage Company (also referred to as Reilly Tar and Chemical) to the west and oldrailroad tracks that are immediately adjacent to the rightdescending bank of the Monongahela River to the south. A trucking company and privateresidences are to the east.

The Standard Oil Company built the plant in 1920 to manufacture coke and refine itsbyproducts. The Sharon Steel Corporation bought the plant in 1948 and operated it until 1979,when the plant closed as a result of Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act suits filed by theEnvironmental Protection Agency.

Fairmont Coke Works (Sharon Steel Corporation) does not currently present a Public HealthHazard. However, if the planned remedial activities are notcompleted and the site is later developed for residential and other municipal use, residents couldbe exposed to contaminants that mightbe harmful to their health.

The site was a public health hazard in the past becauseformer employees who worked close to soils were likely exposed to polynuclear aromatichydrocarbons at levels that might have caused skin irritations and possibly had a low increased risk of developing additionalskin cancer in a lifetime.

There is evidence that the site contamination also migrated off site into the adjacentresidential area. However, the amounts of the contaminants in soils were not likely to causeadverse health effects for residents.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry(ATSDR) has made recommendations to reduce and prevent exposure to contaminants. If pertinent additional data and information become available, ATSDR will reevaluate this site forany indicated followup.

BACKGROUND

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry  (ATSDR),with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Healthand Human Services and is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response,Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to conductpublic health assessments for sites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes forits National Priorities List (NPL). As part of that mandate, ATSDR has evaluated thepublic health significance of the Fairmont Coke Works (Sharon Steel Corporation) site. Specifically, ATSDR has determined whether health effects are possible and has maderecommendations to implement actions to reduce or prevent possible health effects.

A. Site Description and History

The Fairmont Coke Works site, formerly Sharon Steel Corporation, in Fairmont, WestVirginia, is an abandoned coke production facility. The site covers approximately 107 acres, ofwhich 57 were utilized for coke plant operations, waste treatment, and disposal practices. Theremaining 50 acres comprise a wooded hillside that descends to the Monongahela River at thesouthern segment of the site. The site is bordered by another Superfund site, Big John's SalvageCompany (also referred to as Reilly Tar and Chemical) to the west and old railroad tracks that areimmediately adjacent to the right descending bank of the Monongahela River to the south (Figure1). A trucking company and several private residences are to the east (1).

The Standard Oil Company built the plant in 1920 to manufacture coke and refine itsbyproducts. The Sharon Steel Corporation bought the plant in 1948 and operated it until 1979,when the plant closed as a result of Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act suits filed by theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA). After the plant closed, Sharon Steel Corporationdeveloped remediation plans for the site; however, local ordinances prevented the implementationof the remediation plans. Solid waste from past plant operations and other plant debris wereplaced in two on-site landfills (labeled north and south). Two wastewater treatment/oxidationponds provided on-site physical and biological treatment processes. The effluent outfall resultingfrom the downgradient pond (oxidation pond number 2) forms an unknown tributary thatdischarges into the Monongahela River. Sludge was periodically excavated from the twooxidation ponds and stored in pits adjacent to the ponds.

The fine residue dust known as breeze was often mixed with waste tar for solidification andplaced in the breeze pile. Results of samples collected from the waste areas reveal the presence ofbenzene, toluene, xylenes, numerous polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenols, andmetals (1). In September, 1990, Sharon Steel Corporation removed two million pounds of wastetar from the waste tar pit. But the remedial efforts became too costly, and Sharon SteelCorporation entered bankruptcy.

In May 1993, EPA initiated an emergency removal action under the ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Since 1993, the EPA(with West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection [WVDEP], and the city ofFairmont)has carried out several removals, conducted environmental sample collections, andimplemented actions to stabilize the site (1, 2).

Surface contamination has been removed, and the remaining buildings on site have beendecontaminated and secured. However, one oxidation pond and the breeze pile are still on site. Inaddition, no removal actions have occurred in the light oil storage area. The site is fenced in areaswhere trespassers are likely to gain easy access to the site. However, ATSDR has been informedthat the Sharon Steel Corporation is no longer providing 24-hour guard service at the site.

The Fairmont Coke Works (Sharon Steel) site was proposed to the EPA National PrioritiesList (NPL) in June 1996, and placed on the NPL in December 1996.

B. Site Visit

Dr. Moses Kapu, Dr. Catherine McKinney, Naomi Penney and Thomas Stukas from ATSDR;Dennis Matlock from the EPA; Mike Stratton, Dr. John Hando and Mr. Stan Moskel from theWest Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) visited the site on October 22,1996. ATSDR representatives also contacted nearby residents to obtain any health concernsabout the site. Appropriate sections of this document describe pertinent information the ATSDRrepresentatives obtained during the visit.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural ResourceUse

Demographics

Approximately 6,162 people live within 1 mile of the site (3), including 5,769 Caucasians;369 African Americans; 13 American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts; 6 Asians or Pacific Islanders;41 Hispanics; and another 5 identifying themselves as "other race."

Land Use

The area surrounding the site is a mixture of industrial, commercial, and residentialproperties. The site consists of 107 acres that are zoned industrial. Fifty acres of the unusedportion of the site comprise a wooded hillside to the south of the site and adjacent to theMonongahela River. Hunters, all terrain vehicles riders, and other trespassers have been observedon this parcel of land. An old railroad track that runs adjacent to the river is being converted intoa bike path. The distance to the nearest residence is approximately 100 feet. The nearest publicbuilding is the Light of Life World Outreach Church, approximately 100 feet from the site'ssouthern boundary.

Natural Resource Use

Homes and industries in the area obtain their water from the municipal water supply system. WVDEP officials say there are no private drinking water wells in the site vicinity. Twodrainageways, located on the southern and northern portions of the site, lie 30 feet below thegrade of the site. The drainageways receive surface runoff and direct the treated clean water to the Unnamed Tributary of the Monongahela River.

D. Health Outcome Data

Government agencies routinely collect information on the health of the people within theirjurisdictions. The federal government collects general health information on the entire nation. Many state health departments keep registries of illnesses and diseases. Some county and localhealth departments also routinely or periodically collect health information. Concerned citizensand citizen action groups may also collect health information. This section describes the healthdatabases that hold this information. The Public Health Implications Section discusses how thesedatabases might relate to the site. Discussions of the available health databases follow.

In 1991, The state of West Virginia started a cancer registry that contains limited informationabout breast and cervical cancer. Reports for other cancer sites are incomplete and were added tothe registry only in 1993. The state also keeps a birth defects registry, vital health statistics, andrecords of disease incidence that are reported by on county and state.

COMMUNITYHEALTH CONCERNS

Residents questioned whether current health problems for themselves and their children couldresult from past operations at the site. General respiratory problems and asthma in adults andchildren were among health concerns. One resident spoke of sinus problems and cancer in formerworkers, although the existence of such problems cannot be confirmed. Another resident talkedabout concerns regarding any long-term health effects, especially for children who lived in thearea when the facility was operating.



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