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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

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


SUMMARY

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

The Standard Oil Company built the plant in 1920 to manufacture coke and refine its byproducts. 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 the Environmental Protection Agency.

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

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

There is evidence that the site contamination also migrated off site into the adjacent residential area. However, the amounts of the contaminants in soils were not likely to cause adverse 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 for any 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 Health and Human Services and is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to conduct public health assessments for sites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes for its National Priorities List (NPL). As part of that mandate, ATSDR has evaluated the public health significance of the Fairmont Coke Works (Sharon Steel Corporation) site. Specifically, ATSDR has determined whether health effects are possible and has made recommendations 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, West Virginia, is an abandoned coke production facility. The site covers approximately 107 acres, of which 57 were utilized for coke plant operations, waste treatment, and disposal practices. The remaining 50 acres comprise a wooded hillside that descends to the Monongahela River at the southern segment of the site. The site is bordered by another Superfund site, Big John's Salvage Company (also referred to as Reilly Tar and Chemical) to the west and old railroad tracks that are immediately adjacent to the right descending bank of the Monongahela River to the south (Figure 1). 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 its byproducts. 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 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After the plant closed, Sharon Steel Corporation developed remediation plans for the site; however, local ordinances prevented the implementation of the remediation plans. Solid waste from past plant operations and other plant debris were placed in two on-site landfills (labeled north and south). Two wastewater treatment/oxidation ponds provided on-site physical and biological treatment processes. The effluent outfall resulting from the downgradient pond (oxidation pond number 2) forms an unknown tributary that discharges into the Monongahela River. Sludge was periodically excavated from the two oxidation ponds and stored in pits adjacent to the ponds.

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

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

Surface contamination has been removed, and the remaining buildings on site have been decontaminated and secured. However, one oxidation pond and the breeze pile are still on site. In addition, no removal actions have occurred in the light oil storage area. The site is fenced in areas where trespassers are likely to gain easy access to the site. However, ATSDR has been informed that 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 Priorities List (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 the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) visited the site on October 22, 1996. ATSDR representatives also contacted nearby residents to obtain any health concerns about the site. Appropriate sections of this document describe pertinent information the ATSDR representatives obtained during the visit.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

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 residential properties. The site consists of 107 acres that are zoned industrial. Fifty acres of the unused portion of the site comprise a wooded hillside to the south of the site and adjacent to the Monongahela River. Hunters, all terrain vehicles riders, and other trespassers have been observed on this parcel of land. An old railroad track that runs adjacent to the river is being converted into a bike path. The distance to the nearest residence is approximately 100 feet. The nearest public building is the Light of Life World Outreach Church, approximately 100 feet from the site's southern 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. Two drainageways, located on the southern and northern portions of the site, lie 30 feet below the grade 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 their jurisdictions. The federal government collects general health information on the entire nation. Many state health departments keep registries of illnesses and diseases. Some county and local health departments also routinely or periodically collect health information. Concerned citizens and citizen action groups may also collect health information. This section describes the health databases that hold this information. The Public Health Implications Section discusses how these databases 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 information about breast and cervical cancer. Reports for other cancer sites are incomplete and were added to the registry only in 1993. The state also keeps a birth defects registry, vital health statistics, and records of disease incidence that are reported by on county and state.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

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



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