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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

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


ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION AND OTHER HAZARDS

On-site sampling of soils, sediments, soils/tar material, and surface water has been conducted (1, 3). Soils were also sampled from the nearby residential areas. Review of contaminants listed in tables 1 to 6 (Appendix B) indicates that polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were the main contaminants of public health concern at the site. Although the narration in this section covers other contaminants listed in the tables, this public health assessment does not contain evaluations of them. In addition, the presence of a listed contaminant does not necessarily indicate that the contaminant will cause adverse health effects.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) uses the following information to select and discuss contaminants of concern:

  • concentrations of contaminants on and off site,
  • the quality of field and laboratory data and sample design,
  • comparison of on- and off-site contaminant concentrations to comparison values for noncancer and cancer endpoints, and
  • community health concerns.

A. On-Site Contamination

Surface soils

ATSDR reviewed the results of soil samples taken from the oxidation pond areas, the north and south landfills, and different locations around the main plant building on site in 1994. The surface soils contained low levels of PAHs and other organic substances (Table 1, Appendix B). The maximum concentrations of fluoranthine and naphthalene in the few surface soil samples from the north landfill or from around the main plant building are well below screening values for adults who worked at the site. The amounts of volatile organic compounds in the soil samples are also low, except for concentrations in one four samples taken east of the main plant building.

Subsurface Soils

Subsurface soils across the site were contaminated with several PAHs, volatile organic compounds, some pesticides, and some polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (Table 2, Appendix B). Contaminants in soils at the site appear to be more concentrated in the subsurface than in surface soils.

Surface Water

Health scientists from the state of West Virginia and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contractor samples surface water from ditches and channels, landfills, the outfall point at pond #2, and discharges from the Unnamed Tributary. Analysis showed high concentrations of metals and benzene in the samples (Table 3, Appendix B). Surface water locations on site are not accessible to the public.

Sediments

Sediments across the site contained mainly PAHs and metals (Table 5, Appendix B). However, the concentrations of the PAHs and metals in most locations were low.

Tar/Soil Mixture

The state of West Virginia and the EPA contractor sampled tar/soil mixed materials from the tar loading area, the waste tar pit, and areas around the main plant building (Table 6, Appendix B). The limited samples and few detects showed presence of PAHs, volatile organic compounds, and metals. The residents did not have access to these areas, which were probably accessible only to the few former employees engaged in ground operations and to remedial workers at the site.

B. Off-Site Contamination

Surface Soils

Table 4 (Appendix B) presents a range of contaminant concentrations detected in samples taken off site from the adjacent residential area on Suncrest Boulevard. Most of the PAHs detected on site were also detected in low levels in residential soils. All pesticides except Aldrin were detected in very low levels. Aldrin was used extensively in the past as an insecticide to kill termites on corn and cotton.

Subsurface Soils

Samples of subsurface soils showed low levels of PAHs and metals, and those levels were possibly background levels of these contaminants (Table 2, Appendix B).

Surface Water

Surface water samples the state of West Virginia and the EPA contractor collected in the off-site locations of the Unnamed Tributary showed low levels of only a few contaminants (Table 3, Appendix B). The limited number of samples is inadequate to characterize contamination of off-site surface water.

Sediments

Samples of sediments from channels and ditches in off-site locations were contaminated with low levels of PAHs and metals (Table 5, Appendix B).

Tar/Soil Mixture

The mixture of tar and soil material the state of West Virginia and the EPA contractor collected contained PAHs and phenol in very few samples and at low levels (Table 6, Appendix B). The low levels of PAHs probably reflect background levels.

C. Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (TRI) Review

The TRI is a series of on-line EPA files containing information on the annual estimated releases of toxic chemicals into the environment. TRI is authorized by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization (SARA) of 1986. The data collected cover the years 1987 through 1995. However, Fairmont Coke Works site ceased operations in 1979; therefore, the TRI did not include any release data for the site.

D. Quality Assurance and Quality Control

ATSDR noted that laboratory analyses for sample data used in these evaluations were subject to quality control. ATSDR presumes that the completeness and reliability of information could affect the validity of ATSDR's conclusions.

E. Physical and Other Hazards

ATSDR staff observed that the main plant building and a couple of smaller former storage buildings are still on the site. However, according to the EPA, these are secure and have been decontaminated. They do not, therefore, pose any physical threat. A pile of metal from dismantled buildings contains huge pieces that trespassers are not likely to remove.

PATHWAYS ANALYSES

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identifies human exposure pathways by examining environmental and human components that might lead to contact with contaminants. A pathway analysis considers five elements: contaminants of concern, a source of contamination, transport through an environmental medium, a point of exposure, and a route of human exposure. Exposure pathways are completed when all five elements exist and there is evidence that exposure to a contaminant has occurred in the past, is occurring, or will occur in the future. Exposure pathways are potential when one or more of the elements is not clearly defined but could exist. Potential pathways indicate that exposure to a contaminant could have occurred in the past, could be occurring, or could occur in the future.

A. Completed Exposure Pathways

ATSDR's analysis of information indicates there are three completed pathways. Two are associated with surface soils and tar/soil mixtures involving former workers and trespassers in the past and in the future. The other is associated with contaminated soils involving children and adults in nearby residences. Table 7 (Appendix B) summarizes completed exposure pathway elements.

Surface Soil

The few former employees who worked at the waste disposal areas at the site were likely exposed to contaminants in on-site surface soils. They might have contacted soils and accidentally ingested small amounts of soil by inhaling the particles of dust when working outside or by getting contaminated soils onto their hands, and transferring them into their mouths through eating, drinking, or smoking or casual hand to mouth contact.

Surface soils in the adjacent residential off-site areas were contaminated with low levels of site-related contaminants. Adults and children who lived off site at the adjacent residences were likely exposed to low levels of contaminants when working in their yards or playing outside or by getting contaminated soils onto their hands and transferring the soils into their mouths through eating, drinking, or smoking or casual hand to mouth contact. Children who engage in frequent hand to mouth behavior usually ingest larger amounts of soils than children who do not. The EPA excavated surface soils in on-site and residential areas shortly after soil sampling in 1994.

Tar/Soil Mixture

Any former employees who loaded tar or who might have entered areas on site where tar materials have been released to soils were also likely similarly exposed in the past to contaminants in the tar/soil mixture.

B. Potential Exposure Pathways

Three potential pathways—connected with subsurface soils, sediments, and surface water both on and off site—appear plausible. These pathways involve former ground workers and remedial workers on site or sanitation and utility workers off site. Table 8 (Appendix B) summarizes potential pathways elements.

Subsurface Soils

Waste disposal practices and releases of chemicals into the ground are likely to have resulted in contamination of the subsurface soils at the site and in some nearby off-site areas. Some former workers and contractors engaged in excavation work at the site were potentially exposed in the past through accidental ingestion, although skin contact was also possible. Utility workers or contractors who may be engaged in excavation work in the future could be potentially exposed.

Sediments and Surface Water

Former remedial workers engaged in removing sediments to clean oxidation ponds, channels, and ditches were potentially exposed to contaminants in sediments and surface water. That past potential exposure would have been principally through accidental ingestion and skin contact. Utility and remedial workers or contractors could also be potentially exposed in the future.

If the site is developed for residences and other municipal uses in the future, subsurface soil would become surface soil for construction of homes or other municipal structures. Adults and children may be exposed to site-related contaminants, principally through ingestion.

Table 9 (Appendix B) further characterizes exposed and potentially exposed populations, the associated contaminants, and media.

PUBLIC HEALTH IMPLICATIONS

Introduction

This section contains discussions of the possible effects that polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from soils across the Sharon Steel Corporation (Fairmont Coke Works) site might have had on public health. If toxicological evaluation determines that adverse health effects were possible, health scientists will consider available information regarding the health of the population living adjacent to the site to determine whether the possible adverse effects have been observed in epidemiological studies.

A. Toxicological Evaluation

This section contains information on contaminants to which people are exposed and that may cause adverse health effects. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has determined that former workers at the site who worked close to the soil were likely exposed to PAHs. If the land use changes in the future, the subsurface soil may become surface soil for construction of homes or other municipal facilities. In addition, nearby residents were also likely exposed to low levels of PAHs in off-site surface soils.

The section presents information about evaluation of toxicological information about PAHs (4) to determine what types of health effects are possible, given the concentrations of PAHs found at the site and in off-site residential areas and the ways in which people are exposed to the contamination.

Former Workers

The former workers at the Sharon Steel Corporation site were likely exposed to several PAHs in surface soils and in tar/soil mixtures while at work (tables 1 and 6, Appendix B). They might have accidentally ingested small amounts of PAH-contaminated soils and tar/soil mixture. They are assumed to have ingested 100 milligrams of soil a day.

There were three main exposure scenarios for workers at the site. The first consisted of office workers' likely occasional exposure to fumes in air. The second involves plant machine and process workers who might have received occasional exposure to contaminated soils. That exposure would have been added to occupational exposures they might have received through the inhalation of fumes in the process and loading areas. The third exposure scenario is associated with ground workers, including maintenance workers who were exposed to contaminated soils and tar/soil mixture at several source areas on site. If the site is not cleaned and the site becomes a residential or other municipal facility in the future, subsurface soils might become surface soils and people might likely be exposed to PAHs through ingestion of contaminated soils.

Former office workers at the site were likely exposed to contaminants, especially PAHs, in fumes. However, they might not have received enough PAHs from air in their offices to cause adverse health effects. Moreover, most contaminants at the site are associated with soils and tar/soil mixture resulting from waste disposal and treatment practices (1, 2).

Plant machine process workers were likely to have been exposed occasionally to mixtures of PAHs through ingestion of and skin contact with contaminated surface soils (Table 1, Appendix B). This exposure would have been added to that from coke oven emissions. This group of workers also possibly experienced skin irritations. In addition, those who smoked cigarettes received additional amounts of PAHs (4, 5). However, the amounts of PAHs this group of former workers were exposed to are not likely to have caused skin cancers.

Ground workers were likely exposed to high levels of mixtures of PAHs in surface soils across the site (Table 1, Appendix B) and in the tar/soil mixtures (Table 6, Appendix B). If their exposures lasted for several years, the amounts of PAHs in soils and the tar/soil mixture that they were exposed to might have caused adverse health effects, including skin irritations and skin cancer. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) excavated contaminated on-site surface soils after the samplings were completed in 1994.

Former workers who smoked cigarettes also received additional PAHs from that source. Tobacco smoke is known to contain PAHs. In addition, epidemiological studies indicate that workers developed skin irritations and skin cancer following dermal and/or inhalation exposures to mixture of PAHs (3).

Residents Who Live Adjacent to the Site

Residents who lived adjacent to the site were likely exposed to low levels of PAHs and other contaminants in surface soils off site (Table 4, Appendix B). The amounts of PAHs adults and children might have ingested are not likely to have caused any adverse health effects (4,5). The amount of Aldrin detected in one soil sample off site was probably a result of its application off site to control termites. It is possible that the amount detected readily evaporated from surface soils, because Aldrin and dieldrin were not detected in off-site subsurface soils (Table 2, Appendix B). In addition, the EPA excavated contaminated surface soils from residential yards after the samplings were completed.

Future Exposures

If the site is not cleaned before land use changes in the future and residential homes or other municipal recreational facilities are built at the site, subsurface soils might become surface soils for construction of homes and other facilities. Construction and utility workers and residents might likely be exposed in the future to high levels of contaminants that might cause adverse health effects, including skin problems and skin cancer (4, 5).

Child Health Issues

There are no specific child health issues currently associated with this site. However, if the planned remedial activities are not completed, and the site is later developed for residential and other municipal use, children could be exposed to contaminants that might be harmful to their health.

B. Health Outcome Data Evaluation

Possible adverse health effects of likely exposures at the site were skin irritation and a low increased risk of skin cancer only in those former ground workers who worked for several years at the site. The available health outcome data are incomplete and are not related the former plant workers. Specific health outcome data for the population living near the site are also unavailable.

C. Community Health Concerns Evaluation

We have addressed each of the community concerns about health as follows:

  1. Did the site operations in the past cause the current asthma, general respiratory and sinus problems in children and adults who lived near the site?

    The asthma and sinus problems reportedly being experienced by some adults and children are not likely related to site-related contaminants. A toxicological evaluation indicates that residents who lived near the site were not exposed to contaminants at levels that were likely to cause adverse health effects, including asthma and sinus problems.

    However, the Sharon Steel Corporation plant was shut down in 1979, in part as a result of violations of the Clean Air Act. It is possible that local industries and automobile traffic in the area can add suspended particulates to the air and contribute to the occurrence of respiratory conditions. Some epidemiological studies suggest that poor air quality, and possibly cockroaches in many homes in urban areas, can bring on asthma attacks in people who have the disease.

  2. Were the deaths, possibly due to skin cancer, of two former employees related to operations?

    ATSDR cannot confirm that any former employees died of skin cancer. However, a toxicological evaluation indicates that some former employees who worked close to the soil for several years were likely exposed to high levels of PAHs. The amounts of PAHs in the soils and in the tar/soil mixture were enough to cause skin irritations and possibly a low increased risk of skin cancer in the workers' lifetimes. The cancer registry information and the vital records are not specific for workers or for the population near the site.

    Epidemiological studies suggest that workers exposed to PAHs through skin contact and/or inhalation developed skin irritations and skin cancer (4, 5).

  3. What are the long-term health effects for children who lived near the site at the time that the plant was operating?

    Reviews of environmental data reveal that levels of site-related contaminants in residential areas were low and were not likely to cause adverse health effects for adults and children who lived in the areas. Neither the EPA or state officials received community concerns about site operations or during the removal activities.

    If land use changes, and homes and other municipal facilities are constructed at the site, the subsurface soil will likely become surface soil and children and adults could possibly be exposed to high PAH levels that may cause skin irritations and possible skin cancer after long-term exposures.



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