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PRELIMINARY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

FOOTE MINERAL COMPANY
FRAZER, CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA


SUMMARY

The Foote Mineral site, seven miles south of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, generated large amounts of lithium and boron wastes since World War II. Concentrations of lithium up to 13,000 parts per billion (ppb) and boron up to 20,000 ppb have been detected in off-site private wells northeast of the site. One public well serving an estimated 17,000 people still pumps water containing about 900 ppb lithium and 300 ppb boron.

A groundwater basin divide passes through approximately the center of the site such that volatile organic compounds (trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, and benzene) migrate from the site (burn pit) westward for an unknown distance. There is no evidence that volatile compounds have migrated through groundwater eastward and northeastward from the site. Lithium and boron from source areas west of the divide may also be moving westward through groundwater.

People in the community are concerned about the safety of their water supply. At least one residential well that was sampled contained petroleum compounds (e.g., toluene, naphthalene) not originating on site. Though not used for drinking, the well was used for about thirty years by residents for laundering and bathing, and the resident is concerned about health implications of past use of the water. Other concerns involve what kinds of treatment are adequate for well contamination and possible future sources of further groundwater contamination.

The site represents a past public health hazard because evidence exists that exposures to hazardous chemicals (lithium and boron) at high levels, through use of off-site, contaminated groundwater, have occurred. Those levels have been reduced through connection of residences to the public water supply and through dilution of contaminated water in the public water supply by blending the water with uncontaminated sources. At present, the site represents an indeterminate public health hazard. Although no adverse health effects have been identified in people exposed for short periods of time to levels of lithium and boron found in drinking water near the site, little information is available in the scientific literature on long-term, low-level exposure to lithium and boron. No community-specific health outcome data are available that indicate that the site has had an adverse impact on human health.

The data and information developed in the Foote Mineral Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that people are being exposed to contaminants from the site. Substance-specific technical consultations are needed for lithium and boron. Local health professionals need to be informed about the contaminants and about possible drug interactions. The community needs to be informed about exposure to the contaminants. A disease and symptom prevalence study for people exposed to the contaminants is indicated. ATSDR will reevaluate this site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available that indicate a need to do so.

In order to ensure public health safety, PADOH and ATSDR designed a public health action plan (PHAP). The PHAP includes the following provisions:

    ATSDR will provide physician education, as time and resources permit, in behalf of off-site residents who are being exposed to lithium and boron in public and private water supplies.

    ATSDR's Division of Health Studies has received the HARP determination that a disease and symptom prevalence study for exposed people is indicated. The Division of Health Studies has not yet determined if such a study can be undertaken.

    ATSDR's Division of Toxicology has referred the recommendation for substance-specific applied research to the Research Implementation Branch (RIB) for consideration. RIB compiles a list of contaminants that are recommended for further research. When research is being considered, information is gathered to determine what type of research may be appropriate and if resources are available to conduct that research. RIB provided available information to PADOH but has not yet determined what other actions will be taken.

    ATSDR and PADOH will inform the public about exposure to the contamination at the site.

BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The Foote Mineral site is on Bacton Hill Road, East Whiteland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania (Figures 1 and 2, Appendix A), about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The property is 79 acres in size and is oblong in shape, trending northeast-southwest (Figure 3). ConRail tracks bound the northwest side of the site. Church Farm School property bounds the site to the west. The Philadelphia Electric Company, Planebrook Station, is southeast, and several small offices bound the site on the east. Two quarries are located in the northeastern part of the property. The plant buildings are just southwest of the quarries (Figure 3) and the lower southwestern half of the property is a corn field. A Sun Oil pipeline runs in a north-south direction immediately to the northeast of the site.

The northernmost quarry on site is referred to as the dry quarry. It is somewhat circular in shape with a diameter of approximately 250 feet and a depth of approximately 40 feet. The quarry is about 100 feet south of Swedesford Road. The quarry contains Class 3 demolition waste, some rusted, empty 55-gallon drums and other rubbish. The "wet" quarry is located approximately 100 feet south of the dry quarry. It is also nearly circular in shape, its diameter is approximately 400 feet from rim to rim, and its depth (now) is about 25 feet. This quarry currently contains plant wastes and sediment to a depth of about 50 feet, but no water.

From 25 to 30 buildings, which were part of the former Frazer Plant are, for the most part, unoccupied. The old facility production well (PW-2) and water tower are in the north-central portion of the property in a cluster of buildings (Figure 3). PW-2 was abandoned at an unknown time in the past and replaced with uncontaminated PW-3 southwest of the site. Outside drum storage areas are located at several places on the sparsely vegetated property.

Between 1932 and 1941, the northeastern portion of the site was quarried for dolomite. A dolomite processing plant operated on the site at that time. The western portion of the property is currently farmed and was never used for waste disposal in active plant operations. Fractured and faulted dolomite underlies the site and most of the valley, providing geologic controls for the migration of contaminated groundwater and surface water.

From 1942 until about 1991, Foote Mineral manufactured lithium halides in solution and anhydrous form, and processed lithium metal at the Frazer Facility. The dry quarry appears to have received runoff from the former lithium drum wash area (Figure 3). It was also used for the disposal of construction materials. Prior to 1972, the company disposed of most of its facility wastes into the dry quarry. The compositions of the wastes are not known. At some time prior to 1970, East Whiteland Township municipal trash was disposed in the dry quarry (E). Until 1972, mineral waste, PCB transformer oils (in drums, according to a former employee), and process waters were placed into the wet quarry. Since about 1972, no mineral wastes have been disposed in the wet quarry. During normal operations, process waters were discharged through the lined equalization lagoon and then out the NPDES discharge point (1977 until shutdown) at West Valley Creek west of the site (Figure 4).

Between 1950 and 1955, three settling ponds were in use for the removal of magnetic iron from lepidolite ore. In 1975, these ponds were leveled, with their magnetic iron content intact. The volume of magnetic iron in the old ponds is unknown.

Between 1960 and 1973, pyrophoric wastes were ignited in a pit southwest of the plant. Wastes ignited included diethyl ether, n-hexane, n-pentane, benzene, tetrahydrofuran, and methanol. The quantities of wastes ignited at this location are unknown (Figure 3). Prior to 1979, the company used an unlined pond to wash production equipment. In 1979, this pond was filled and leveled.

Foote Mineral was purchased in early 1988 by the current owner, Cyprus Minerals Company, of Englewood, Colorado. Cyprus Minerals plans to raze the buildings and may redevelop the property for industrial use.

From 1988 to 1992, contractors for Foote Mineral conducted numerous on-site and off-site environmental investigations including residential well surveys, groundwater monitoring, and soil sampling. Remedial activities including raw material and tank removals, lithium arsenite removal, and biological treatment of soil also occurred.

The Foote Mineral site was added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in October, 1992. PADOH and ATSDR had no involvement with the site before the site visit and the community availability session that followed.

B. Site Visit

On December 2, 1992, representatives of Foote Mineral, EPA, and PADER visited the site with Bill Schmeer and J.E. Godfrey of PADOH and Gail Godfrey of ATSDR. The property is unrestricted; however, a security officer is present 24 hours a day and makes regular patrols around the site. All mineral processing and manufacturing activities have ceased, and buildings are, for the most part, empty. The only work currently underway on site is the PADER approved treatment of soil previously contaminated by fuel spills and leaks. The soil is spread on the ground (above a plastic liner) and seeded with bacteria which consume the contaminants. Debris, including an old refrigerator, was scattered in some areas of the site.

An open and unfenced pit (8 feet deep, 10-15 feet wide) exists where arsenite disposal formerly occurred. That soil was excavated and carried to a landfill for disposal. Also open is a large excavation in the south central part of the site from which underground tanks and contaminated soil were removed. Most of the excavated soil apparently remains on site for treatment.

C. Demographics, Land Use and Resource Use

An estimated 1,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the site. The area is experiencing rapid residential development as old farms are converted to residential subdivisions. A new subdivision of approximately 30 homes is under construction less than one mile northeast of the site.

Land use is a mix of residential, recreational, agricultural, and industrial enterprises. Quarrying operations (groundwater pumping) three miles northeast of the site, recent droughts, and heavy residential water use are taxing the regional aquifers such that a number of wells (about 10) north of Philadelphia Memorial Park (Figure 1) have gone dry within the past two years (H). Most dwellings and businesses rely on public water supplies (Philadelphia Suburban Water Company). The PSWC has two wells within one and one-half miles (northeast) of the site (Figure 2). However, an unknown number of residential dwellings (probably less than 60, Figure 6) near the site and approximately 50 homes north of Conestoga Road (Figure 2) use private wells.

Foote Mineral is underlain by dolomite (Ledger Formation) which was quarried in the 1930s and 1940s. Several other quarries are within three miles (northeast) of the site, and at least two are currently active (E and H).

D. Health Outcome Data

By using state health data bases, special studies, or other relevant health outcome data bases, it may be possible to determine whether certain health effects are higher than expected in areas surrounding hazardous waste sites. This section introduces these data bases and discusses their limitations. An evaluation of the usefulness of these health data as they relate to the Foote Mineral site is presented in the Public Health Implications section.

PADOH has maintained death records since 1903. The Pennsylvania Cancer Registry has collected cancer data for all areas of Pennsylvania since 1984. Field representatives interact with local hospitals to audit the accuracy of all reporting. However, the mobility of the patients, the variance in compliance rates among hospitals and the newness of the program create difficulty in analyses of geographic areas smaller than the county level. The most recent report, published in May, 1992, is entitled Cancer Incidence and Mortality in Pennsylvania, 1988-1989. The report only presents data applicable at the county level (smallest geographic area). PADOH is unaware of the existence of any special studies or other relevant health outcome data bases associated with this site.

 

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

PADOH determined community health concerns in meetings with individuals during an availability session held in conjunction with a site visit. No residents, East Whiteland Township officials, or Chester County Health Department officials are aware of any community action groups associated with the Foote Mineral site. They are also not aware of any unusual illnesses or birth defects that they attribute to the site. Two persons who attended the meeting, a father and his married daughter, are actively pursuing formation of the East Whiteland Township Environmental Advisory Council, which would be an official body under the Township. Although the father worked at Foote Mineral for two years in the early 1950s and is concerned about chemicals dumped in the two quarries, it is the close proximity to a second hazardous waste site that has spurred his attempts to form a governmental advisory panel. Individuals attending the availability session expressed the following concerns, which are discussed further in the Community Concerns Evaluation section of this document. public comments were received during the public comment release of this document. Those comments are addressed in the Attachment of this document.

  1. Is the public water supply safe? The public water supplier has several wells in the vicinity of both hazardous waste sites.

  2. Will activated charcoal filters on private wells remove harmful chemicals?

  3. What will happen when 55-gallon drums of transformer oil, which the former employee claims were dropped into one quarry, begin to leak their contents?

  4. One resident is concerned about the occupant (not in attendance) of a home adjacent to the dry quarry. The occupant was unable to receive public water because of the home's location.

  5. According to the 1988 NUS Site Inspection Report (E), a resident 650 feet northeast of the site complained that her well had always produced water with an objectionable odor (petroleum) and taste since its construction in 1953. This well was never used for drinking. What are (were) the consequences of using this water supply for bathing and laundry?


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