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HEALTH CONSULTATION

SHARON STEEL CORPORATION
FARRELL, MERCER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA


SUMMARY

The Sharon Steel slag pile and disposal area is a public health hazard to site visitors (trespassers) because of potential irritation from highly alkaline pond water (pH to 13) and the physical danger posed by slumping or sliding slag piles. The site is unrestricted and receives frequent foot and vehicular traffic. This health consultation (HC) has been prepared to address a review of historical site data, the site's status, and extensive interviews with local governmental units and school officials. The results of the HC have been shared with regulatory authorities of Ohio and Pennsylvania.


BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF ISSUES

The Sharon Steel acid slag disposal area is a more than 400 acre site southwest of the former Sharon Steel (now Caparo Steel) plant in Hermitage, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, north of Interstate 80 (Figures 1 and 2). Parts of the waste disposal area are only about 500 feet east of the Ohio border. The site is bounded on the east by the Shenango River (Figure 2). Sharon Steel used the area to dispose of blast furnace slag, basic oxygen furnace (BOF) slag, electric arc furnace (EAF) slag, and sludges since about 1900 (1). From 1949 to 1981, millions of gallons of spent pickle liquor acid were dumped over the slag. Theoretically, the acid was expected to partially evaporate and then be neutralized by the carbonates in the slag. In actuality, groundwater contamination resulted.

Most of the blast furnace slag, particularly north of Ohio Street (Figure 3), has been mined and used as aggregate for railroad ballast, highway construction, and other similar applications. The BOF slag, predominantly south of Ohio Street, is frequently mined to recover the metals within it.

In November 1980, eighteen monitoring wells were installed to determine the extent of groundwater contamination. Table 1, obtained from the files of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), reports some significant parameters and their respective concentrations. It is not known if these are maximum values for each listed parameter. Concentrations of arsenic, chromium, and lead exceed maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for drinking water by one to two orders of magnitude. Monitoring was ended in 1986 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the wells were improperly constructed (1).

In 1992, four well clusters containing two wells each (one shallow, one deep) were constructed to replace the original wells. Table 2 (2) summarizes data from an August 1992 sampling round from the new wells. We were unable to obtain an accurately scaled map of reasonable size (8 ½" x 11") which shows the locations of wells on site. Concentrations of selected parameters in the new wells are much lower than in the original wells, although shallow groundwater contains metals at levels above the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) comparison values.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) was requested to evaluate the public health aspects of the site under the cooperative agreement with ATSDR.

Site Visits and Current Site Conditions

On October 23, 1996, J.E. Godfrey of PADOH visited the site with a PADEP representative. Site access is unrestricted. The slag pile rests on glacial and stream deposits in the Shenango River Valley. The bedrock beneath the valley is predominantly sandstone, conglomerate, and shale of the Mississippian Cuyahoga Group (3).

Sharon Steel, now in bankruptcy, has sold the steel production plant to Caparo Steel. Sharon Steel still owns the slag waste area, except a small parcel sold to another company (Dunbar Slag) for the operation of an asphalt plant. Dunbar also operates a second asphalt plant on Sharon Steel property. Asphalt production and occasional slag removal (mining) are the only industrial activities taking place on the site.

The remaining slag piles (mostly arc furnace and BOF slag) are south of Ohio Street and occupy a space nearly one-half mile long, several hundred feet wide and fifty or more feet high. Two or three shallow ponds several acres in area are in the southern part of the site (Figure 3). Rain and melting snow leach calcium oxide from the slag to form calcium hydroxide, a compound that causes surface water (and groundwater) to become very alkaline (high pH value). On the day of the site visit, the PADEP representative took three or four pH readings near the area shown in Figure 4. Even after several diluting rain showers, all pH values were above 12.0 with the highest recorded at 12.9 near the base of one slag pile. Despite the alkaline water, the PADEP representative stated that ducks and geese use the ponds. We also know that people frequent the site because we observed vehicle tracks and spent shotgun shells and bullet casings near the ponds. Several sections of the slag pile were so steep that slumping or sliding appeared imminent.

More than 50 homes are within one-half mile of the site (Figure 2). Nearly all are south and west of the site and at least half are in Ohio across Bedford Road, the center of which is the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line. Businesses east of the Shenango River are predominantly industrial facilities, including the Caparo Steel plant. Farrell High School is about three miles east of the site.

On January 29, 1997, J.E. Godfrey again visited the site with Barbara Allerton and Alice Hoffman of PADOH, and Tracy Shelly of the Ohio Department of Health. While on the site, investigators noted loose debris spontaneously begin sliding down steep slopes of slag. Nothing was seen that might have disturbed the slag. Signs of trespassing were evident. Investigators extensively interviewed local school officials and citizens of both Ohio and Pennsylvania. On January 30, 1997, PADOH staff continued to interview local officials from three nearby municipalities.

The site has been recommended by the Governor of Pennsylvania for inclusion on the Proposed National Priorities List (NPL) Update (4). The site is in the early stages of investigation. A summary of site demographics is presented in Figure 5.


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