SHARON STEEL CORPORATION
FARRELL, MERCER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
Of primary health concern are the physical hazards at the site. Slumping or sliding waste piles could injure or bury people who are on foot or on vehicles. The highly alkaline pond water poses a risk of skin and eye irritation to anyone wading or splashing in it. Ponds also pose a serious drowning hazard.
We are basing our discussion of health hazards on the assumption that calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) is the substance in the slag that is raising the pH of the water. Calcium hydroxide in its solid form is a skin, mucous membrane, and respiratory tract irritant. In its solid form, it is also a severe eye irritant (5).
About 0.185 grams (gm) of calcium hydroxide will dissolve in 100 milliliters (ml) of water at room temperature. This will produce a saturated solution with a pH reading of about 12.4. However, aqueous solutions of calcium hydroxide are not readily absorbed into tissues, and prolonged contact is necessary for toxicity.
Lime burns of the eye are caused by a splash of a thick, moist, pasty material (plaster, mortar, or cement), less commonly by a splash of milky fluid (whitewash) and rarely by a clear solution of calcium hydroxide (lime water) (6).
PADOH does not feel that accidental ingestion of small amounts of limewater with a pH of up to 13.0 will cause any serious damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Minor irritation to the skin may occur following prolonged contact. Some eye irritation may occur if this limewater is splashed into the eyes, but no serious or permanent damage is expected as a result of sporadic, short-term exposure.
Skin, eye, and respiratory tract contact with dust from the slag pile should be avoided. Solid particles of calcium hydroxide or its parent compound calcium oxide (burnt lime) may be present in the dust.
Groundwater beneath the slag is high in dissolved metals, but no drinking water wells are on or immediately downgradient of the site. Therefore, no exposure is occurring through groundwater. The Shenango River receives surface water runoff and groundwater discharge from the site, but the most recent river monitoring results show no increase in metal concentrations and only a slight increase in downstream pH (7.50 upstream, 7.57 downstream) (2). The wetlands in which disposal occurred are apparently doing a remarkable job of "buffering" the effects of the waste.
PADEP maintains a "Do Not Eat" fish advisory for carp from the Shenango Lake Dam near Sharpsville to the river mouth near New Castle, some 15 miles south of the site (Figure 4). The chemicals responsible for the advisory are PCBs and chlordane, neither of which is associated with the site (7).
The Sharon Steel site is in three municipalities and borders the state of Ohio. PADOH gathered community health concerns through discussions with representatives from each municipality, the local school district, and people in the surrounding neighborhood. The community agreed that periodic trespassers drive, walk, and bike onto the site to park, hunt, fish, and recreate. We observed evidence of these activities such as hunting (shotgun shells and cardboard target), illegal dumping (garbage), fishing (the type of container used for worms found along the river), boating (trailer tracks on the river bank to the water's edge) and drinking (beverage cans) during our visits to the site. A local police officer mentioned that the department receives occasional calls reporting trespassers on the property. Neighbors identified a dirt road and trail entering the property where they have seen children on bikes. The main access road is unrestricted and enters the property from Ohio Street.
We asked nearby neighbors, the local health officer, the school nurse, a school administrator, a community health nurse, and representatives from each local municipality if they were aware of any complaints of adverse health effects related to the site. No one was aware of adverse health effects associated with the site. In addition, no available health outcome databases are available that capture information on the types of injuries that might occur at the site. A local health official felt that people may occasionally eat fish, including carp, caught in this area of the Shenango River. Since the area is not posted with signs regarding the fish consumption warning, some people may not be aware of contamination in the fish.
At a meeting with the local school district, we discussed how to be sure parents know to keep their children away from the site. The attached fact sheet has been developed to increase awareness and provide information on the hazards associated with the site. The school district agreed to distribute the fact sheet to its students through the quarterly publication of the school's newsletter, which is received by all the students' parents. Representatives from the municipalities and the Mercer County State Health Center said that they would also make a fact sheet available to the families they serve. A representative from the Ohio Department of Health reviewed the fact sheet and that department has been provided with copies. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Health contacted the Mahoning County and the Turnbul County Health Departments to ask if residents had expressed concern about the site. Neither health department had received any inquiries or concerns.