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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

LOWER ECORSE CREEK DUMP
WYANDOTTE, WAYNE COUNTY, MICHIGAN

SUMMARY

The Lower Ecorse Creek Dump site, also called the North Drive Dump or Wyandotte Cyanide site, is located in a residential area in Wyandotte, Michigan, on the south bank of the Ecorse River. In 1989, a resident of the area reported to the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) that an excavation for footings for a new driveway had exposed blue-stained soil. WCHD analysis found high concentrations of cyanide in the blue-stained soil, and tentatively identified the blue material as ferric ferrocyanide or Prussian Blue dye. The blue material was also found in several lots adjacent to the original site. The site area is a reclaimed former wetland, and waste materials were used as fill, including wastes from a coal gasification plant, a potential source of the blue cyanide-containing material. The resident who first reported the blue material has also reported blue-colored water coming into his basement.

WCHD consulted with the Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH), the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). The U.S. EPA covered the stained areas with clean topsoil in December 1989. ATSDR issued 4 consultations on the site between November 1989 and March 1991, and, in August 1993, released a Public Health Advisory on the hazards at the site. In late 1993, the U.S. EPA excavated the stained soil for disposal off-site and applied a sealant to the basement walls of the house where the contamination was first found. The U.S. EPA placed the Lower Ecorse River Dump site on the National Priorities List in January 1994.

The site posed an urgent public health hazard in the past, when areas of surface soil were contaminated with a cyanide-iron complex and cyanide-contaminated groundwater seeped into basements of homes on the site. Remediation of the contamination at the site has reduced the potential for human exposure.

BACKGROUND

The Lower Ecorse Creek Dump site was placed on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) National Priorities List (NPL) in January 1994.

A. Site Description and History

The Lower Ecorse Creek Dump site, also called the North Drive Dump or Wyandotte Cyanide site, is located at and around 470/480 North Drive, Wyandotte, Michigan (see Figures 1 and 2). The site includes a total of 11 residential lots, covering approximately 2.25 acres between North Drive and the south bank of the Ecorse River and on the south side of North Drive (Figure 3).

Before 1930, the site area was wetlands along the Ecorse River. Beginning in the 1930s, the wetlands were filled in and the river channel re-routed, often using construction debris and other waste as the fill. In October 1989, the owner of the residence at 470/480 North Drive reported to the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) that workers excavating to replace the driveway on their property had encountered blue-colored soil. Preliminary tests by WCHD found high concentrations of cyanide in the blue-colored soil. WCHD consulted with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the agencies contacted the U.S. EPA for further investigation. The U.S. EPA found that large area of soil in the site area was colored a deep blue. The primary constituent of the coloring agent is ferric ferrocyanide (Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3). Waste from a coal-gasification plant deposited in the site area is the potential source for the blue material found on the site. Blue-colored water has been seen in the basement sump of the house at 470/480 North Drive. Blue stains have also been seen on the basement walls of this house (1).

The ATSDR issued health consultations on the site in November 1989, July 1990, November 1990, and March 1991. In these consultations, ATSDR concluded that the site posed a significant health threat and recommended that residents avoid contact with contaminated areas until permanent remedial measures could be completed (1).

In December 1989, the U.S. EPA covered the areas of visible contamination at the site with 6 inches of clean topsoil, to provide a temporary cover while further investigation went on and a permanent solution was developed. After it was reported that the new soil was eroding away, additional soil was added to the cover in August 1991. In January 1993, the owner of the residence at 470/480 North Drive reported that his basement had flooded with blue-colored water. U.S. EPA investigators found that these waters contained high concentrations of cyanide (1).

On August 13, 1993, the ATSDR issued a Public Health Advisory for the North Drive Dump (Lower Ecorse Creek Dump) site. The Advisory concluded that the levels of cyanide found in soil at the site pose a significant public health hazard and that anyone using shallow groundwater in the site area may be at risk of exposure to cyanide-contaminated water. The Advisory made the following recommendations:

  1. residents of the site area should be dissociated from the cyanide contamination,
  2. permanent remedial measures should be implemented as soon as possible,
  3. the site should be considered for U.S. EPA's National Priorities List,
  4. residents of the area should be surveyed to locate any private wells in the site area,
  5. restrictions on digging in the site area should be considered,
  6. the ATSDR Division of Health Studies should evaluate reports of adverse health effects to determine the source of these effects (2).

In November 1993, the U.S. EPA began a time-critical removal action at the site. This action included removal and disposal of contaminated soils from around the residence at 470/480 North Drive, application of a chemical-resistant sealant to the basement walls and floors at the residence, and restoration of the surface drainage at the residence (1). An U.S. EPA contractor had completed the excavation of contaminated soil around the residence and backfilled the area with clean soil by January 1994.

In May 1994, a U.S. EPA contractor issued a Work Plan for the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the Lower Ecorse Creek Dump site (3). Among the goals of the RI/FS is an evaluation of the extent of contamination remaining at the site. A contractor for the U.S. EPA collected samples of soil, water, sediment, and air from the Lower Ecorse Creek site and its vicinity in November and December 1994 (4).

The Ecorse River flows eastward along the north boundary of the site, approximately 160 feet north of the houses on the site, and empties into the Detroit River approximately 0.5 miles east of the site.

B. Site Visits

In November 1989, ATSDR Region V representatives visited the site. They noted blue-stained soil, standing pools of blue-tinted water, and stressed vegetation on the property at 470/480 North Drive (2).

On June 10, 1991, James Bedford of the MDPH, Denise Jordan-Izaguirre and Buck Grissom of the ATSDR, and U.S. EPA personnel visited the site. They saw the soil contamination at 470/480 North Drive, and observed that no soil contamination was visible on nearby properties. The MDPH, ATSDR, and U.S. EPA personnel attended a public meeting concerning the contamination that evening (5). ATSDR representatives visited the site again in September 1991, and noted blue-stained soil and stressed vegetation on the property at 470/480 North Drive (2).

John Hesse and James Bedford of the MDPH, Louise Fabinski, Cynthia Lewis, Jeanette May, and Stephanie Prausnitz of the ATSDR, and U.S. EPA personnel visited the site on January 10, 1994, in connection with a public availability session at a nearby school that evening. A U.S. EPA contractor was conducting a time-critical removal action at 470/470 North Drive. Photographs taken by the U.S. EPA during the excavation showed that one wall of the basement had been heavily eroded away, probably by corrosive compounds in the soil. The photographs also documented that a sewer line on the property had collapsed. The contractor's personnel reported that a gas line serving the house had developed a pin-hole leak. The basement walls were reinforced and the gas and sewer lines repaired. The contractor, at the family's request, was in the process of transplanting a flowering crab-apple tree from the front yard to the back. Agency personnel noticed that the roots and small branches of the tree had a definite bluish tinge. ATSDR and MDPH staff talked with several residents of the site area during the site visit and at the availability session that evening.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

The site is in the center of a residential area. There are at least 8 occupied houses, with approximately 20 residents, within the site boundaries. The residents are primarily white, of lower-middle to middle-class income (6). The land north of the Ecorse River is occupied by industry, including the Downriver Communities' Combined Sewer Overflow Treatment Plant, an abandoned Great Lakes Steel Foundry, and the Cathodic Electrocoating Company (37).

There is no known use of private wells in the site area. The residences in the site area are connected to the Wyandotte municipal water system. The Wyandotte municipal water system has an intake on the Detroit River approximately 2 miles south (downstream) of the mouth of the Ecorse River. The Detroit municipal water system has an intake on the Detroit River approximately 1 mile southeast of the mouth of the Ecorse River.

There is a boat launching ramp on the Detroit River approximately 0.5 mile south of the mouth of the Ecorse River. The Detroit River is heavily used for recreation, including boating, swimming, and fishing.

D. Health Outcome Data

ATSDR has examined the medical records of a resident of the site vicinity in response to concerns that the chemical contamination in the soil and basement air of his residence might have contributed to certain medical problems.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

One young resident of the site vicinity has been diagnosed with several health and developmental problems. He was born the year the family moved into the site vicinity. His parents are concerned that his problems may be related to exposure to the cyanide in the soils at their residence. Younger children in their family do not have similar health problems (8).

Other area residents at the public meetings and availability sessions reported a variety of symptoms, including headaches, "jerky" spells, frequent flu and vomiting, asthma, nasal congestion, hives, osteoporosis (in a comparatively young man) and osteoarthritis. They also asked what potential adverse health effects might be attributed to the contamination at the site, especially concerned with the possibility of cancer (6).

The MDPH released a draft of this Public Health Assessment for public comment on March 1, 1995. The comment period lasted until March 31, 1995, and was extended to April 15, 1995, at the request of an area resident. Comments received are addressed in the Responsiveness Statement section at the end of this assessment. As always, further information on the site and comments on the assessment will be considered during future assessments or consultations relating to the site.


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