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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

MICHIGAN SITES OF RADIUM DIALCONTAMINATION

AIRCRAFT COMPONENTS (MICHIGANRADIOLOGIC)
(a/k/a D & L SALES)
BENTON HARBOR, BERRIEN COUNTY, MICHIGAN

AND

H & K SALES (MICHIGAN RADIOLOGIC)

BELDING, IONIA COUNTY, MICHIGAN



SUMMARY

The Michigan Sites of Radium Dial Contamination addressed in this assessment comprisethreewidely-separated though related locations, two of which are on the United States EnvironmentalProtection Agency (U.S. EPA) National Priorities List (NPL). Aircraft Components, Inc. ofBenton Harbor, Michigan, dealt in second-hand aircraft instruments, including many that had dialspainted with radium-containing luminous paint, originally acquired as surplus after World War II. After the company went out of business in 1990, a large number of radium-painted instrumentswere found in a warehouse near Benton Harbor they had used for storage. More suchinstruments had been sold and were stored in a second warehouse in Belding, Michigan. AircraftComponents, Inc. had contracted for instrument repair and calibration services to a privateindividual who performed the work in a workshop in the basement of his home near Bear Lake,Michigan. The U.S. EPA and the Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH) Division ofRadiological Health found extensive radioactive contamination in the home near Bear Lake.

The Benton Harbor and Belding warehouses are on the NPL. Former workers for AircraftComponents, Inc. whose job responsibilities indicated they handled radioactive gauges have beentested for residual radioactivity, and none was found. The residents of the Bear Lake home havebeen offered similar testing, but have declined to participate. The residents of the Bear Lakehome were temporarily relocated while the U.S. EPA attempted to decontaminate the structure. The house was eventually demolished, and the structure, contaminated soil, and othercontaminated material from the property and an adjacent property were disposed of in an off-sitefacility.

The Benton Harbor and Belding warehouses pose a potential public health hazard from theradioactivity present in and around them. The Bear Lake house posed an urgent public healthhazard, though thedemolition and removal have since eliminated the hazard. Contaminated soilfrom the Benton Harbor warehouse property may have washed into the Paw Paw River, whichflows by the site. Should either of the two warehouses catch fire, radioactive material may spreadto neighboring areas through fly ash. The U.S. EPA has held training seminars for Beldingemergency response personnel, and Benton Harbor emergency response personnel have hadsimilar training as part of emergency preparedness programs connected with nearby nuclearpower plants. A U.S. EPA contractor has begun packing the radium-containing instruments inthe Belding warehouse for shipment to disposal facilities.

Access to the two warehouses should be better restricted, the residents of the Bear Lakehouseshould be encouraged to undergo further testing to evaluate their exposure to radioactivematerials, water and sediments from the Paw Paw River near the Benton Harbor warehouseshould be sampled and analyzed, and emergency response personnel in Belding, Benton Harbor,and Benton Township should continue to receive periodic refresher training in the appropriateresponse to fires involving radioactive material. Steps to remove the radiological hazardsremaining at both warehouse sites should be pursued.

BACKGROUND

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has placed two of the threeMichigan Sites of Radium Dial Contamination on the National Priorities List (NPL). The U.S.EPA cleaned up the third site in an emergency removal.

A. Site Description and History

The Michigan Sites of Radium Dial Contamination addressed in this assessment consist ofthreeseparate but related sites around the state (see Figure 1 for locations). The three sites are the D&L Sales warehouse in Benton Harbor, Michigan (the Benton Harbor site), the Belding BusinessCenter warehouse (leased by H & K Sales) in Belding, Michigan (the Belding site), and aprivateresidence also used for a small-scale business in Bear Lake, Michigan (the Bear Lake site). The D& L Sales warehouse in Benton Harbor and the H & K Sales warehouse in Belding havebeenproposed for inclusion on the U.S. EPA NPL. The U.S. EPA has cleaned up the Bear Lake sitein an emergency removal.

On September 22, 1994, the Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH) Division ofRadiological Health (DRH)(1) received a call from theArkansas Department of Health (ADH) thata load of scrap materials reportedly originating in Michigan had tripped a radiation detector alarmat an Arkansas smelter. The scrap came from a warehouse in Benton Harbor, Michigan, currentlyowned by D & L Sales. An Arkansas scrap dealer had picked up the load several monthsearlier. ADH staff reported that the shipment included barrels of radium-painted aircraft gaugesmanufactured for military use during World War II, several loose radium-painted needles andpointers, and boxes of nuts and bolts.

DRH staff interviewed the current owner of the D & L Sales warehouse, who said that apreviousoccupant of the building, Aircraft Components, Inc., had left large numbers of old gauges in thebuilding when they went out of business in 1990. He also said that several individuals may haveremoved aircraft gauges from the site since his purchase of the building. Besides the Arkansassmelter, locations in Michigan and Ohio were identified as recently receiving scrap from thewarehouse. Reportedly, U.S. Army personnel confiscated radioactive sources from the Arkansasand Ohio sites as part of a U.S. military radioactive waste management program. The gauges atthe Michigan location were retrieved by DRH staff and subsequently returned to the warehouse.

On September 26, 1994, DRH personnel investigated the D & L Sales warehouse,findingextensive radiological contamination (see later discussion). During this investigation, the ownertold DRH staff that H & K Sales of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had purchased a large portionof thescrap material from the Benton Harbor warehouse and transported the material to a warehouse inBelding, Michigan. On October 3, 1994, DRH investigated the warehouse in Belding leased by H& K Sales, and also found radiological contamination (see later discussion). After theseinvestigations, the DRH contacted the U.S. EPA and requested assistance in evaluating thehazards at the sites.

Examination of Aircraft Components, Inc., records and interviews with former employeesdisclosed that the company had contracted with Air Security, Inc., of Bear Lake, Michigan, forinstrument repair, refurbishment, and calibration over a period of approximately 20 years. OnApril 11, 1995, DRH staff visited Air Security, Inc., which operated out of a private home nearBear Lake, and found extensive radiological contamination (1) (see later discussion).

D & L Sales warehouse (the Benton Harbor site)

The D & L Sales warehouse (the Benton Harbor site) is located at 671 North ShoreDrive inBenton Township near Benton Harbor, Michigan (Figure 2). The site consists of 17 acres of landbounded by the Paw Paw River, North Shore Drive, and residential property at the north edge ofan old industrial area. The main building consists of a three-story combination warehouse/officebuilding connected to a two-story warehouse with 5 main sections. General construction ismainly concrete floor and foundation with brick walls and wood frame ceilings and roof. Onesection (Building 1 in Figure 3) has a collapsed roof and another section (Building 2) has apartially collapsed roof. Remaining outbuildings include a large metal-walled Quonset hut and asmall Quonset hut, and there are remnants of two other collapsed buildings on the site (Figure 3). The total storage space in site buildings is approximately 50,000 square feet. The buildings wereused from around 1970 to 1990 for the storage of radioluminous aircraft gauges containingradium by a now defunct mail-order distribution service known as Aircraft Components, Inc.

From the 1940s until they moved into the D & L Sales warehouse, Aircraft Components,Inc.stored gauges in several other buildings in the Benton Harbor area. Data for these buildings andsites is still incomplete, but the total radiological impact and the need for further action is believedto be small compared to the need for action at the D & L Sales warehouse.

On September 26, 1994, DRH staff conducted a preliminary radiation survey of the BentonHarbor site. DRH and U.S. EPA Region V staff conducted a second supplemental radiationsurvey on October 20, 1994 (2). In November 1994, DRH issued a survey findings report to D&L Sales, and requested assistance from the U.S. Army Radioactive Waste Management Programin Rock Island, Illinois. In January 1997, the U.S. Army arranged for the disposal of radioactivegauges found at several museums and other locations in Michigan.

On April 26, 1995, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)received data on the Benton Harbor and Belding sites from the U.S. EPA. Review of these dataindicated that there was the potential for a significant impact on public health at the sites. OnMay 10, ATSDR personnel visited both sites. On June 28, 1995, the ATSDR issued a PublicHealth Advisory for the Benton Harbor and Belding sites. This advisory is discussed in detaillater in this assessment.

The Benton Harbor site was partially fenced in July 1995. Major areas of contaminated soilwerecompletely fenced, and the site perimeter along North Shore Drive was fenced, with a gate at thedriveway onto the site. The north, east, and south (along the Paw Paw River) perimeters are notfenced, however (3). The MDPH has advised D & L Sales personnel against furtheroccupancyof the site.

MDPH and U.S. EPA have identified and located many of the former workers of AircraftComponents, Inc. who worked in close proximity to the radium-containing instruments. Theagencies asked several workers, who were the most likely to have ingested radioactive material, ifthey would undergo a whole-body radiation scan, at agency expense, to detect and evaluate anyresidual radiological contamination. Three of the six selected workers agreed to participate andthe agencies arranged to transport them to Argonne National Laboratories near Chicago, Illinois,for the tests on September 26, 1995. The results of these scans are discussed later in thisdocument.

Belding warehouse (H & K Sales site)

The Belding warehouse (H & K Sales site) is located at 100 East Main Street, Belding,Michigan(Figure 4). The site consists of several acres of land bounded by the Flat River, Bridge Street andadjoining buildings to the east and south. The warehouse building consists of a single storywarehouse divided into three large rooms. The warehouse is constructed of concrete block wallsand metal roof over a concrete floor and foundation. The building covers approximately 30,000square feet with about 20,000 square feet occupied exclusively by aircraft gauges and materialsoriginating from the former Aircraft Components, Inc. of Benton Harbor. The remaining 10,000square feet of storage space is essentially empty. The gauges were reportedly transferred to thesite in about 150 truck shipments between November 1993 and April 1994. The property alsoincludes several other adjacent warehouse buildings where other sorts of goods were stored. These other buildings are now empty, and were not affected by the radium-containing materials.

On October 3, 1994, DRH staff conducted a preliminary radiation survey at the Belding site. DRH and U.S. EPA Region V staff conducted a second supplemental radiation survey on October21, 1994 (4). In November 1994, DRH issued a survey findings report to H & K Sales,whichadvised against further occupancy of the site. The DRH also requested assistance from the U.S.Army Radioactive Waste Management Program in Rock Island, Illinois. As of this writing, theArmy has not been able to provide any substantial assistance due to budget constraints.

On April 26, 1995, the ATSDR received data on the Benton Harbor and Belding sites fromtheU.S. EPA. Review of these data indicated that there was the potential for a significant impact onpublic health at the sites. On May 10, ATSDR personnel visited both sites. On June 28, 1995,the ATSDR issued a Public Health Advisory for the Benton Harbor and Belding sites. Thisadvisory is discussed in detail later in this assessment.

In January 1997, a contractor for the U.S. EPA began packing radium-containing dials fromtheBelding warehouse for shipment to disposal facilities in Utah and Washington. As of late April1997, contracts for the transportation of the instruments had been completed (56).

The Bear Lake site

The Bear Lake site is located at 7249 South Shore Drive, Bear Lake, Michigan (Figure 5). Thesite covers approximately 0.5 acres, in a residential/recreation area, and formerly included asingle-story, ranch-style home with basement and attached garage. A large detached garagebuilding was located behind the home. The site owners and last residents had lived in the homefrom 1967 until June 1995. Three of their four children also lived in the house at some time in thepast. The youngest, and most recently married, child lived in the house until June 1995. Duringthe entire time of their residence in the house (1967-1995), one of the residents used a basementworkshop for conducting aircraft instrument calibration services as a Federal AviationAdministration certified laboratory.

During the DRH/U.S. EPA investigation of the Aircraft Components, Inc. operation inBentonHarbor, work records and interviews with former employees revealed that the company hadcontracted for instrument repair and calibration services with Air Security, Inc., 7249 South ShoreDrive, Bear Lake, Michigan. DRH investigators found that Air Security, Inc. was a businessname for the owner of the Bear Lake site, performing instrument repair and calibration in thebasement of his home. On April 11, 1995, DRH staff conducted a preliminary radiation survey ofthe Bear Lake site, and found severe radium contamination in a basement workroom. On April20, 1995, DRH and U.S. EPA staff conducted a second, more comprehensive survey of the site. The second survey found extensive removable and fixed radium contamination throughout thehome in almost every accessible area, including floors, walls, furniture, and clothing.

On April 21, 1995, the U.S. EPA requested ATSDR assistance in the evaluation of radiationreadings taken at the Bear Lake residence. On April 26, 1995, the ATSDR issued a consultationto the U.S. EPA concerning the Bear Lake site. The Agency concluded that the site posed animminent public health hazard due to the radiation and radon levels. The Agency recommendedthat the residents of the site be relocated as soon as possible and that measures be taken to reducethe migration of radiological contaminants into thesurrounding environment (7).

MDPH, the U.S. EPA, and the residents and their counsel met in Manistee on May 3, 1995,todiscuss the need for relocation and remediation of thecontamination and to address questions andconcerns. MDPH staff notified the Manistee-Mason District Health Department and arranged forcrisis counseling for the residents by the Director of Manistee County Outpatient CounselingServices. In June 1995, the U.S. EPA, under Superfund hazard removalauthority, relocated theresidents into interim rental housing and began remediation activities on their property.

On September 25, 1995, U.S. EPA notified the residents and their legal representative thatdecontamination methods had been largely unsuccessful and that the agency had decided thatdemolition and removal were the remedial action of choice. During the remediation activities, theU.S. EPA found surface soil contamination on neighboring property, and also removed theaffected structures and soil (8). The demolition and removal of the house and excavation ofcontaminated soil from the site was completed in December 1995, and post-remediation samplingof the property found no remaining radioactive contamination above MDPH/MDEQ guidelinesfor unrestricted use (9).

The U.S. EPA has asked the residents of the Bear Lake site if they would undergo awhole-bodyradiation scan, at agency expense, to evaluate any residual radiological contamination. Theresidents have declined to undergo the testing (8).

ATSDR Public Health Advisory

On June 28, 1995, the ATSDR issued a Public Health Advisory for the D & L Saleswarehouseand Belding warehouse sites. The Advisory concluded that workers at the two sites might havebeen exposed to gamma radiation, radon, and radium at levels in excess of national andinternational guidelines for public exposure to radiation. The Advisory recommended that theextent of the contamination at the site be determined as quickly as possible, that employees andarea residents be separated from the contaminated material, that the contaminated areas beremediated promptly, and that identification of current and former warehouse workers for medicalevaluation and follow-up be considered (10). The Advisory is included in Appendix B of thisPublic Health Assessment.

B. Site Visits

On May 10, 1995, ATSDR's senior health physicists and senior epidemiologist visited theBentonHarbor and Belding sites, with staff from the U.S. EPA Region V, MDPH, and MDNR. Theyentered the sites and made additional radiation measurements in and around the facilities. Themeasurements confirmed that elevated levels of radiation were still present on the floors, workareas and grounds of the facilities.

On July 19, 1995, Michele Borgialli of MDPH Division of Health Risk Assessment (DHRA)(2)visited the Belding site with MDPH DRH, MDNR, and U.S. EPA staff. Borgialli did not enterthe warehouse, but observed the site from outside. She noted that the site was fenced, but thegate was left open, apparently to allow access to the sections of the warehouse complex that didnot contain gauges. She saw several boys riding bicycles within the gated area near thewarehouse loading docks.

On February 15, 1996, Borgialli, John Filpus of MDPH DHRA, and MDPH DRH staff visitedBelding to observe a U.S. EPA training session for Belding police and ambulance personnel onthe contingency plan for the Belding site. Before the training session, the MDPH staff visited thesite and observed that the area of the property where the gauges were stored had been fenced offfrom the rest of the property, and the gate into that part of the property was locked.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural ResourceUse

According to data collected in the 1990 U.S. Census, 4,654 people lived within 1 mile of theBenton Harbor site. A partial race, ethnic, and age distribution of the population within 1 mile ofthe site is given in Table 1 (11).

The Benton Harbor site is located in a largely industrial area of northern Benton Harbor. There isa residential area north of the warehouse property. The area around the Benton Harbor site isserved by the Benton Harbor municipal water system, though some houses located northwest ofthe site have private wells. The intake to the Benton Harbor municipal water supply is in LakeMichigan approximately 2 miles northwest of the Benton Harbor site.

According to data collected in the 1990 U.S. Census, 5,822 people lived within 1 mile of theBelding site. A partial race, ethnic, and age distribution of the population within 1 mile of the siteis given in Table 1 (11).

The Belding site is located in the middle of the city of Belding. The Belding City Hall, alibrary, amuseum, a shopping mall, and a park are within 0.25 miles of the site. The main source ofdrinking water to Belding is a municipal water system with a groundwater supply. There are twoelementary schools and a high school within 0.50 miles of the site. The nearest residences areapproximately 0.2 miles south of the site.

The Bear Lake site is located approximately 0.5 miles west of the village of Bear Lake (1990population 339), in Bear Lake Township (1990 population 1,417). U.S. Census data from 1990indicate that the population of Manistee County was mostly non-Hispanic white, with 0.9%Native American, 0.25% Black, 0.25% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 0.3% other race. One andone-half percent were Hispanic. Twenty-five percent of the County population was 18 oryounger, 19% was 65 or older (12).

The Bear Lake site property is bounded by occupied residences to the east and west, SouthShoreDrive and Bear Lake (the lake) to the north, and an open field to the south. The village of BearLake includes a school, a church, and a park with camping facilities, all within 1 mile of the BearLake site. The main source for drinking water in the Bear Lake area is groundwater, from privatewells.

D. Health Outcome Data

In January 1995, four workers at the H & K Sales warehouse, who were among the mostlikely tobe highly exposed to radioactivity while the gauges were shipped from Benton Harbor to Beldingin 1993-1994, underwent full-body scans at Consumers Power's Palisades Point Nuclear Plant forpotentially inhaled or ingested radium. No detectable retained radium was found in the workers'bodies.

In August 1995, MDPH Division of Health Risk Assessment staff telephone-interviewed 21former workers at Aircraft Components, Inc. to determine which workers were most likely tohave been exposed to the radium dials and to discuss with them the possibility of further medicalevaluation. Based on these interviews, six individuals who were most likely to have been highlyexposed were offered medical testing. Three(3) agreed toparticipate and agreed to undergo whole-body radiation scans in September 1995 at ArgonneNational Laboratories near Chicago, Illinois. Test results showed no unusual amounts of radium remaining in any of the workers' three bodies(9). MDCH Division of Health Risk Assessment staff have obtained copies of the deathcertificates for three people associated with Aircraft Components, Inc. from the MDCH Divisionof Health Statistics. No conclusive evidence for radiogenic disease was evident from the limitedinformation on the reviewed records (13).

COMMUNITYHEALTH CONCERNS

The communities around these sites have not expressed any concerns directly relating tospecifichealth problems. Federal, State, and local health and environmental agency staff have respondedto inquiries from residents of the site areas regarding the potential for their exposure to thecontaminants and the health effects that might result. The inquiries or complaints from thecommunity around the Benton Harbor site that have been reported to MDCH or MDEQ werefrom former employees of Aircraft Components, Inc. One former employee, who had beenconsidered for a radiation scan but could not be included because of travel expenses from hercurrent out-of-state residence, contacted the U.S. EPA to further discuss her case. She wasespecially concerned because there is a history of cancer in her family (14).

Belding public officials were concerned about the potential presence of unexplodedammunition inthe Belding site (3). DRH/MDEQ staff and Belding officials have received public inquiries fromthe community around the Belding site about the potential radiological risks from the site.

DRH personnel have received several citizen inquiries about the possible movement ofcontaminants off the Bear Lake site. One Bear Lake resident contacted DRH staff to discuss thepotential for groundwater contamination and the health effects of radium ingestion, specificallycancer (15).

The agencies' responses to these concerns are discussed in the CommunityHealth Concerns Evaluation Section below.

The MDCH released a draft of this Public Health Assessment for public comment onJanuary 22,1997. The comment period lasted until February 21, 1997. No comments from the public werereceived by MDCH in this period.


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