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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

AUSTIN, CITY OF-HOLLY STREET POWER
(a/k/a HOLLY STREET POWER PLANT)
AUSTIN, TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS


ATSDR's CHILD HEALTH INITIATIVE

The TDH has prepared this public health assessment under a Cooperative Agreement with the ATSDR. TDH has included the following information in accordance with ATSDR's Child Health Initiative.

ATSDR's Child Health Initiative recognizes that the unique vulnerabilities of infants and children demand special emphasis in communities faced with contamination of their water, soil, air, or food. Children are at greater risk than adults from certain kinds of exposures to hazardous substances emitted from waste sites and emergency events. They are more likely to be exposed because they play outdoors and often bring food into contaminated areas. They are shorter than adults, which means they breathe dust, soil, and heavy vapors close to the ground. Children are also smaller, resulting in higher doses of chemical exposure per body weight. The developing body systems of children can sustain permanent damage if toxic exposures occur during critical growth stages. Most importantly, children depend completely on adults for risk identification and management decisions, housing decision, and access to medical care.

TDH evaluated the likelihood for children living in the vicinity of the Holly Street Power Plant to be exposed to site contaminants at levels of health concern. In the past, noise levels in the surrounding neighborhood at times reached levels deemed unacceptable. During peak plant operations, noise levels at a nearby elementary school could have reached levels of distraction. Noise abatement measures implemented by the City of Austin EUD have reduced noise levels in the neighborhood and inside the school. Because site access is restricted, children are not likely to be exposed to contaminants on the site.


CONCLUSIONS

  1. The information reviewed does not indicate that people are currently being exposed to levels of contamination that would be expected to cause adverse health effects. From analysis of available information, we have concluded that the Holly Street Power Plant poses no apparent public health hazard.

  2. Modeling data suggest that mixed fuel burning with fuel oil containing 0.227% to 0.3 % sulfur by weight could result in sulfur dioxide levels high enough to aggravate pre-existing respiratory conditions (i.e., asthma) in sensitive individuals; however, the voluntary use of low sulfur containing fuel (0.05% by weight) should ensure that SO2 levels remain below levels of health concern. Currently, it is unlikely that air pollution from the plant would pose a health threat.

  3. The evidence for an association between EMF exposure and adverse health outcomes is currently inconclusive because of numerous inconsistencies and contradictory findings. Since the Holly Street Power Plant is not the source of EMFs, removing the plant would have little or no effect on the EMF readings in the neighborhood. Replacing the existing power lines with new lines designed to minimize field strength would have an effect on EMF levels, but there is inadequate evidence to determine whether minimizing the field strength would result in lower risks for adverse health effects.

  4. In the past, noise levels around the Holly Street Power Plant were above the levels normally defined as acceptable and could have been considered a nuisance by nearby residents. The abatement efforts undertaken by the City of Austin (in 1994 and 1996) have resulted in a significant reduction in the noise levels experienced by the community. Except for a small area immediately adjacent to the facility, noise levels in the community have been reduced to acceptable levels. Sensitive individuals who live within this area at times could find the noise annoying.

    Health effects from exposure to noise are well established for adults, but less well established for children. Some evidence suggests that elevated noise levels potentially could interfere with cognitive development in children. Abatement efforts have reduced the noise levels at Metz elementary school and available information suggests that noise levels in the classrooms should be below those associated with affecting cognitive development.

  5. We reviewed groundwater reports of groundwater monitoring data collected from on-site monitoring wells. Benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene all were reported below their respective minimum detection limits (MDLs). The levels of total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) found in groundwater was very low and infrequent; therefore, we have concluded that TPH in the groundwater does not represent a public health hazard. Since human exposure to groundwater is unlikely, groundwater was eliminated as a possible exposure pathway.

  6. PCBs have been released on the site; however, except for one event where plant personnel detected PCBs in water discharged from the plant, all other detections above events were confined to the site. Subsequent testing of water and sediment from Town Lake by an independent consulting firm has shown no detectable levels of PCBs. We were not able to find any evidence that people have come into contact with PCBs from the Holly Street Power Plant. Without contact, adverse health effects could not occur. We eliminated exposure to PCBs as a possible threat to public health.

  7. All phases of this assessment involve a degree of uncertainty. While the process deals with scientifically verifiable findings, judgement is also used. The degree of uncertainty in this process depends upon the completeness of site data, assumptions that simplify and approximate site conditions and exposures, completeness of toxicity data for the contaminants of concern, and professional judgement used in developing and evaluating various parameters. To the extent possible, the assumptions used in this assessment weigh heavily towards the protection of public health.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Cease/Reduce Exposure

  1. The City of Austin EUD should continue to use low sulfur (0.05%) fuel oil during periods when the burning of fuel oil is necessary.

  2. Although published information on EMFs is not adequate for addressing public health concerns, the city can take steps to reduce EMF exposure as opportunities arise. The City has taken steps in this direction by moving the Holly Street power lines to the Town Lake shore and placing the lines on higher poles. If the City plans to replace other existing power lines, it should consider designing the new lines to minimize EMF exposure.

  3. Depending upon the current experience of local residents, the City of Austin EUD should investigate if additional measures could be taken to further reduce the impact of noise generated by the facility on the residents living closest to the facility.

Site Characterization

  1. The City of Austin EUD has taken additional measurements inside one of the portable classrooms at Metz Elementary school with the plant operating at a 496 MW power output. The measurements taken inside averaged 40.7 dB, which is below EPA's indoor guideline.

Other Public Health Actions

To address concerns relating to potentially catastrophic events, the following actions have been or will be taken:

  1. The EUD will continue with plans to upgrade the fire protection/suppression systems at the plant beginning with a review of a preliminary engineering design that was previously completed by a consulting firm.

  2. The EUD has improved the redundancy of the power supply to the Holly 3 and 4 control systems and will install additional backups and equipment upgrades prior to the start of Holly 4.

  3. In response to the June 14, 1999, incident, the EUD has initiated a root cause investigation to identify factors that contributed to the incident so that recommendations can be made for the improvement of plant safety and reliability.

  4. The EUD has met with the Austin Fire Department (AFD) to review emergency response issues and will initiate further contact with the AFD to develop more formal emergency response procedures.

Additional Recommendations

In conjunction with the risk reduction measures taken or planned by the EUD, it also would be useful for the city to establish a Utility Management/Community Interaction Plan. This plan could be used to open the lines of communication between the community and the EUD and might include:

  1. developing a forum where community members have an opportunity to periodically voice their concerns and provide input into the way proposed and implemented technical changes at the plant affect the community,

  2. providing a designated liaison to the community who would provide open and direct contact between the utility and the citizens, and

  3. designing a mechanism where the community's risk perceptions are weighed and possibly addressed in future plant process changes or other hazard control measures.

PREPARERS OF THE REPORT

John F. Villanacci, Ph.D.
Co-Director
Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Division

Kathryn A. Evans, M.P.H.
Epidemiologist
Health Risk Assessment and Toxicology Program

Richard Beauchamp, M.D.
Medical Toxicologist
Bureau of Epidemiology

Dixie Davis
Administrative Technician
Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Division

ATSDR Regional Representative

George Pettigrew
Senior Regional Representative
ATSDR - Region 6

ATSDR Technical Project Officer

Alan W. Yarbrough
Environmental Health Scientist
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Superfund Site Assessment Branch


REFERENCES

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GLOSSARY OF TERMS
dBA

A measurement of sound adjusted to represent sound levels as the human ear hears them.

dB

Decibel. The unit used to express the amplitude (loudness) of sound levels.

Ldn

Sound levels averaged over a 24-hour period and adjusted so that night time sounds are given greater influence.

MW

Megawatt. A unit of power equal to one million watts.

KV

Kilovolt. A unit of electromotive force equal to one thousand volts.

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