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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

FORMER NANSEMOND ORDNANCE DEPOT
SUFFOLK, VIRGINIA


SUMMARY

The Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot (FNOD) site consists of 975 acres located at the confluence of the James and Nansemond Rivers in Suffolk County, Virginia. The site is a former US military facility where handling, processing, shipping, receiving, and decommissioning of ordnance items occurred from 1917 to 1960. Many site areas once contained, or may still contain, ordnance chemical residues, other chemicals, ordnance items, or explosives. A large quantity of trinitrotoluene (TNT) was discovered at the site area known as the TNT Burial Site.

Portions of the site are occupied by a local community college, Tidewater Community College (TCC). Other landowners and former landowners of portions of the site include the General Electric Company (GE) and Dominion Lands, a development company. The Respass Beach Community is a residential development several hundred feet east of the site.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reviewed available information to assess the public health implications of the site, as required by virtue of the site's proposal for inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL). On the basis of this information, ATSDR has made the following conclusions about the FNOD site:

  1. Past exposure to contaminants in soil at most areas was too small to result in adverse health effects. The levels of TNT and lead at the TNT Burial Site and lead at the James River Beachfront Area could theoretically have increased the risk of adverse health effects, but regular contact with the highest detected levels would have been necessary.

  2. Although contaminant levels have been decreased through site cleanup activities, some remaining elevated levels of TNT and lead could pose a risk in the future if small children have more regular contact with soil, as could happen if the area is developed for residential use.

  3. Past exposures to contaminants in TCC drinking water were too low to result in adverse health effects. No evidence that other site groundwater was or is currently used for drinking was found. Untreated groundwater is unsuitable for future drinking water purposes because of elevated levels of metals in groundwater at the Dominion Lands area and elevated metals and TNT in groundwater at the TNT Burial Site on TCC Property.

  4. No adverse health effects are expected from past, present, or future exposure to surface water or sediments, from eating fish caught at TCC Lake or J-Lake, or from drinking private well water in the Respass Beach Community.

  5. Physical hazards are posed by the remaining open brick vaults, the World War II pier, and debris surfacing at beachfront areas.

  6. If appropriate clearance procedures are followed and enforceable land use controls are put in place, the risk of accidents involving ordnance will be minimized. However, a small chance of encountering ordnance continues to exist.

ATSDR has made the following recommendations about the site:

  1. Continue cleanup activities to address contaminants in soil at the TNT Burial Site.

  2. If areas are developed for residential use, test soils for lead and clean up if necessary.

  3. Do not use groundwater at the site for drinking water, unless the water is fully characterized and treated to ensure that drinking water standards are met.

  4. Address physical hazards by filling in open brick vaults, removing or restricting access to the World War II pier, and cleaning up debris or keeping access restrictions in place at the beachfront areas.

  5. Follow ordnance and explosives clearance procedures for expected future land use and set up appropriate, enforceable land use controls. Educate potential future landowners and occupants about hazards posed by ordnance materials and procedures to follow if ordnance is encountered.

I. PURPOSE AND HEALTH ISSUES

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Former Nansemond Ordnance Depot (FNOD) in Suffolk, Virginia for the National Priorities List (NPL) in January 1999 and listed it as final in July 1999. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is required by Congress to conduct public health assessments on all sites proposed for the NPL. In this public health assessment, ATSDR evaluates the public health significance of chemical contamination and ordnance at the site. ATSDR reviewed the available environmental contamination and ordnance data, likely exposure pathways, toxicological information, and community health concerns to determine whether adverse health effects are possible. ATSDR also evaluated whether actions are needed to reduce or prevent the potential for substantive site-related exposure and associated adverse health effects.


II. BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and Scope of Assessment

The FNOD site occupies about 975 acres in Suffolk, Virginia, at the confluence of the James and Nansemond Rivers, as shown in Figure 1 [1]. The site is a former US military facility where handling, processing, shipping, receiving, and decommissioning of ordnance items once occurred. The site is bordered to the west by the Nansemond River, to the north by the James River, to the east by Streeter Creek, and to the south and southwest by developing areas of Suffolk, Virginia. The Respass Beach community is off the site just east of Streeter Creek. A portion of the FNOD property is currently used by the Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College (TCC), a two-year college. Some businesses occupy parts of a large building formerly used by the General Electric Company (GE) for manufacturing, and an industrial park is also located in the southern part of the site on what is referred to as the former Dominion Lands [1].

Many site areas once contained, or may still contain, ordnance chemical residues, other chemicals, ordnance items, or explosives. Seven areas were identified as source areas in the proposal of the site to the NPL [1]. These include the James River Beachfront Landfill, the Main Burning Ground/ Steam-out Pond, the Horseshoe Pond Disposal Area, the Track K Dump/ Tire Pile, the TNT Burial Site, the Off-shore Marine Area, and the XXCC3 Landfill, also known as the Impregnite Kit area. (Soils in the Impregnite Kit Area were deleted from the NPL listing in March 2003 after successful completion of soil cleanup activities.) In addition to the source areas, many other areas of concern (AOC) have been identified for investigation and/or cleanup. Boundaries of these locations are not all well defined. A number of investigations and removal and/or remedial actions have occurred, but additional investigation and cleanup of various site locations is still ongoing or planned.

This document has been prepared by use of data through June 2003 provided by EPA, the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ). ATSDR evaluated data available on most of the source areas listed above and for several additional areas, including the Dominion Lands outside the defined source areas, the Nansemond River Beachfront, TCC lake, J-Area lake, Streeter Creek, TCC's former water supply wells, and the Respass Beach community potable water wells. In addition, ATSDR considered physical hazards and hazards posed by ordnance and explosives (OE) throughout the site.

The only source area not considered in this document is the Off-Shore Marine Area. Studies in this area have focused on ecological impacts, and the possibility for impacts to human health in this area is small compared to the potential impact of other areas considered in this document. If future investigations of the Off-Shore Marine Area indicate the possibility for appreciable human health impact, an addendum to this document to evaluate this source area will be produced.

Site Locations and Demographics
Figure 1. Site Locations and Demographics

B. Site History

The site was obtained by the US Army in 1917. From 1917 until 1950, much of the property was used for ordnance reclamation, storage, and disposal activities related to the Army's mission. Ordnance is defined as military material, such as weapons, ammunition, and equipment. Many bunkers were used for ordnance storage, but some ordnance was stored outside of bunkers. The depot was operated by the Navy as a Marine supply facility from 1950 to 1960, when it was declared excess [1].

The Beazley Foundation acquired the property in 1960, with the Virginia Department Of Highways receiving an easement of several acres. The Foundation operated a four-year institution, Frederick College, at the site from the fall of 1961 until the college closed in spring of 1968 [2]. Soon after, portions of the property were conveyed to the Virginia Electric Power Company, GE, and Suffolk County. The Foundation donated the rest of the property to the State Board of Community Colleges, and TCC opened on the former Frederick College campus in fall of 1968. In 1977, a portion of TCC's property was conveyed to Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD). The remaining 590 acres, currently owned by the State Board of Community Colleges, contains the TCC campus [3].

On the basis of conversations with former Frederick College students and faculty, students lived in concrete block buildings by the school in the 1960s. Some of the school's employees and their families lived in about 30 renovated former bunkers near TCC Lake and further east. TCC also currently uses some buildings that had been part of depot operations.

GE acquired a large building in 1965, expanded it, and used it for manufacturing television sets until the late 1980s. Now, other companies use the building for warehousing. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) constructed Interstate 664 and a vehicle inspection station on the FNOD site in the early 1990s. The HRSD operates a wastewater treatment plant on its own property. Dominion Lands Company acquired property on-site and off-site at the southwest part of the site. This property has since been sold to Continental Properties and various other businesses, but it will be referred to herein as "Dominion Lands". Bridgeway Commerce Park, an office and commercial development, has been built in the south-central part of the Dominion Lands, near the interstate, and it is currently being occupied by several light industrial companies.

TCC is planning to relocate its campus and sell its FNOD site property [4-6]. Potential future uses of that property include light industrial, commercial, recreational, and residential development.

Some fires, explosions, and other accidents occurred while the depot operated, and some ordnance items and residues remain at random locations on the site. After the depot was declared excess, the first documented concern occurred in April 1987, when a youth found some crystals at a location on College Drive and took them home to show that they burned when lit [7]. The crystals were found to be trinitrotoluene (TNT), and the location has thereafter been called the TNT Burial Site. The ACE has conducted a number of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and hazardous substances investigations at the 2- to 3-acre area, identifying bulk explosives, ordnance items, crystalline TNT, and cigar-shaped burlap bags filled with TNT and used as fuses. Many of these items have been removed, and cleanup is ongoing. Other investigations have been initiated since the late 1980s at many locations on FNOD. Some investigations found ordnance items and potentially hazardous substances, including metals, nitroaromatics (explosives), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and pesticides. Near-shore river locations might also contain ordnance and related hazardous substances. Investigations continue, and others are planned [1].

C. Recent Site Activities

FNOD is a formerly used defense (FUD) site. The ACE has been assigned the responsibility for environmental investigation and remediation of FUD sites, and the Norfolk District ACE is responsible for oversight of FNOD through the FUD program. EPA placed the site on the NPL and is responsible for seeing that site investigations and restorations meet Superfund requirements. The environmental condition of FNOD is being evaluated through ACE, EPA, and current site property owners. The source areas identified in the NPL listing and other AOCs are being investigated and remediated via the Superfund process. Other areas may be added or deleted as work proceeds. Some areas may be "carved out" and eliminated from further consideration–for example, areas where evaluations indicate that substantive depot-related activities did not occur or areas that have already been remediated [8].

ACE organized a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) in June 1997. During bimonthly RAB meetings, ACE, EPA, VDEQ, other governmental entities, property owners, and citizens review progress and discuss environmental restoration activities. The restoration activities will occur over a period of years. ACE developed a Site Management Plan that will be used to disseminate environmental cleanup information [3]. The plan identifies source areas, AOCs, cleanup actions and schedules, and deadlines for submitting primary documents. It will be updated periodically. AOCs are identified on the basis of several types of background information and are evaluated by use of a Site Screening Process [8,9]. The process is expected to expedite investigations and determine the appropriate follow-up actions, which could range from no action–and deletion as an AOC–to a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) [10].

D. Previous ATSDR Reports

In 1995, ATSDR received a request by petition to conduct a public health assessment on the drinking water at TCC. In response, ATSDR reviewed groundwater and soil data, conducted site visits, and met with other agencies involved. It was determined that a public health assessment was not warranted at that time. However, ATSDR did make several recommendations unrelated to the petitioner's concerns to the college and ACE. These recommendations included conducting an ordnance survey, undertaking additional monitoring, conducting more site investigation, and addressing physical hazards identified on site[11,12]. The ordnance and site characterization concerns have been and are being addressed through ongoing remedial investigation activities.

When additional groundwater data became available, ATSDR prepared a public health consultation concerning the TCC water supply wells. This June 1996 consultation concluded that contaminant levels detected in the water supply were not at levels that would represent a public health hazard [13]. Later that year, at EPA's request, ATSDR also reviewed additional beachfront soil data and concluded that for a probable scenario of infrequent exposure, significant adverse health effects were not likely [14].

E. Demographics

In the early days of activity, military personnel lived in the core building area. FNOD workers entered the site each day. In the years during which Frederick College was open, students and some faculty lived on site. GE employees worked, but did not live, on the site.

Today, the site population is transient and includes commuter students, college staff, fishermen, and workers at the former GE building, VDOT, and HRSD. No one currently lives on the property. The nearest residents are in the Respass Beach community located several hundred feet from the property, on the east side of Streeter Creek. A residential area developed within the past two years is also located southwest of the site. In addition, on-site areas of the southwest side of the site are being developed for residential as well as commercial/ light industrial use.] Considerable residential development is continuing both east of Streeter Creek and south of the Dominion Lands property.

According to the 2000 census, there are 3,075 people, including 474 children age 6 or younger, living within one mile of the site [15]. The ethnic makeup of the surrounding population is mostly Caucasian (51%) and African-American (43%). The population in 2000 was about ten times the population in 1990 [15]. Because of continuing development within the past few years, the number of people close to the site may be appreciably higher today.

F. Land and Natural Resource Use

The military converted what was, before 1917, mostly agricultural land into a munitions storage, shipping, and decommissioning facility. Aerial photos show that by the time military activities ceased in 1960, essentially the entire property had been used in some manner to support this mission. The core buildings were located in the north-central portion of the site. Bunkers and connecting railroad and road systems were constructed at intervals on essentially all of the rest of the property. The Main Burning Ground/Steamout Area was used to extract and dispose of explosives. Physical evidence of disposal of "solid waste" and ordnance has been noted at some locations. However, information that fully describes the extent of such disposals on the property is not available.

Since 1960, a portion of the property has been used for education and some field athletic activities. On the western side of the property, the former GE manufacturing building is now used for warehousing. The Dominion Lands are being developed bit by bit for light industrial and possibly residential use. Other site areas will likely be developed for various uses in the future. The eastern part of the property contains Interstate 664 and VDOT vehicle inspection and road maintenance facilities. East of the interstate, HRSD operates a wastewater treatment plant. Elsewhere, the FNOD property is heavily overgrown and experiences little use besides limited recreational activities by trespassers. After relocation of the TCC campus, potential future uses of the TCC property include light industrial, commercial, recreational, and residential development.

The FNOD site is bounded on the west, north, and east by waters that are used for fishing and other recreation. TCC Lake is likely to have been used extensively by faculty families and students when they lived on the site in the 1960s. Access to lakes on site now is limited because of undergrowth and fences. Anecdotal information indicates that recreational fishing presently occurs at TCC Lake, at the World War II pier, and possibly at the J-Area Lake. Some camping on the site has also been reported.

During operations, the military obtained potable water from wells located in the core building area. More recently, the college and the GE building received potable water from several TCC wells until 1997, when the distribution system was connected to the Suffolk City water system. The city draws its water from surface supplies located miles from the site. The past and present water delivery system has segments of lead pipe leading from water mains to buildings.

VDOT staff indicated that the vehicle inspection facility has wells that until recently were used for the workers' potable water supply. Now, workers drink bottled water and use well water only for maintenance purposes. Residents of the Respass Beach community use private wells as a source of potable water.

Groundwater is known to be contaminated at three principal locations on the site: The TNT Burial Site, the GE building, and the James River Beachfront Landfill. The former depot and TCC potable water supply wells are near the TNT Burial Site; these wells may have been impacted by the disposed materials while the wells were in use. No water supply wells are known to have been in the vicinity of the GE building or the James River Beachfront Landfill.

Several areas on site have had removal or remedial actions to date. These include the TNT Burial Site, where several thousand pounds of crystalline TNT and associated contaminated soil have been removed; the XXCC3 Landfill (a.k.a. Impregnite Kit Area), where soil was removed; the James River Beachfront Landfill, where debris was removed and beach stabilization (a revetment wall) was constructed; the Track K/Tire Pile area, where tires and waste were removed; and the Nansemond Beach Beachfront, where debris was removed. Other site areas have been the focus of ordnance and explosives surveys and removals, and most site areas are in the process of being characterized and/or cleaned up.


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