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HEALTH CONSULTATION

DU QUOIN GAS PLANT
(a/k/a DUQUOIN MANUFACTURED GAS PLANT)
DU QUOIN, PERRY COUNTY, ILLINOIS


DISCUSSION

Sampling activities at the site confirmed the presence of elevated levels of contamination in on-site soil and sediment due to former coal gasification processes. A coal tar lagoon was also on-site. PAH and benzene levels were elevated in the soil, sediment, and coal tar product. Although the site had been abandoned since 1946, it was easily accessible until 1988. Areas of concern near the site included a commercial strip mall next to the eastern boundary and a residential neighborhood south of the site. Site trespassers and workers using the on-site buildings may have been exposed to contaminants by direct contact with the skin, inhalation of contaminant vapors and contaminated dust, and ingestion of contaminated dust by hand to mouth activities.

Because we do not have good information about how former workers and site trespassers were exposed to contaminants, we cannot evaluate whether those exposed may have experienced adverse health effects. We do not have any reports from former workers or people living in the area that indicate they believe they have experienced any adverse health effects as a result of contact with site contaminants. PAHs are a complex group of chemicals that occur in the environment as mixtures of many components with widely varying toxic properties. Although mammals metabolize and excrete PAHs rapidly, they can accumulate in fat tissue and breast milk. Nursing mothers exposed to PAHs could expose their infants to PAHs excreted in breast milk. Although not all PAHs have been associated with cancer, the carcinogenicity of certain PAHs is well established in laboratory animals. Besides skin and scrotal cancer, PAHs have been linked to lung, bladder, and gastrointestinal cancers. Animal studies have shown reproductive and developmental effects from PAH exposure, although these effects have not been seen in humans [8].

Benzene is a major industrial chemical made from coal and oil and is used as a component in gasoline. Benzene is very volatile and can evaporate very quickly. Probably the most common exposure is from breathing air containing benzene. Benzene is considered a human carcinogen because it has been shown to cause cancer (leukemia) in laboratory animals exposed to high levels and in workers exposed to high levels over a long period. Long term exposure to benzene may also affect normal blood production resulting in severe anemia and internal bleeding. Additional human and animal data suggest benzene may be toxic to the body's immune and reproductive systems [9].

As a result of the remediation completed in April 1997, no one can be exposed to site-related contamination. The contaminated soil and sediment were removed, the coal tar and wood chips in the lagoon area were excavated, and a clean, 6-inch cap was placed over the remediated surfaces. Although PAH and benzene levels were elevated in air samples on a few occasions during remediation, those events were few and generally of short duration. IDPH received no complaints from the surrounding population at those times. Because the remediation was done during cold weather in February and March, people likely had their windows closed, which diminished or eliminated possible exposure to any contaminants in air. As an additional precaution, outside air intakes on the air handling units for the strip mall buildings were closed and covered during excavation activities.


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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

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