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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

PADUCAH GASEOUS DIFFUSION (USDOE)
PADUCAH, MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KENTUCKY


CONCLUSIONS

This public health assessment is an evaluation of the off-site migration of hazardous substancesfrom PGDP to the surrounding community and of the potential health effects to communitymembers from exposure to those substances.

To conduct this evaluation, ATSDR asked community members to provide any information theyhad about hazardous substances, potential exposure to those substances, and specific healthconcerns that they believe are related to PGDP contaminants. Using the information from thecommunity, and using our own observation of the site, we investigated environmental data toaddress community health concerns and determine if the concerns are, or might be, related toPGDP contaminant releases. Our investigation had several components:

  1. Identifying the specific chemical and radioactive substances released from PGDP.

  2. Determining the distributions and concentrations of those substances in areas where the community may be exposed; determining whether those substances are present in potentially harmful concentrations.

  3. Identifying the people or groups that may be exposed and the specific processes (e.g., ingestion, inhalation) by which people may take the substances into their bodies.

  4. Estimating contaminant-specific doses for each type of exposure, then comparing those doses to available medical and health information to determine if the doses are likely to produce any diseases or other health effects in the exposed community members.

  5. Obtaining health outcome data, which includes information about disease incidence and frequency; evaluating the data to determine if the community has higher than normal incidences of diseases that may be related to PGDP-specific substances.

According to the information evaluated by ATSDR, under normal operating conditions, thePaducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant currently poses no apparent public health hazard for thesurrounding community from exposure to groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment, biota,or air. "No apparent public health hazard" means that people may be exposed to contaminatedmedia near the site, but that exposure to the contamination is not expected to cause any adversehealth effects. We define "current" as ranging from 1990 to the present. This conclusion assumesthe effectiveness of access restrictions to Little Bayou Creek, the outfalls, and the North-SouthDiversion Ditch; the fish advisories issued for Little Bayou Creek and some of the ponds in theWestern Kentucky Wildlife Management Area; and existing regulation of discharges to air andsurface water.

Conclusion Category Human Exposure Pathway
Public health hazard
Groundwater: Past--trichloroethylene (TCE) and lead
Indeterminate public health hazard
Groundwater: Past--vinyl chloride
Potential future--TCE, lead, and vinyl chloride
Air: Past and potential future--uranium and hydrogen fluoride (from acute accidental releases)
No apparent public health hazard
Groundwater: Current
Surface water: Past, current, and potential future
Soil and sediment: Past, current, and potential future
Biota: Past, current, and potential future
Air: Current (chronic releases from normal operating conditions at the plant)

Historical groundwater exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and lead was a public health hazardfor children routinely drinking water from four residential wells. This means that long-termexposure occurred at concentrations that may have caused adverse health effects in children. Afuture groundwater exposure pathway could exist if new wells are drilled into the northwest ornortheast plumes. No current exposure pathways to contaminated groundwater exist, but thecurrent restrictions between DOE and the property owners do not restrict the drilling of newwells by future owners of this land. Although it is unlikely, potential future exposures couldoccur if new wells are drilled into these plumes.

Groundwater exposures to vinyl chloride (a degradation product of TCE) and acute air exposures to uranium and hydrogen fluoride are an indeterminate public health hazard for past and potential future exposures. This means that the information available is incomplete.

Information on vinyl chloride exposures is incomplete because the detection limits in mostanalyses of samples from residential wells tested were well above the levels of concern. Also, notall residential wells in or near the plume were tested for vinyl chloride. Future groundwatermonitoring for vinyl chloride and other TCE degradation products should be low enough todetermine whether concentrations exceed health-based guidelines. However, there appears to beno current exposure to vinyl chloride since these wells are not being used.

Past short-term, or acute air exposures to uranium and hydrogen fluoride are indeterminate,because total release quantities and completed exposure pathways are uncertain. The worstreported accidental release happened at 4:00 a.m. on November 17, 1960. Potentially hazardousuranium and hydrogen fluoride concentrations, estimated using air dispersion models, reachedoff-site areas, but because the accident occurred at 4:00 a.m., it is not known if any residentswere exposed. If people were exposed at the concentrations estimated by the model, adversehealth effects may have resulted. Currently, we have no reports of adverse health effects relatedto this accident; however, if data become available suggesting that health effects did occur, wewill re-evaluate the need for followup activities.

Past long-term, or chronic uranium and hydrogen fluoride exposures were below levels of publichealth concern.

In the future, the rupture of one or more depleted uranium cylinders, which could occur from atransportation accident involving a fire, would create an urgent public health hazard for anyonenear the accident. Weather conditions and duration of exposure would affect the distance fromthe accident at which there would be a hazard; however, we predict that (1) the maximallyexposed individual would be 100 feet (30 meters) or less from the accident and (2) an urgentpublic health hazard could exist out to 230 feet (70 meters) from the accident. Less-severe healtheffects could be experienced by individuals within several thousand meters of the accident. Thistype of accident is very unlikely.

For other accident scenarios such as a plane crash, severe weather, or natural disasters involvingthe on-site depleted uranium cylinders, a temporary public health hazard could exist off site fromhydrogen fluoride exposure, but the exposure would not cause permanent harm and would not befatal. It is very unlikely that such an accident would happen.

ATSDR representatives reviewed available health outcome data, such as cancer registries andvital statistics. We evaluated the data using age-adjusted rates, concentrating mostly on ninegeneral types of cancer. The health outcome data reviewed do not apply specifically to smallgroups of people who have been, or could be, exposed to PGDP contaminants. The data arerecorded for larger areas (area development districts or counties) which include many peoplewith no exposures to contaminants from the site (approximately 63,000 in McCracken County,8,000 in Ballard County, and 15,000 in Massac County). The population of concern for theexposure pathways in the PDGP area (approximately 15 to 90 persons) is small. The associationsbetween exposure from this site and any adverse health effects would be obscured or distorted bythe presence of the much larger unexposed population.

ATSDR representatives have collected people's concerns from the communities around PGDPfor this public health assessment. Many people expressed concerns related to the incidence ofcancer and other illnesses in the area and the possibility of exposure to contaminants throughvarious media. Community concerns and our responses are presented in the main part of thisdocument.

Our specific conclusions about chemical and radioactive contaminants in completed and potential human exposure pathways are as follows:

  1. PGDP currently poses no apparent public health hazard to the off-site community duringnormal operating conditions, because exposure is not taking place at levels that wouldlikely cause adverse human health effects. However, off-site monitoring should continuesince other on-site activities could impact the surrounding community.

  2. Past exposure to TCE and lead was a public health hazard for children routinelydrinking water from four residential wells, because it increased the likelihood of adverseeffects on their nervous systems. Residential wells that contained TCE may also havebeen contaminated with vinyl chloride, a breakdown product of TCE in groundwater. Thedetection limits in most analyses of samples from tested residential wells were well abovethe levels of concern, and not all residential wells in or near the plumes were tested forvinyl chloride. Because ATSDR scientists do not know with certainty whether (or at whatlevels) TCE-contaminated wells contained vinyl chloride, we cannot assess the level of potential health hazard associated with potential past exposure to vinyl chloride.

  3. Future exposures to the maximum concentrations of contaminants in the groundwaterplumes will pose a public health hazard to adults and children if new wells are drilledinto the contaminated groundwater plumes, or if old wells are used by new land owners.We base this conclusion on the increased contaminant concentrations in the plumes sinceresidential wells were taken out of service, but it does not consider the potential reduction of concentrations in the groundwater from future remediation activities.

  4. A transportation accident involving fire and the rupture of full depleted uraniumcylinders would pose an urgent public health hazard to people near the accident. Such anaccident is very unlikely, according to historical transport records. Weather conditionsand duration of exposure would affect the distance from an accident at which a hazardwould exist, but anyone within 100 feet (30 meters) or less of the accident couldexperience serious or lethal harm.

  5. For other accident scenarios such as a plane crash, severe weather, or natural disastersinvolving the on-site depleted uranium cylinders at PGDP, a temporary public healthhazard could exist off site from hydrogen fluoride exposure, but the exposure would not cause permanent harm and would not be fatal. Such an accident is very unlikely.

  6. Past accidental airborne releases of uranium hexafluoride and the resulting exposuresare indeterminate, because total release quantities and completed exposure pathways areuncertain. The worst of the reported accidents occurred in the early morning hours onNovember 17, 1960, when it is uncertain if any residents were exposed. If people wereexposed at the modeled uranium and hydrogen fluoride concentrations, adverse healtheffects may have resulted. Currently, we have no reports of health effects related to thisaccident; however, if data become available suggesting adverse health effects did occur,we will re-evaluate the need for followup activities. Hazardous air concentrationsprobably did not reach off-site areas during other, smaller accidental releases. A betterspatially and statistically consistent soil sampling program in residential areas would have assisted in determining potential past exposures.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the data reviewed, ATSDR recommends the following:

  1. Ship depleted uranium to and from PGDP in new transport cylinders or overpacksapproved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

  2. Develop and implement emergency plans for the transport (by rail or truck) of uraniumhexafluoride (and hydrogen fluoride) cylinders. (The U.S. Enrichment Corporation isrequired to provide site-wide emergency response services to DOE pursuant to their leaseagreement and has an emergency management plan and procedures for this purpose;however, the procedures are for on-site accidents and emergencies and do not cover off-site transportation accidents.)

  3. Prevent installation of new wells in the contaminated plume areas through institutional controls.

  4. Prevent the future use of contaminated wells by disconnecting water pipes to homes or businesses and plugging or dismantling the wells.

  5. Encourage residents who are concerned about lead in their drinking water to have their water tested. (Lead did not appear to be related to the groundwater plumes.)

  6. Continue groundwater monitoring, including monitoring in areas possibly affected by the plumes and areas near Little Bayou Creek, Big Bayou Creek, and the North-South Diversion Ditch.

  7. Ensure that detection limits of degradation products of trichloroethylene (TCE), such as vinyl chloride, in the groundwater analyses are low enough to determine whether concentrations exceed health-based guidelines.

  8. Continue monitoring the McNairy Aquifer wells to detect possible migration ofcontaminants from the Regional Gravel Aquifer--if monitoring wells do not create aconduit for vertical migration.

  9. Continue to restrict access to Little Bayou Creek, the outfalls, and the North-South Diversion Ditch. Determine if existing signage adequately restricts public access to the southwest inactive landfill and the adjoining area.

  10. Continue monitoring biota to ensure that it is safe to consume.

  11. Develop a spatially and statistically consistent soil sampling program to assessaccumulation of airborne contaminants in residential areas.

Several of these recommendations may already be addressed by actions taken by DOE, USEC, orother agencies. These actions are discussed in the following section, Public Health Action Plan.

These conclusions and recommendations are based on the data and information referenced in thereport. If additional information that could alter these conclusions and recommendationsbecomes available, ATSDR will re-evaluate and amend these conclusions and recommendations, as necessary.


PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN

The Public Health Action Plan for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant describes the publichealth actions taken and planned to be taken by ATSDR, DOE, and/or other agencies at and nearthe site, based on the recommendations of this public health assessment. The purpose of thePublic Health Action Plan is to ensure that this public health assessment not only identifiespublic health hazards but also provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adversehuman health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. Thepublic health actions that are completed, being implemented, or planned are as follows.

Public Health Actions Taken

  • DOE ships depleted uranium in accordance with U.S. Department of Transportation(DOT) requirements. DOE has received approval from DOT to use overpacks forshipping some of the older cylinders.

  • U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and DOE have an agreement that USEC willrespond to all emergencies at the site. The plan does not cover transportation accidents; however, USEC and/or DOE will supply technical assistance, if requested.

  • DOE is monitoring air, groundwater, soil, and biota, and plans to continue monitoring for specific radioactive and chemical contaminants at the site.

  • ATSDR has provided technical information to community members as requested.ATSDR also provided health education information on polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)contamination in fish and recommended methods for cleaning and cooking fish caught inthe area.

Public Health Actions Planned

  • ATSDR's Division of Health Education and Promotion will develop and implementchemical-specific health education programs as requested by the community.

ATSDR, DOE, and other agencies are discussing the implementation of additionalrecommendations contained in this public health assessment. The resulting actions planned oragreed to by agencies will be reported in the final release of this public health assessment.


PREPARERS OF REPORT

Carol Connell
Health Physicist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Mark Evans, Ph.D.
Environmental Geologist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Contributors

Jo Ann S. Freedman, Ph.D., D.A.B.T.
Toxicologist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Edward Gregory, Ph.D.
Demographer
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Karl Markiewicz, Ph.D.
Senior Toxicologist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Ronald Parker
Database Administrator
Office of Program Operations and Management

Brenda K. Weis, M.S.P.H., Ph.D.
Toxicologist
(currently with National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences)
formerly with Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

ATSDR acknowledges the contribution to this public health assessment made by Julie Watts,M.S., from the Boston University School of Public Health.

ATSDR also acknowledges the contribution to this public health assessment made by PaulCalame, GIS Analyst, from Electronic Data Systems, Inc.

Reviewers of Report

Burt J. Cooper, M.S.
Supervisory Environmental Health Scientist
Energy Section Chief,
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Sandra G. Isaacs
Chief,
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Karl Markiewicz, Ph.D.
Senior Toxicologist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


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