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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

PADUCAH GASEOUS DIFFUSION PLANT (U.S. DOE)
PADUCAH, MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KENTUCKY


CONCLUSIONS

This public health assessment is an evaluation of the off-site migration of hazardous substances fromPGDP to the surrounding community and of the potential health effects to community membersfrom 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 health concernsthat they believe are related to PGDP contaminants. Using the information from the community, andusing our own observation of the site, we investigated environmental data to address communityhealth concerns and determine if the concerns are, or might be, related to PGDP contaminantreleases. 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 thecommunity may be exposed; determining whether those substances are present in potentiallyharmful 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 dosesto available medical and health information to determine if the doses are likely to produceany diseases or other health effects in the exposed community members.

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

According to the information evaluated by ATSDR, under existing conditions and normaloperations, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site currently poses no apparent public healthhazard for the surrounding community from exposure to groundwater, surface water, soil andsediment, biota, or air. "No apparent public health hazard" means that people may be exposed tocontaminated media near the site, but that exposure to the contamination is not expected to causeany adverse health effects. We define "current" as ranging from 1990 to the present. This conclusionassumes the effectiveness of access restrictions to Little Bayou Creek, the outfalls, and the North-South Diversion Ditch; the fish advisories issued for Little Bayou Creek and some of the ponds inthe Western 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:

Air:

 

Past--vinyl chloride
Potential future--TCE, lead, and vinyl chloride
Past and potential future--uranium and hydrogen fluoride (from acute accidental or inappropriate releases)

No apparent public health hazard Groundwater:
Surface water:
Soil and sediment:
Biota:
Air:
Current
Past, current, and potential future
Past, current, and potential future
Past, current, and potential future
Current (chronic releases from normal operating conditions at the plant)

In the future, the rupture or destruction of one or more depleted uranium cylinders from atransportation accident involving a fire, a plane crash, severe weather, or natural disasters wouldcreate an urgent public health hazard for anyone near the damaged cylinders. Weatherconditions and duration of exposure would affect the distance from the cylinders at which therewould be a hazard; however, we predict that (1) the maximally exposed individual would be 100feet (30 meters) or less from the cylinders and (2) an urgent public health hazard could exist out to230 feet (70 meters) from the cylinders. Less-severe health effects could be experienced byindividuals within several thousand meters of the cylinders. These types of accidents or incidencesare unlikely but must continue to be recognized as possible.

In our assessment, historical groundwater exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and lead was a publichealth hazard for children routinely drinking water from four residential wells. This means that long-term exposure 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 the currentrestrictions between DOE and the property owners do not restrict the drilling of new wells by futureowners of this land. Although it is unlikely, potential future exposures could occur if new wells aredrilled into these plumes.

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

Information on vinyl chloride exposures is incomplete because the detection limits in most analysesof samples from residential wells tested were well above the levels of concern. Also, not allresidential wells in or near the plume were tested for vinyl chloride. Future groundwater monitoringdetection limits for vinyl chloride and other TCE degradation products should be sensitive enough todetermine whether concentrations exceed health-based guidelines. However, there appears to be nocurrent 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, becausetotal release quantities and completed exposure pathways are uncertain. The worst reportedaccidental release happened at 4:00 a.m. on November 17, 1960. Potentially hazardous uraniumand hydrogen fluoride concentrations, estimated using air dispersion models, reached off-site areas,but because the accident occurred at 4:00 a.m., it is not known if any residents were exposed. Ifpeople were exposed at the concentrations estimated by the model, adverse health effects may haveresulted. Also, in the past, it has been reported that UF6 was released at night through jets on top ofthe process buildings to accelerate the reduction of UF6 concentration in the process gas system inorder to perform maintenance and inspection on process gas equipment. These releases, called"midnight negatives", potentially contained significant quantities of uranium and hydrogen fluoride;however, the quantities released and the frequency of releases are unknown. Currently, we have noreports of adverse health effects related to these releases; however, if data become availablesuggesting that health effects did occur, we will re-evaluate the need for followup activities.

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

ATSDR representatives reviewed available health outcome data, such as cancer registries and vitalstatistics. We evaluated the data using age-adjusted rates, concentrating mostly on nine general typesof cancer. The health outcome data reviewed do not apply specifically to small groups of people whohave been, or could be, exposed to PGDP contaminants. The data are recorded for larger areas (areadevelopment districts or counties) which include many people with no exposures to contaminantsfrom the site (approximately 63,000 in McCracken County, 8,000 in Ballard County, and 15,000 inMassac County). The population of concern for the exposure pathways in the PDGP area(approximately 15 to 90 persons) is small. The associations between exposure from this site and anyadverse health effects would be obscured or distorted by the presence of the much larger unexposedpopulation.

ATSDR has collected people's concerns from the communities around PGDP for this public healthassessment. Many people expressed concerns related to the incidence of cancer and other illnesses inthe area and the possibility of exposure to contaminants through various media. Communityconcerns and our responses are presented in the main part of this document.

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

  1. The PGDP site currently poses no apparent public health hazard to the off-site communityexisting conditions and normal operations, because current exposure is not taking place atlevels that would likely cause adverse human health effects. However, off-site monitoringshould continue since other on-site activities could impact the surrounding community.

  2. In the future the rupture or destruction of one or more depleted uranium cylinders from atransportation accident involving a fire, a plane crash, severe weather, or naturaldisasters would create an urgent public health hazard for anyone near the damagedcylinders. Such an accident or incidence is unlikely, according to historical transport andweather records; however, the possibility must continue to be recognized. Weatherconditions and duration of exposure would affect the distance from an accident at which ahazard would exist, but anyone within 100 feet (30 meters) or less of the accident couldexperience serious or lethal harm.

  3. In our assessment, past exposure to TCE and lead was a public health hazard forchildren routinely drinking water from four residential wells, because it increased thelikelihood of adverse effects on their nervous systems. Residential wells that contained TCEmay also have been contaminated with vinyl chloride, a breakdown product of TCE ingroundwater. The detection limits in most analyses of samples from tested residential wellswere well above the levels of concern, and not all residential wells in or near the plumeswere tested for vinyl chloride. Because ATSDR scientists do not know whether TCE-contaminated wells contained vinyl chloride or at what levels, we cannot assess the level ofhealth hazard associated with potential past exposure to vinyl chloride.

  4. 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 drilled intothe contaminated groundwater plumes, or if old wells are used by new land owners. We basethis conclusion on the increased contaminant concentrations in the plumes since residentialwells were taken out of service, but it does not consider the potential reduction ofconcentrations in the groundwater from future remediation activities.

  5. Past acute, or short-term, airborne releases of uranium hexafluoride and the resultingexposures are indeterminate, because total release quantities and completed exposurepathways are uncertain. The worst of the reported accidents occurred in the early morninghours on November 17, 1960, when it is uncertain if any residents were exposed. If peoplewere exposed at the modeled uranium and hydrogen fluoride concentrations, adverse healtheffects may have resulted. Also, in the past, it has been reported that UF6 was released atnight through jets on top of the process buildings to accelerate the reduction of UF6concentration in the process gas system in order to perform maintenance and inspection ofprocess gas equipment. These releases, called "midnight negatives", potentially containedsignificant quantities of uranium and hydrogen fluoride; however, the quantities released andthe frequency of releases are unknown. Currently, we have no reports of health effectsrelated to these releases; however, if data become available suggesting that adverse healtheffects did occur, we will re-evaluate the need for followup activities. Hazardous airconcentrations probably did not reach off-site areas during other, smaller accidental releases.A better spatially 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. All depleted uranium shipments to and from PGDP should continue to be shipped intransport cylinders or overpacks approved for transport by the appropriate regulatoryauthorities.

  2. Put in place institutional controls that prevent installation of new wells in the contaminated plume areas.

  3. Prevent the future use of contaminated wells by such means as disconnecting water pipes to homes or businesses and plugging or dismantling the wells.

  4. 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.)

  5. Continue groundwater monitoring, including monitoring in areas possibly affected by the plumes and areas near Little Bayou Creek, Bayou Creek, and the North-South DiversionDitch.

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

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

  8. Continue to restrict access to Little Bayou Creek, the outfalls, and the North-SouthDiversion Ditch. Determine if existing signage adequately restricts public access to thesouthwest inactive landfill and the adjoining area.

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

  10. Develop a spatially and statistically consistent soil sampling program to assess accumulation of airborne contaminants in residential areas.
  11. Several of these recommendations may already be addressed by actions taken by DOE or otheragencies. 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 recommendations becomesavailable, ATSDR will re-evaluate and amend these conclusions and recommendations, asnecessary.


PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN

The Public Health Action Plan for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant describes the public healthactions taken and planned to be taken by ATSDR, DOE, and/or other agencies at and near the site,based on the recommendations of this public health assessment. The purpose of the Public HealthAction Plan is to ensure that this public health assessment not only identifies public health hazardsbut also provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effectsresulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. The public health actions thatare 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 for shipping some ofthe older cylinders.

  • U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and DOE have an agreement that USEC will respondto 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. ATSDRalso provided health education information on polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)contamination in fish and recommended methods for cleaning and cooking fish caught in thearea.

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.

  • If data becomes available suggesting that adverse health effects could have occurred as a result of past releases from PGDP, ATSDR will re-evaluate the need for follow-up activities.

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 Paul Calame,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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