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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

GENEVA INDUSTRIES/FUHRMANN ENERGY
HOUSTON, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS



SUMMARY

The Geneva Industries Site is an abandoned refinery in Houston, Texas, that manufacturedpolychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Although there is evidence of past exposure to sitecontaminants, the site currently poses no apparent public health hazard. Remedial actions haveeliminated all past exposure pathways. The eliminated pathways include the ingestion ofcontaminated soil by workers, the ingestion of contaminated sediments by children, and theinhalation of contaminated air by persons who worked on the site during the time the site wasactive.

The contaminants to which persons may have been exposed in the past include polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). We evaluated the potential for adverse health effects for each of the potentiallyexposed populations and conclude that adverse, non-carcinogenic, health effects from ingestionof PCB contaminated soil by on-site workers are possible. The lack of historical ambient air datafrom the time when the site was active prevents us from evaluating the potential for adversehealth effects from inhalation exposure. Although fish and crawfish taken from the localdrainageways were contaminated with PCBs, it is unlikely that humans would have been exposedto these species through the food chain.

The groundwater under the site is contaminated. Although the contaminated water is notcurrently being used for human consumption, there is a potential for exposure to contaminatedgroundwater in the future. Planned groundwater remedial actions should eliminate this threat.

BACKGROUND

The public health significance of this site will be evaluated by the Texas Department of Health(TDH) in cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). More specifically, ATSDR and TDH will determine whether health effects from exposure to sitecontaminants are possible and will recommend actions to reduce or prevent possible healtheffects. ATSDR, a Federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, isauthorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of1980 (CERCLA) to conduct health assessments at hazardous waste sites (Reference 1).

A. SITE DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY

The 13-acre Geneva Industries site is in Harris County, at 9334 Canniff Road in Houston, Texas,immediately adjacent to the corporate city limits of the City of South Houston. The site is east ofInterstate Highway 45 ("Gulf Freeway") and north of Airport Boulevard/College Street. WilliamHobby Airport is less than two miles west of the site (Figure 1).

The area around the site is flat with a maximum observed on-site elevation of 35 feet above meansea level (msl). The site is in the 100-year floodplain and is drained by a Harris County FloodControl Channel located along the eastern boundary of the site. The flood level for a storm witha 25-year frequency is predicted to be 37.5 feet above msl.

The Geneva site is an abandoned refinery which was used to manufacture biphenyl,polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenyl phenol, naptha, and Nos. 2 and 6 fuel oils. Accordingto the 1985 Site Investigation Report prepared by IT Corporation for the Texas Department ofWater Resources and EPA, five different corporate entities have owned the facility since 1967(Reference 2). For an unspecified time prior to 1967 the land was used for petroleum explorationand production.

In June 1967, Geneva Industries acquired the site and began manufacturing biphenyl. Tolueneand fuel were produced as by-products. On July 8, 1970, Geneva Industries (Geneva) appliedwith the Texas Water Quality Board for a permit to discharge industrial wastewater. Aninspection team found that Geneva had been discharging wastewater, without a permit, to theFlood Control Channel on the east side of the property. On February 21, 1972, the Texas WaterQuality Board, the Texas Air Control Board, and the Harris County Pollution ControlDepartment filed suit against Geneva for unauthorized discharges.

The March 17, 1972 Texas Water Quality Board facility inspection report indicated that Genevawas producing biphenyl. Xylene was used as a solvent; toluene and heavy fuel oils were by-products. The report noted frequent spills of biphenyls and xylene. Also in 1972, Geneva beganto produce phenoxy phenol. PCBs were produced primarily as a by-product. Numerous leakswere observed at the time. On November 26, 1973 Geneva declared bankruptcy.

Pilot Industries (Pilot) acquired Geneva's assets and on February 26, 1974 notified the TexasWater Quality Board that it would like the name changed on the discharge permit. After a publichearing the Texas Water Quality Board issued an amended waste control order. Pilot continuedto recover biphenyls but ceased manufacturing chlorinated biphenyls. The facility was shut downin October, 1975.

Intercoastal Refining Company (Intercoastal) acquired the assets from Pilot and on December 15,1976, requested a transfer of permit. The transfer was approved in March of the following year. A June 7, 1977 Texas Water Quality Board inspection report noted that Intercoastal wasrecovering naphtha and No. 2 and No. 6 fuel oils from oil-contaminated wastewater. An oil spilloccurred at the site on June 9, 1977 and the company was cited for permit violations by theHarris County Pollution Control Department on June 16, 1977. In late 1978, Intercoastal wassold and the plant was closed.

In 1980, Lone Star Fuel Company (Lone Star) purchased the plant but never resumed operations. In 1982, Lone Star sold the plant to Fuhrmann Energy who salvaged equipment from the site forresale.

As of 1981, before any remedial actions, the site and adjoining property contained processingtanks and piping, a large wastewater lagoon (the main lagoon), two small lagoons (north andsouth ponds), a closed lagoon (southern lagoon), a diked tank area, several drum storage areas, alandfill, and possibly a landfarm (applying waste to the land and/or incorporating it into thesurface soil). The site contained an estimated 1,000,000 gallons of contaminated water in thelagoons, concrete sump, and holding tanks. It also contained an estimated 1,200 cubic yards ofPCB contaminated sludges in the lagoons, approximately 450 drums containing various organicwastes stored around the site, about 50 cubic yards of phenyl phenol, and eight cubic yards ofbagged asbestos. The number of drums buried in the landfill was thought to be as high as 1,000(Figure 2).

Between 1983 and 1984 an EPA investigation team found that the numerous spills and leakswhich occurred during site operations had resulted in several areas of contaminated soil. PCBswere found in on-site soils and in the drainage ditch paths leading off site. Other compoundsreported in the on-site soil include: naphthalene, fluorene, phenanthrene, methylene chloride,chrysene, and toluene.

At the request of the Texas Department of Water Resources, EPA performed a Planned Removalin October 1983. This planned removal included: closing three on-site lagoons, removing alldrummed waste from the surface, removing all off-site soils containing PCBs at levels greaterthan 50 ppm, and improving site drainage to minimize runoff of contaminated water from thesite. Approximately 550 drums, 3,400 cubic yards of soil, and 25 tons of asbestos were removedand transported to an approved disposal facility. In 1984, on-site storage tank materials wereremoved and the abandoned on-site oil well was plugged.

The site was proposed to the National Priorities List (NPL) in September, 1983. In December ofthat same year, the EPA awarded the Texas Department of Water Resources a grant to fund aremedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) at the Geneva Industries site. The purpose ofthe remedial investigation was to describe in detail the extent of the site contamination. The RIwas completed in September 1984 and an additional study to determine the presence or absenceof an on-site fault was completed in November 1985 (Reference 3). The feasibility study todetermine what actions would be appropriate as part of a permanent remedy for the site wascompleted in 1986 (Reference 4).

In September of 1986, the EPA signed the Record of Decision (ROD) selecting the remedy forthe Geneva Industries site (Reference 5). The remedy was divided into two phases, or units. TheSource Control Unit involved the partial removal/containment of the sources of contamination atthe site to prevent further spreading of the contamination. The Groundwater Recovery Unit willremove and treat groundwater that was contaminated with chemicals from the site. The remedialactions for the Source Control Unit were completed in June 1990. These actions included:

  1. Removal of all surface structures, including storage tanks, tank cars, sheds, process equipment,foundations and other concrete pads, piping, and sumps;
  2. Removal of 62,400 tons of contaminated soil and backfilling of the area with clean soil(Reference 6);
  3. Excavation of all drums (estimated to number 400-700) buried on site;
  4. Disposal of materials removed and excavated at an EPA-approved off-site hazardous wastedisposal facility;
  5. Construction of a multi-layered surface cap covering two-thirds of the site; and
  6. Containment of the contaminated groundwater by constructing a slurry wall around the sitethat is tied into the clay below the contaminated aquifer.
The remedial design for the Groundwater Recovery Unit includes the following:
  1. Recovering and treating of trichloroethylene contaminated groundwater from 30- and 100-footwater- bearing sands below the site, with on-site treatment by carbon adsorption; and
  2. Discharging the treated water into the flood control channel adjacent to the site.

The Source Control Remedy was completed with a final inspection in June of 1990. Construction for the groundwater remedy is expected to begin in the fall of 1992 with treatmentbeginning six months later. The groundwater portion of the remedy is expected to takeapproximately ten years to complete.

The original Health Assessments for the Geneva Industries NPL site, dated 1984 and 1985,consist of two brief reviews of data collected by the EPA. The Health Assessment dated April 8,1985, was prepared from three data tables (PCB's, dioxin, and furan) and a map showingsampling locations. The review dated June 14, 1985, comments on water data from aquifersbeneath the Geneva site. These reviews concluded the following:

  1. The levels of PCBs reported for two off-site samples did not pose a significant public healththreat. However, further characterization of both on- and off-site PCB levels would be necessaryto determine the extent of remediation required for the site vicinity.
  2. The levels reported for the respective dioxin isomers would not constitute either an acute orchronic threat to human health. However, because of the wide range of toxicity of the variousisomers, the ultimate evaluation of areas containing these mixtures would require isomer specificanalysis.
  3. The water from the wells from the three deeper aquifers was free from contamination andwould be safe for human consumption provided potable water treatment typical to any othergroundwater in the area was administered.

This Health Assessment contains a more complete analysis of the public health implications ofthe site and the data previously collected. It also addresses reported community concerns andmakes recommendations specific to the findings.

B. SITE VISIT

On December 17, 1991, Texas Department of Health staff members Drs. John F. Villanacci andJean Brender visited the Geneva Industries site. The site visit consisted of a windshield survey ofthe perimeter of the site and the surrounding community. A total of one and one-half hours werespent around the site.

The site was inaccessible. A six-foot chain-link fence, capped with barbed wire, surrounded theentire site. Warning signs were posted on the fence. The drainage ditch, which wasapproximately ten feet wide and seven feet deep, traversed the entire eastern border of the siteoutside the fenceline. The area inside the fenceline was elevated approximately five to ten feetand completely covered by vegetation. All structures had been removed from the site.

The roads along the northern and western boundaries of the site were unpaved. The road on thewestern boundary ran from northwest to southeast and was apparently used for illegal dumping. We saw a great variety of trash including old rugs, tires, sofas, shoes, shingles, etc. There wasdiscolored, standing water in the drainage ditch on both sides of this road. An abandoned oilwell was located on the southern portion of the site along the western fenceline.

A junk yard and an apartment complex were located adjacent to the southern tip of the site. Theclosest residences were located less than 50 feet east and southwest of the site boundaries. Fromour observations, the population at this complex and in the general area appeared to bepredominantly Hispanic. Also, adjacent to the southern tip of the site on the eastern side of thedrainage ditch was a children's playground area with swings and monkey bars in disrepair. In thesame area, we saw three grocery store shopping carts as well as other litter in the drainage ditch.

The area east of the site was a mixture of low socioeconomic residential housing and lightindustry. Within three blocks of the site we saw numerous trailer homes and houses in need ofrepair. On Jackson Road approximately one block east and southeast of the site we saw RNTMachinery, Houston Plating Company, and the Hunt and Hunt Machine Shop. At Virginia andGalveston, two blocks east of the site, we saw Fabian Industrial Coatings. On Sherman andMichigan, two blocks northeast of the site we saw numerous tank trucks at Astron ChemicalServices. Other businesses in close proximity to the site included TSL Graphics and ChemicalResearch and Licensing Co.

Approximately 100 yards from the northeast corner of the site, on Michigan street, we saw OurLady of Grace Catholic Church. An elementary school was located on Michigan Street, about1/4 mile from the site.

C. DEMOGRAPHICS, LAND USE, AND NATURAL RESOURCE USE

Demographics

The census tract in which the Geneva Industries NPL site lies has a 1990 U.S. Census populationof 3,339 people in 1,399 homes. The racial makeup of this census tract is 47 percent white and53 percent nonwhite, of which 30 percent are black. Forty-five percent of the total population (ofany race) were of Hispanic origin. Sixteen percent of the population in this census tract are underage seven. Twenty-one percent are under age 10. Including the tract in which the site lies,approximately 31,998 persons reside in the five census tracts surrounding the site. The racialmakeup of these tracts is 54 percent white and 46 percent nonwhite, of which 42 percent areblack. Thirty-one percent of the population in the above mentioned areas are below the age of18.

Land Use

The Geneva Industries NPL site is located in the southeast portion of Harris County adjacent tothe city of South Houston. The area immediately surrounding the site contains commercial,residential, light industrial, institutional, and oil field activities as well as undeveloped land. Onthe east side of the Flood Control Channel, which runs along the eastern boundary of the site,there are warehouses, trailer homes, houses, a church, a school, and light industry. An apartmentcomplex is approximately 50 feet from the southwest corner of the site.

Natural Resource Use

The Chicot aquifer, which lies under the site, is divided into two separate units by a clay layer. The upper unit, the base of which is approximately 160 feet below the ground surface, is a minorsource of water in the area. The Lower Unit, the base of which is 600 feet below the surface,provides some of the groundwater used for public and industrial water supplies in southeasternHarris County. The deeper Evangeline aquifer, which lies underneath the Chicot aquifer and thesite, is the major source of groundwater for the Houston metropolitan area. The base of thisaquifer occurs between approximately 600 and 2500 feet below the ground surface.

The shallowest water-bearing zone beneath the site (the 30-foot sand) is composed of a siltysand. It ranges in depth from 12 to 35 feet below the ground surface and has a thickness between12 and 21 feet. This zone appears continuous throughout the site and could be a significantpathway for groundwater movement off the site if it were not for the slurry wall that surroundsthe site. The next shallowest water-bearing zone at the site (the 100-foot sand) is also composedof coarse sands and gravel. It has a depth range from 48 to 140 feet and a measured thicknessvarying from 50 to 91 feet. Groundwater in both zones exhibits a general east-northeast to westsouthwest direction of movement. Some locally different groundwater movement patternsobserved in the 30-foot sand are due to either faulting or leaking associated with an improperlyplugged oil/gas well. A fault is a break in the layers of clay which, in this case, could allow themovement of water into the deeper aquifer. Groundwater moving down the length of animproperly plugged well could introduce contaminated water from the upper aquifer into thedeeper aquifer. The zones are separated by a clay aquitard. An aquitard is a layer which slowsbut does not completely prevent the movement of water. The aquifer has a depth range from 28to 55 feet and a measured thickness varying from 13 to 27 feet. Using estimated maximum andaverage vertical groundwater movement rates, it would take 200 to 5,500 years for watermigration through this aquitard to occur.

According to the 1985 Site Investigation report (Reference 2), records from the City of Houston,the City of South Houston, the U.S. Geologic Survey, Texas Department of Water Resources,and a drive and walk survey, seventeen water wells were identified within approximately onemile of the site. Of these wells 10 had been destroyed, three were inactive, one was an activemunicipal well, and three were active private domestic wells. The number of persons served bythese wells was not reported. The active municipal well is screened in the Evangeline aquifer. One of the three private domestic wells was 90 feet deep and another was 100 feet deep. Noinformation was available on the depth of the third domestic well. An additional municipal wellfor the City of South Houston is located about one and three/quarter miles east of the site. SeeFigure 3 for the locations of the above-mentioned wells. There are an estimated 40 public watersupply wells located within three miles of the site. Specific information was not given as to theaquifer supplying these wells.

The climate in Harris County is warm and humid with an average of 48.18 inches of rain eachyear. Although the monthly rainfall is well-distributed, a maximum 24-hour rainfall over 15inches has been recorded (Reference 7). Rain falling on the site leaves by a combination ofevaporation, infiltration, and overland flow.

Almost all the stormwater runoff from the site flows into the Harris County Flood ControlChannel on the eastern boundary of the site. The Flood Control Channel has an average depth of10 feet and flows from south to north. Figure 4 shows the general site drainage. Water from theFlood Control Channel drains into Berry Bayou about one mile northeast of the site. BerryBayou drains into Sims Bayou and ultimately drains into the Houston Ship Channel near GalenaPark.

D. HEALTH OUTCOME DATA

On December 9, 1991, Harris County Health Department officials were contacted about theavailability of any health data on residents living in the vicinity of the Geneva Industries site. Other than routinely collected birth and death data, they reported no additional health outcome data associated with the site.

The Texas Department of Health Cancer Registry Division maintains incidence and mortalitydata for cancer in Texas. After meeting with representatives from the Cancer Registry Division,we decided that we could not use the available cancer data for the following reasons: (1)incidence data for Texas Public Health Region 4, in which the site is located, are incomplete andwould underestimate the true incidence rates and (2) although cancer mortality data are availablefor the city of Houston, they are not available by zip code or census tract and would notaccurately estimate the true incidence rates at the site.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

In an initial effort to determine community health concerns, we contacted the USEPA, the TexasWater Commission, Texas Department of Health Region 4, and the Harris County HealthDepartment. The USEPA was the only agency which had records that included communityhealth concerns associated with the site. The information in the USEPA files includednewspaper articles, a summary of USEPA's responses to community concerns regarding theGeneva site, and a summary transcript of public comment during the public comment period. The following community concerns were obtained from area residents:

  1. Could site contaminants affect the City of South Houston well located approximately 1,300feet east of the site?
  2. Should residents be concerned about their children playing in the drainage ditches whichreceive stormwater run-off from the site?

Responses to these concerns can be found in the Public Health Implications section of thedocument.

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