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PETITIONED PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

FALLS TOWNSHIP GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION
(a/k/a CORCO CHEMICAL, PARASCIENTIFIC, MEENAN OIL)
FALLS TOWNSHIP, BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

SUMMARY

The Falls Township Groundwater Contamination site, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has beenevaluated for public health issues at the request of citizens in the community. Area citizens haveexpressed concerns about health effects, including cancer, related to drinking contaminated wellwater.

From the information reviewed, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry(ATSDR) considers locations in the study area where groundwater in private wells containscontaminants at substantive levels to pose a public health hazard. The past and present locationswhere substantively affected private wells have been in use are not fully defined.

Portions of the groundwater in an area of the township have been sampled and found to beadversely affected by releases of chemicals; potential sources of contaminants may include bothindustrial and non-industrial activities. Some of the homes and businesses in the area are notconnected to the public water supply system, and most of those residents and workers apparentlycontinue to use groundwater for drinking and household uses. Thus, there has been long-termhuman exposure to hazardous substances, specifically volatile organic compounds, in some ofthe private wells. The principal compounds are trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, andchloroform.

ATSDR's review of human activities and the limited sampling information also suggests thatsome persons in the study area potentially may be exposed to hazardous substances by inhalingaffected ambient air, or by intermittent soil ingestion, or possibly, through intermittentrecreational activities at local surface water bodies or intermittent consumption of fish fromsurface waters. However, more information is needed to fully evaluate releases, migration, andresulting contaminant levels at points of potential human exposure, as well as to fully evaluatepotentially associated health effects.

The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has reviewed the informationand data developed in the Falls Township Petitioned Public Health Assessment for appropriatefollowup with respect to health activities. The panel determined that the following activities areindicated at this time because of the long period of exposure, the levels of contaminants found,and the degree of concern expressed by the community: biologic indicators of exposure testing,biomedical testing, a community health investigation, a disease- and symptom-prevalence study,site-specific surveillance, and inclusion of exposed members of the community in the TCEsubregistry. The panel also determined that community health education and health professionaleducation are needed. ATSDR will work with appropriate agencies in the state of Pennsylvaniato implement the public health actions.

INTRODUCTION

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is authorized to performpublic health assessments of sites where there have been releases of toxic substances or offacilities for which individuals or licensed physicians provide information about people exposedto a hazardous substance. ATSDR received a petition dated May 26, 1988, prepared on behalf ofsome residents at the Country Lane Trailer Park in Falls Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania(1). This public health assessment responds to issues raised in that petition and to additionalissues that surfaced during evaluations.

The petitioners and some other area residents reported that they have been exposed to hazardoussubstances in contaminated groundwater from private wells used for drinking and householdpurposes. Sampling data for groundwater and other environmental media reviewed by ATSDRare summarized in Appendix A. The Falls Township Groundwater Contamination PetitionedPublic Health Assessment (PPHA)--Initial Release--was issued to government agencies forreview and comment in late 1992. Written comments were received from agency personnel andalso a private party. Comments and ATSDR's responses are summarized in Appendix B. ThePublic Comment Release was issued in early 1993; comments and ATSDR's responses aresummarized in Appendix C.

The citizens assert that the contamination is a result of releases from the Corco ChemicalCorporation and Para Scientific Company Inc. and from leaking underground tanks and pipelinesonce owned by Meenan Oil Company Inc.

After reviewing available information, ATSDR defined a conservatively sized study areaapproximately bounded on the west by Warner Lake and Cedar Lane, on the north by TyburnRoad, on the east by Van Sciver Lake, and on the south by Warner Lake and by the canal whereit crosses Bristol Pike. The study area and its pertinent features are shown in Figure 1. Becausethe study area is relatively large, ATSDR titled this public health assessment "Falls TownshipGroundwater Contamination."

In 1992, the Township of Falls Authority made public water available to residents in their owncontainers at the authority's Penn Valley pump station. Water mains will be extended to allportions of the study area not now being served. The extension is expected to be complete in late1994.

Figure 1
Figure 1.

BACKGROUND

A. DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY

Country Lane Trailer Park

The Country Lane Trailer Park, a group of 19 mobile homes, is on Bristol Pike a short distancesouth of Penn Valley Road (Figure 1). In March 1985, residents complained to the county healthdepartment that water from the private well serving the park smelled and tasted bad. The healthdepartment sampled the water and found substantive concentrations of volatile organiccompounds (VOCs), including several nonchlorinated hydrocarbons typically associated withpetroleum and some chlorinated hydrocarbons (2). In April 1985, the trailer park was connectedto the public water supply.

When the Country Lane Trailer Park well contamination was discovered, the Bucks CountyHealth Department (BCHD) issued a citizen advisory and tested many of the other private wellsin the study area. Some of the other well water analyses also showed nonchlorinated andchlorinated hydrocarbons (2).

Corco Chemical

Corco Chemical is on Cedar Lane near Tyburn Road (Figure 1). The facility consists of threebuildings and some outdoor bulk chemical storage areas. The company purchases chlorinatedand nonchlorinated solvents and other chemicals in bulk quantities and re-packages them forsale. Acids also are distilled and packaged. A company spokesman reports that Corco Chemicalstopped handling chlorinated solvents in large bulk containers in 1985.

Process water is withdrawn from a lake at the western edge of the property and is piped to theprocess building, the chemical storage building, and the solvent re-packaging building. Non-contact cooling water is discharged into a smaller lake east of Cedar Lane (3). From about 1970to 1990, the building floor drains and a containment system at the outdoor solvent storage areawere connected to the cooling water discharge line. Therefore, at least portions of any spilledchemicals presumably washed into the cooling water discharge system and were released to theeastern lake. Results of several inspections and sampling between 1982 and 1990 showed thatchlorinated VOCs, such as trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and chloroform,and nonchlorinated VOCs, such as ethylbenzene and xylene, were in the solvent trap and in thecooling water effluent being discharged to the eastern lake (4). In 1990, floor drains were sealed,and the secondary containment area was disconnected from the cooling water discharge system toprevent that type of release. The solvent trap also was removed, and a limestone neutralizationbox was cleaned out.

Inspectors once observed several piles of chemical containers at the back of the plant and notedthat they were a potential source of soil and groundwater contamination (3).

PADER issued an order to Corco Chemical in 1990 to conduct a groundwater study and to cleanup soil and groundwater contamination attributable to their handling of solvents. Soil has beencleaned up by the neutralization box. PADER initiated further enforcement action resulting in aCommonwealth Court Order requiring groundwater remediation to begin no later than December31, 1992. PADER continues to monitor Corco's compliance with that order.

Para Scientific Company

The Para Scientific Company (Figure 1) has leased its building from Corco Chemical since 1979. Para Scientific buys and resells chemicals, including solvents, and resells them in the samepackages. They do not pour and repackage chemicals. At one time, building floor drains wereconnected to Corco's cooling water effluent system that discharges to the lake east of Cedar Lane.

Para Scientific reports they have neutralizing absorbent material available to treat any breakageor spill but never use it because they exercise care in handling materials. Thus, Para Scientificmay never have released any chemicals to their former drain system. ATSDR has no sampling orother evidence that chemicals were released by Para Scientific to the drains, the lake, or anyenvironmental medium.

Meenan Oil Fuel Leak

In the early 1980s, a leak was discovered in an underground fuel oil delivery system operated byMeenan Oil Company, and a product recovery well was subsequently installed for remediation. The recovery well location is shown in Figure 1. The fuel oil system delivered heating oil toparts of Pennwood Crossing, a trailer home development covering a large portion of the areaalong Cedar Lane, Penn Valley Road, and Bristol Pike. Tank inventories and other informationsuggest that fuel losses might have totaled 25,000 gallons (4). The centralized fuel distributionsystem has since been replaced with an individual tank for each residence.

The product recovery well and 17 monitoring wells were installed in 1983; several additionalmonitoring wells were installed later. Product was found in 5 of the initial 17 monitoring wells. Analysis of groundwater from the recovery well and from monitoring wells showed the watercontained elevated levels of nonchlorinated compounds (petroleum hydrocarbons) and somechlorinated compounds (4).

The recovery system included a skimmer pump that withdrew product floating on thegroundwater surface and discharged it to a storage tank. Recovered oil was trucked to Meenan'splant. Oil recovery was facilitated by lowering the local groundwater table; that wasaccomplished by withdrawing groundwater with a pump screened deep in the underlying soils. The groundwater removed by that pump was discharged into an oil-water separator. Aconsultant to the Meenan Oil Company reported to ATSDR that the groundwater removed nevercontained oil. From the separator, water was discharged into a swale that drains to Warner Lake,an old gravel quarry on the south side of Penn Valley Road. A state National DischargeElimination System (NPDES) permit limited water discharge to less than 10,000 gallons per dayand limited the total nonchlorinated compounds (petroleum hydrocarbons) in the discharge to30 parts per million (ppm) [30,000 parts per billion (ppb)]. The skimmer recovery system beganoperating early in 1984 and initially recovered 35 gallons of oil per day (5). In 1986, a petroleumodor was noted in 13 of the 14 monitoring wells that could be examined; the remaining wells hadbeen abandoned, vandalized, or could not be found (4). Recovery operations ended in 1989 withthe approval of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PADER). Thecompany's consultant reported to ATSDR that criteria for terminating recovery includedobserving wells monthly and finding no free oil for six consecutive months.

Other Issues Possibly Affecting Groundwater Quality

Landfill and Oil Storage--A non-permitted private landfill operated for several years east ofCedar Lane. The approximate location is shown in Figure 1. A county health departmentemployee reported to ATSDR that the landfill received primarily construction debris and similarmaterials. The employee also said that waste oil reclamation equipment was once present at thelandfill but oil may never have been received; the reclamation equipment subsequently wasremoved. Another person reported to ATSDR that spilled oil had been observed on the ground.

K-Mart Fire--A county health department employee reported that a large K-Mart Companywarehouse, immediately north of Tyburn Road in the Penn Warner Industrial Park, burned to theground in 1982 and was later rebuilt. The approximate location is shown in Figure 1. Thematerials that burned are presumed to have contained many chemical compounds, includingVOCs.

Septic Systems--Many of the homes and businesses in the area are not connected to the publicsewer system and have a septic tank and drain field. ATSDR is aware that VOCs andcommercial chemicals containing VOCs sometimes are used to unclog septic systems; however,the specific septic system treatment methods used in the area are not known.

Trucking Companies--Several companies in the area maintain trucks on their property. Maintenance presumably includes cleaning trucks and handling and disposing waste oil andsolvents. When groundwater contamination was noted in 1985, BCHD inspected truckingcompanies for improper disposal of wastes. No significant violations were found.

Other Facilities--ATSDR reviewed EPA's Toxic Chemical Release Inventory database todetermine whether any commercial or industrial facilities in the vicinity have reported release ofany VOCs detected in groundwater (1). The database includes information about VOC releasesreported by several companies located north of Tyburn Road (in Penn Warner Industrial Park)and on the east side of Van Sciver Lake. Examination of the data showed that VOCs are releasedto the air, but none are disposed of on land (e.g., in landfills, injection wells, or impoundments). Although the reported releases might affect ambient air quality to some extent in the immediatevicinity of the facilities, the information suggests that groundwater would not be affected. Thus,VOC releases from those facilities are not further addressed in this assessment.

B. SITE VISIT

ATSDR visited Falls Township in late July 1990 to obtain information for assessing petitioners'concerns. ATSDR staff, accompanied by EPA and Bucks County personnel, examined the areaof concern. ATSDR staff also met with the petitioner and residents, facility personnel, waterauthority representatives, elected officials, and state regulatory personnel; gathered data and otherinformation from various sources; and informed the news media of ATSDR activities. Information obtained during this visit and two earlier visits is described in pertinent sections ofthis assessment.

After the visit, a resident advised ATSDR that additional health information would betransmitted. That information was received and evaluated along with other health information;please refer to the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section for a discussion of health informationreceived by ATSDR.

C. DEMOGRAPHICS, LAND USE, AND NATURAL RESOURCE USE

The area is primarily residential and includes several commercial and light industrial businessessuch as Corco Chemical, Para Scientific Company, and trucking companies. Penn Warner Park,an industrial park that contains several light industrial and large warehouse facilities, isimmediately north of the area, beyond Tyburn Road.

Public water came into the study area (except for Corbin, Old Tyburn, and East Penn ValleyRoads) in 1977. Before then all residences and businesses used groundwater for drinking waterand other purposes. Although most now use the township water system, a water authorityrepresentative showed ATSDR in 1990 an estimated 40 residences and 15 businesses in the studyarea that are not connected. Some of these owners have installed filters or treatment componentsin their well water systems or may buy bottled water for potable uses.

The Delaware River is the water source for all public water systems in the region (2). FallsTownship personnel report that public water is distributed throughout the area by the township,which purchases the water from the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority. Thatauthority withdraws the water from the Delaware River at Tullytown, about 3.5 miles south ofthe area.

Over time, quarrying of sand and gravel has been an important activity in the vicinity. VanSciver Lake, Warner Lake, and lakes east and west of Corco Chemical were formed by quarryoperations. All the nearby lakes are landlocked except for Van Sciver Lake, which flows intoScotts Creek, which, in turn, flows into the Delaware River at a point about 3.5 miles south ofthe area. Van Sciver Lake is used for boating, swimming, and fishing. Limited fishing andswimming also are reported at other lakes.

No schools, nursing homes, or hospitals are in the area of concern.

As stated previously, a non-permitted private landfill once operated on the eastern side of CedarLane and was reported to have accepted construction debris and similar materials.

Approximately 589 persons reside within 1 mile of the Country Lane Trailer Park (2). Within2 miles, the population is reported to be about 101,000 and includes the town of Fallsington andone third of the population of Levittown (2). United States census data shows that FallsTownship has a population of about 35,000, of which approximately 1,200 are African-American; American Indians and Asians number a few hundred, as do those of Hispanic origin. About 82% of township residents have completed high school; about 14% have at least 4 years ofcollege. Median family income is about $44,000; per capita income is about $15,000. TheBucks County population is about 540,000 of which about 7% are younger than 5 years andabout 11% are older than 65.

D. HEALTH OUTCOME DATA

ATSDR has identified the following state and local health data sources as potentially pertinent tothis site:

  • Pennsylvania Vital Statistics.
  • Cancer Incidence and Mortality Rates in Pennsylvania.
  • Review of Residence Information from Cancer Incidence Data for Falls Township in BucksCounty, Pennsylvania.

The first two sources are generated through the Pennsylvania State Department of Health's StateHealth Data Center, and break information down to the state and county level. The third sourceis a review of a cancer study of specific areas of concern, including Falls Township. The StateCancer Control Program conducted that investigation.

ATSDR also has received and reviewed medical records from individuals or their legalrepresentatives.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

ATSDR held a meeting in Falls Township for petitioners on July 30, 1990. In that meeting, several health concerns were expressed, including stomachproblems, gall bladder ailments, blocked arteries, and several types of cancer. The cancersmentioned were of the stomach, breast, and lung. On a separate occasion, an individualexpressed to ATSDR her concern about her chronic cough. Two newspaper articles cited severalcommunity health concerns including nausea, diarrhea, stomach ailments, rashes, boils, adverseliver conditions, dental problems, and cancer (7, 8). Individuals' medical records reiterateconcerns about acute nausea, diarrhea and stomach problems, and chronic stomach and liverproblems. The medical records also confirm rashes, elevated liver enzymes, and one diagnosis ofbreast cancer.

ATSDR staff received a telephone inquiry from a concerned citizen about the high number ofpeople that live on Corbin Lane who have cancer or have died of cancer. The citizen also wasdisturbed about the number and variety of birth defects occurring in sisters who resided in thestudy area for up to twenty years and were exposed to contaminants in drinking water. Specificbirth defects mentioned: genetic defect with heart failure, deformed feet, immune deficiency,placenta attached to chest wall, absence of lung surfactant, and defective colon. Numerousmiscarriages were mentioned as well.


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