PRELIMINARY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
FRAZER, CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
The Foote Mineral site, seven miles south of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, generated large amounts of lithium and boron wastes since World War II. Lithium (to 13,000 ppb) and boron (to 20,000 ppb) have been detected in off-site private wells northeast of the site. One public well serving an estimated 17,000 to 60,000 people still pumps water containing about 900 ppb lithium and 300 ppb boron. However, the well water is diluted considerably by mixing with other water such that the final concentration of lithium ranges from about 200 to 600 ppb, which are not levels expected to cause adverse health effects.
The site represents a past public health hazard because evidence exists that exposures to hazardous chemicals (lithium and boron) at high levels, through use of off-site, contaminated groundwater, have occurred. Those levels have been reduced through connection of residences to the public water supply and through dilution of contaminated water in the public water supply by blending with uncontaminated sources. At present, the site represents an indeterminate public health hazard. Although no adverse health effects have been identified in people exposed for short periods of time to levels of lithium and boron found in drinking water near the site, little information is available on long-term, low-level exposure to lithium and boron. No community-specific health outcome data are available that indicate that the site has had an adverse impact on human health.
Although a 24-hour guard helps prevent trespassing, site access is unrestricted. Numerous physical hazards are present on the site that could be dangerous to trespassers, especially children.
A groundwater basin divide apparently passes through the approximate center of the site such that volatile organic compounds (trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, and benzene) migrate from the site (burn area) westward for an unknown distance. There is no evidence that volatile compounds have migrated through groundwater eastward and northeastward from the site. Lithium and boron from source areas west of the divide may also be moving westward through groundwater. Metals present in areas of the site east of the divide have migrated eastward to drinking water wells.
Waste material is still present at the site that could continue to cause groundwater contamination.
At least one residential well was an exposure point for petroleum compounds (e.g., toluene, naphthalene) not originating on site. Though not used for drinking, the well was used for laundering and bathing for about thirty years. No adverse health effects are expected to result from exposure through inhalation and skin contact to the levels of contaminants found in the well water.
- Restrict public access to the site.
- Continue to insure that all water users downgradient of the site (eastward) are supplied with acceptable water for potable and other household purposes.
- Remove and properly dispose of site contaminants and contaminated media.
- Install additional monitoring wells west of the site to determine the extent of westward migration of site contaminants in groundwater. This information will be crucial if the farm land west of the site is ever developed using public or private wells.
- Request the owner of the petroleum pipeline to check the line for leaks and provide documentation on dates and locations of past leaks and repairs in the area.
- Review existing documents and survey downgradient (both east and west of the groundwater divide) private well users to obtain specific information on contaminant concentrations, years of well use, and the number of groundwater users. Plot the well locations on a U.S.G.S. topographic map. This information will be helpful in evaluating the extent of exposure that has occurred, and the relationship between contaminated wells and groundwater flow.
Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) Recommendations
The data and information developed in the Foote Mineral Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that people are being exposed to contaminants from the site. Substance-specific technical consultations are needed for lithium and boron. Local health professionals need to be informed about the contaminants and about possible drug interactions. The community needs to be informed about exposure to the contaminants. A disease and symptom prevalence study for people exposed to the contaminants is indicated. ATSDR will reevaluate this site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available that indicate a need to do so.
The public health action plan (PHAP) for the Foote Mineral site contains a description of actions to be taken by ATSDR and/or other governmental agencies at and in the vicinity of the site subsequent to the completion of this public health assessment. The purpose of the PHAP is to ensure that this public health assessment not only identifies public health hazards, but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. Included is a commitment on the part of PADOH and ATSDR to follow up on this plan to ensure that it is implemented. The public health actions to be implemented are as follows:
Public Health Actions Planned
- ATSDR and PADOH will inform the public regarding exposure to contaminants.
- ATSDR's Division of Toxicology has referred lithium and boron to its Research Implementation Branch (RIB) for consideration by the substance-specific applied research program. RIB compiles a list of contaminants that are recommended for further research. When research is being considered, information is gathered to determine what type of research may be appropriate and if resources are available to conduct that research. RIB supplied available information to PADOH but has not yet determined what other actions will be taken.
- ATSDR's Division of Health Education will consider providing local health professionals with information on exposure to contaminants of concern as time and resources permit.
- ATSDR's Division of Health Studies has received the HARP determination that a disease and symptom prevalence study for exposed people is indicated. The Division of Health Studies has not yet determined if such a study can be undertaken.
- PADOH and ATSDR will collaborate with appropriate federal, state, and local agencies to pursue the implementation of the recommendations outlined in this public health assessment.
Joseph E. Godfrey, M.S., M.Ed.
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Kandiah Sivarajah, Ph.D.
State Toxicologist and Project Director
Pennsylvania Department of Health
ATSDR Regional Representative:
Public Health Advisor
EPA Region III
Office of the Assistant Administrator
ATSDR Technical Project Officer:
Technical Project Officer
Division Health Assessment and Consultation
The Foot Mineral Site Public Health Assessment was prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the public health assessment was begun.
Gail D. Godfrey
Technical Project Officer, SPS, RPB, DHAC
The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this public health assessment, and concurs with its findings.
Robert C. Williams
Director, DHAC, ATSDR
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