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Note: A great deal of work has been completed at this site since this document was begun. This document does not include activities that have occurred at the site since 1994. An update will be conducted to evaluate current site conditions in the near future.


The Fairfield Coal Gasification site is located in the southwest section of Fairfield, Iowa. It covers approximately 1.3 acres in a residential and commercial area. This former coal gasification plant operated from 1878 through 1950. When plant operations were terminated, the existing buildings were converted into an operations facility for the Iowa Electric Light and Power Company (IE). The site has been owned by IE since 1878.

Coal tar wastes and ammonium liquor, along with spent oxide waste from the gas purification process were disposed in on-site pits. Coal tar waste contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other contaminants.

In a 1986 study conducted by IE, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and metals were found in on-site soil and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an investigation in 1987 that confirmed the presence of these contaminants on-site and found them to be migrating to off-site areas as well. Based on results of that investigation, the site was proposed for inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL) in June 1988. The site was listed on the NPL in August 1990. The site has now been remediated.

EPA and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) have conducted a series of public meetings in Fairfield. In July 1990, during a public meeting, a community member expressed concern about people living near the site. The concern was about the possible long-term health effects of people exposed to site contaminants. In July 1993, community members living near the site complained of odiferous compounds emanating from the site when remediation efforts began. Community members notified EPA and IE about the malodor and their concern about air pollutants. Representatives of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), IDPH, and EPA documented those concerns during two public availability meetings held in November and December 1993.

ATSDR and IDPH concluded, based on review of available data, that the Fairfield Coal Gasification site was a past public health hazard. People living in the area were exposed to site-related contaminants in private well water and in the air. Under current site conditions, the site poses no apparent public health hazard. The contaminated well is no longer used and remedial actions have been implemented. Soil remedial activities were completed in May 1995. A pump and treat system for groundwater has been operational since 1990.

ATSDR's Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that follow-up health activities were needed. IDPH in cooperation with ATSDR, furnished information to area health care providers about possible health effects resulting from exposure to site contaminants. Community involvement activities addressing community concerns about past exposure and the likelihood of future exposures are being conducted through correspondence and direct telephone contact. As new data become available, they will be reviewed to determine if other public health actions are indicated.


A. Site Description and History

The Fairfield Coal Gasification site is located in the southwest section of Fairfield, Jefferson County, Iowa (Figures 1A&1B). It occupies approximately 1.3 acres of land and is bounded on the north by Burlington Avenue, on the east by residential property, and on the south by an electrical substation. An area of the site extends about 70 feet west of Seventh Street, which is primarily a residential area (Figure 2). Along Burlington Avenue are residential areas and various businesses, including two restaurants north of the site.21

This former coal gasification plant was operated by the Iowa Electric Light and Power Company (IE), that, under different corporate names, has owned the site since operations began in 1878. The plant used a blue gas process until 1937 when the production was changed to a carburetted water gas process. Blue gas (sometimes called coal gas) was produced by reacting coal or coke with steam to yield a gas rich in hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The heating value of blue gas is enriched by adding petroleum oils. The blue gas is then thermally broken down into gaseous constituents through a carburetion process. The resulting product was known as carburetted water gas or simply water gas. Coal tar sludge, iron oxide wastes, and associated coal gasification wastes were generated during plant operations. Most of the tar sludge containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was sold as a by-product for use as a wood preservative, for road treatment, and for coal tar refining. An undetermined amount of tar sludge was disposed in on-site pits and in a nearby drainage ditch (Figure 2). In 1950, production of manufactured gas ceased. The plant was closed, equipment removed, and the plant modified for use as an operating facility for IE.21,22

Groundwater beneath the site is localized in a perched water system at depths of 3 to 5 feet. Beneath this surficial water table are the Mississippian aquifer, the Devonian aquifer, and the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer (or Jordan Aquifer). These aquifers are separated by layers of limestone and dolomite. Groundwater flow at the site is generally south-southeast and south-southwest (Figure 3A). Soil and groundwater data indicate that waste material has leached or migrated from the gas holder pit, the former tar separator tank, and the relief gas holder tank. As a consequence, on-site and off-site soils and the on-site and off-site surficial aquifer has been contaminated with various metals, VOCs, and PAHs (Figures 5A-5C).21,22 The upper bedrock of the Mississipian aquifer contains trace or minimal amounts of PAHs.

In addition to the structures identified in the preceeding paragraph, a gas holder base tank, an operations building, a former railroad right-of-way area, and a former drainage ditch area were past primary site features (Figure 2).

The Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P) tracks on the site and a railroad bridge over U.S. Highway 34 (Burlington Street) were removed in 1984. In 1988 and 1989 the nearby drainage ditch, located on Vintage Power Wagons' property south of the site, was replaced with a culvert and covered with soil (Figure 2).

In July 1986, the Ecology and Environment, Inc., Field Investigation Team (E&E/FIT) performed a Preliminary Assessment of the site. In September 1987, an Expanded Site Investigation was conducted by E&E/FIT for EPA Region VII. In June 1988, EPA proposed the site for inclusion on the NPL. Field activities for the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Studies (RI/FS) began on June 19, 1989, and were completed in January 1990. The RI/FS was performed for IE by B&W Waste Science and Technology Corporation.22

EPA proposed, during a July 26, 1990, public meeting, alternatives to clean up the soil and groundwater contamination at the Fairfield Coal Gasification site. Remedial actions were divided into soil and groundwater operable units. EPA's preferred alternative was to excavate on-site waste and contaminated soil from the source area and incinerate the excavated waste and contaminated soil off-site. The preferred alternative was issued for public comment until August 15, 1990. The alternative also included a pump and treat system for groundwater using filtration, carbon adsorption, polymer injection and settling. Currently, the on-site groundwater recovery and treatment system is operational.

B. Actions Implemented During the Health Assessment Process

A Record of Decision (ROD) was signed by EPA in September 1990. The selected soil clean-up alternative was to excavate and incinerate source areas of contamination at an off-site location and to pump and treat groundwater.

The selected alternative included groundwater monitoring of all existing site monitoring wells and the installation of additional monitoring wells to confirm the effectiveness of this alternative. It also included excavation of the relief gas holder pit to 20 feet (8 feet below the water table), excavation of the tar seperator to 12 feet, and the horizontal excavation of soils that exceed 100 mg/kg carcinogenic PAHs and 500 mg/kg total PAHs. In addition, the alternative contained a plan to pump and treat the groundwater.

In June 1993 (when soil excavation began), people near the site complained of odiferous compounds emanating from the site. Air monitoring around the site perimeter was provided during on-site remedial activities. Because of local health concerns about volatile emissions, EPA requested ATSDR to review air monitoring data. health consultations were provided by ATSDR on July 9, 1993; October 1, 1993; and October 29, 1993 (Appendix B). Monthly status reports and air monitoring data collected during excavation activities were given to IDPH and ATSDR for review. To abate further exposure to contaminants in the air, a containment structure was erected over the gas holder pit. During soil excavation, air contaminants were contained and treated within the structure prior to being discharged off-site.

A building and well for a new groundwater pump and treat system was installed south of Washington Street to help contain groundwater contamination. With the pump and treat system currently in operation, groundwater contaminant migration appears to be contained. Site remedial actions for the soil operable unit were completed in May 1995. Excavated source materials and contaminated soil (not characterized as hazardous waste) were transported off-site to two temporary storage facilities for further disposition. Site restoration included: placement and grading of a soil surface cover; moving the laboratory; demolishing the field office; connecting and starting up two additional extraction wells; and installing a permanent security fence around the site. Future actions include groundwater remedial operation and maintenance.

C. Site Visit

On March 9, 1989, IDPH staff conducted a site visit with ATSDR's Regional Representative. Representatives from IE, Fairfield, and Jefferson County were also present. The tour included visiting the former plant area, former drainage ditch area, and surrounding facilities. The operation building was locked, and the entire plant area (including the gas holder pit, former tar separator tank, and the relief gas holder tank) was fenced and the gates locked. The gravel parking lot where the CRI&P (former railroad) tracks were located was not fenced and allowed easy public access to that area of the site from Burlington and Washington Avenue. The former drainage ditch south of Washington Avenue was replaced with a culvert and covered with soil. Two fast-food restaurants are located north of Burlington Avenue within 200 feet of the site. Three residences are within approximately 100 feet of the site.

Another site visit was conducted on July 26, 1990, immediately preceding the EPA public meeting. The site was still accessible to the public. In addition, a wooden fence was placed along Washington Avenue on Vintage Power Wagon property with a sign advertising soil for use as fill material. Access to Vintage Power Wagon property was not restricted.

IDPH revisited the site on December 14, 1993, prior to another public meeting. At that time, the site was completely fenced. Excavation of soils had begun and IDPH representatives saw heavy equipment and at least one excavation pit through the fence. Although IDPH representatives saw tarps on the site, they did not see any piles of soil. No signs were posted at the site at the time of the visit, but EPA informed IDPH that warning signs were posted in January 1994.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


The population of Fairfield, Iowa, is approximately 9,768 (1990 census). The population within a square mile of the site is 747. The people around the site are listed as predominately white, according to the 1990 census. There are 5 schools within a mile of the site: Cozy Corner Early Childhood Center; St. Mary's Preschool; Fairfield Junior High School; Fairfield High School; and the Maharishi International University. One nursing home is also within this area (Nelson Nursing Home Corporation).

Land Use

Residential and commercial areas surround the site. Several commercial establishments, including two fast-food restaurants, are located north of Burlington Avenue.21,22 Parson's Addition is a small residential area located 2,500 feet west-southwest of the site (Figures 1A&1B).

Natural Resource Use

The Fairfield Water Works draws water from one deep well, two shallow wells, and three municipal surface water supply lakes located 1.5 miles northeast of the site (Figure 1A). The Fairfield Water Works provides water to Fairfield, Parson's Addition, Jefferson County Rural Water Supply System, and four small municipalities in Jefferson County.

Groundwater near the site flows in a southeast to southwest direction (Figure 3A). In the past, approximately 53 down gradient and cross gradient private shallow wells were located within 2 miles of the site. Forty-five of these private wells were sampled: 33 in Parson's Addition, six within a 1/2 mile west/southwest of the site, five about 2 miles southeast of the site, and one within a 1/2 mile southeast of the site. One well was considered to be contaminated by groundwater flow from the site (FI-A). Information provided to IDPH, indicated that private well FI-A (Figures 4A and 4B) was used for drinking water before the residence was connected to the municipal water system in the early 1970s. Presently, all but two residences within a 1/2 mile of the site are supplied with municipal water.

Two residences in Parson's Addition are not connected to the city water supply system. These residences use shallow private wells, approximately 25 to 45 feet deep, for domestic purposes. Although most residences in Parson's Addition are connected to the municipal water supply, some of these residences may still be using private well water for non-domestic purposes such as watering vegetable gardens. Rural residences within three miles of the site that are not connected to the municipal water system use private wells at depths of 25 to 45 feet for domestic purposes.21,26 Current data indicate that wells in Parson's Addition and the rural residences have not been impacted by site contaminants.

At the present time, surface water runoff from the site flows south-southeast to a storm sewer that empties into a buried culvert approximately 700 feet south of the site (Figure 2). The culvert flows into a stream southwest of the site. The stream is perennial and is fed by city storm water runoff. The stream discharges into Cedar Creek 2.9 miles south of the site. Prior to installation of the culvert in 1984, surface water runoff from the site discharged into the drainage ditch south of Washington Avenue and then flowed into the stream.

E. Health Outcome Data

With information derived from available state health data bases, it may be possible to determine if certain health effects are higher than would be expected in Fairfield and Jefferson County, Iowa. Available data from the Iowa Cancer registry for the period 1973 through 1992 on all cancer tissue sites were reviewed. The result of that review is presented in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section of this report. County and local health departments do not have relevant or appropriate health data pertaining to this site.


On July 26, 1990, EPA conducted a public meeting in Fairfield, Iowa, to provide results of the RI/FS and to present the proposed remedial plan. IDPH staff and an ATSDR Region VII Representative attended the meeting. Several town dignitaries were also in attendance. Public concern was voiced regarding the possible long-term health effects from exposure to site contaminants, particularly for residents living near the site. However, residents interviewed at that time said they knew of no one who had experienced any site-related health problems.

Remediation efforts began at the site in July 1993. Site conditions changed with the implementation of remedial activities. Various health complaints were received at that time by EPA and IE. Another public meeting was held by EPA on December 14, 1993, to discuss site remediation and health related issues. IDPH and ATSDR staff were present and offered to meet with anyone who had specific health questions. The community expressed the following concerns:

  1. Would health problems (nausea and vomiting) that adults and children experienced from odors released during excavation activities at the site occur again next summer when remediation continues?
  2. Could a health monitoring program be set up that would act as a surveillance or tracking system for health problems that may result from site remediation?
  3. Could the monitoring program be long-term, and could physicians be provided with consultative services for community members?
  4. Could contaminants released at the site cause respiratory problems in residents, especially those with an asthmatic condition? Could the contaminants at the site cause a chronic cough that started in early June 1993?
  5. Is food, such as apples grown adjacent to the site, safe to eat? Were plants that died near the site affected by site-related contamination?
  6. Could the community establish a direct communication line with EPA, IE, and medical personnel to evaluate health complaints/concerns in relation to site remedial activities? Could EPA inform the community directly and in advance of impending site activities?
  7. Could toxicological information be provided for each contaminant listed in the public health assessment.
  8. Could remediation plans be modified to include total site encapsulation and source clean-up (down to 40 feet)?
  9. Could warning signs and a full-time security guard be provided to further protect the public from contamination at the site?

Responses to these concerns are presented in the Community Health Concerns Evaluation section of this document.

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