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The Crater Resources site twelve miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received hazardous steel mill wastes and other wastes for more than sixty years. On-site groundwater, surface water, and sediment are contaminated with several toxic chemicals, including volatile organic compounds and metals. Today the unrestricted site consists primarily of an open limestone quarry partly filled with water. There are numerous industries and approximately 200 residences within one-half mile of the site.

This site represents a public health hazard because exposure to contaminated sediment, surface water, and hazardous waste materials (PAHs) may have occurred in the past. Trespassers may continue to be exposed to site contaminants if site access is not restricted. Exposure, however limited, may cause health problems such as skin irritation for chemically sensitive people who frequently visit the site. Although no one is currently known to be using contaminated groundwater, groundwater in the area is contaminated. If people were to tap the contaminated groundwater to use as their drinking water supply rather than using the available public water supply, those people could be exposed to site contaminants. The site also poses a physical hazard because of unrestricted access to nearly vertical quarry walls and pools of standing water.

The data and information developed in the Crater Resources Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that officials responsible for public safety should be notified that trespassing occurs on the site and that physical hazards are present. HARP also determined that people may be exposed to contaminants at the site; however, not enough information is available to evaluate those exposures for possible health implications. Therefore, other than notification of public officials, no follow-up health actions are needed at this time. ATSDR will reevaluate this site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available that indicate a need to do so.

As determined by HARP, the Pennsylvania Department of Health notified the officials responsible for public safety that trespassing occurs on the site and that physical hazards are present.


A. Site Description and History

The Crater Resources site is one mile north of Gulph Mills, a northwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suburb (Figures 1 and 2, Appendix A). The site includes three former quarries. Two were excavated for sand and gravel, and the largest (quarry no. 3, Figure 3) was excavated for limestone to a depth of 60 feet. The two sand and gravel quarries have been filled, but the limestone quarry is still open and partly filled with water. Fill material consisting of soil, tar, and cinders has been added such that the quarry is divided into three separate areas of ponded water (Figure 3). The total land area covered by the Crater Resources site is about 50 acres. The site is bounded on the west, north, and east by residential and industrial areas and on the south by the Gulph Mills Golf Course.

The site has a long and complex history of ownership and regulatory involvement since the early part of this century. From 1918 to 1978, Alan Wood Steel Company of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, owned the mined out property. The Alan Wood Steel Company began operating a coking facility in Swedeland, Pennsylvania, in 1918. The company constructed a fixed pipeline and began pumping waste effluents from the facility to the quarries. Former plant workers have stated to PADOH that the pipeline frequently leaked hot mill wastes onto the ground. The wastes reportedly consisted of spent ammonia liquors that were generated during chemical by-product recovery. The liquids contained high concentrations of phenols, cyanide, and ammonia. The wastes were pumped into quarry 1 from 1918 until 1965 and into quarry 3 from 1918 to 1980. Similar liquid wastes, along with miscellaneous solid wastes, were transported by truck for disposal to quarry 2 for an undetermined period. In May 1979, quarry 3 was estimated to be receiving between 75,000 and 100,000 gallons of the waste liquids per day (1).

In 1978, the Alan Wood Steel coke plant was sold to Alabama By-Products, Inc. (Keystone Coke Company). At the time of the sale, the Alan Wood Steel Plant was discharging the waste liquids into the quarry, as approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PADER) under a 1975 Consent Order. The order approved the discharge into the quarry until the effluent could be treated to comply with parameters specified in an National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The Keystone Coke Company signed a similar Consent Order in 1978 before purchasing the plant. Keystone Coke and Alan Wood Steel entered into an easement agreement, which gave Keystone permission to use the quarry and access the pipeline. Keystone continued to use the pipeline and quarry until 1980.

Regulatory interest in the site began in 1969 when Alan Wood Steel proposed that the quarries be developed for a municipal landfill by Upper Merion Township. PADER visited the quarries to investigate the proposal. During the visit, the potential hazardous waste problem was identified. PADER determined that the wastes were being discharged to the underlying aquifer. PADER initiated an investigation that lasted throughout the 1970s. The study included sampling nearby groundwater sources for contamination. PADER concluded that the use of the quarry was adversely affecting local groundwater.

In May 1979, EPA Region III conducted a sampling site inspection and determined that hazardous materials, including benzene, phenolic compounds, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were present at the site. EPA used this information and information gathered by PADER to compile a Case Development Plan, which was completed in 1980. EPA prepared a case against the Keystone Coke Company, alleging that the use of the quarry had contaminated local groundwater supplies and was threatening the Upper Merion Reservoir. The reservoir is a drinking water source for the Philadelphia Suburban Water Company (PSWC). The case against Keystone Coke was not initiated.

In the spring of 1982, Crater Resources, Inc., submitted to PADER a solid waste permit application for the establishment of a Class III demolition waste landfill in quarry 3. As part of the permit application requirements, seven monitoring wells were to be installed in the vicinity of the quarry. The landfill proposal also offered several options for stabilization or removal of the waste materials existing in the quarry. The permit application was never approved by PADER, and no such work at the quarry was conducted.

In May 1983, NUS Field Investigation Team (FIT) 3, as tasked by EPA, conducted a sampling site inspection. FIT obtained samples from the quarry and from three of the monitoring wells that were installed in 1982 (Figure 4). The inspection showed that hazardous materials were present in the quarry and that the groundwater in the vicinity of the site had been contaminated with cyanide and metals.

On June 19 and 20, 1990, FIT conducted a resampling at the site. FIT obtained waste samples from quarry 3, a waste sample from the cuttings of a borehole drilled into the fill material contained in quarry 1, on-site soil samples, an on-site area of ponded water, and off-site groundwater samples (Figure 5).

B. Site Visit

On November 10, 1992, Mr. J.E. Godfrey and Mr. Bill Schmeer of the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) visited the site with representatives from EPA, Gulph Mills Golf Course, Swedeland Road Corporation, and Crater Resources. The latter three organizations are site property owners. Within the past few months, a property survey was performed and new markers were visible in the field. However, no updated property map has been provided to PADOH.

Figure 5 is a sketch (no scale) of the place identified as quarry 3 and nearby areas. The site inspection team was unable to locate the on-site monitoring wells apparently because they have been filled or destroyed. (FIT was not able to locate them in 1989.) The site bore evidence of deer traffic (tracks) and much recreational vehicle use. Numerous footpaths crossed the unrestricted site. "Tar" lines were visible on vertical quarry walls which indicated past waste levels approximately 25 feet above the current water level in pond 3 (Figure 5). The water in all three ponded areas of quarry 3 was greenish-brown, and a foul smelling "petroleum" odor was noticeable on site.

Rock outcrops in the quarry indicate limestone beds striking almost east-west and dipping steeply (64°) to the south. Vertical north-south jointing (fractures) in the quarry wall is also present. This means that groundwater and associated contaminants will preferentially follow the north-south fractures and east-west bedding plane partings toward monitoring wells, production wells, or other discharge points (streams) in the vicinity of the site.

After the site visit, PADOH representatives and the EPA official interviewed a resident of Swedeland concerning the history of waste disposal in the area. Discussions also focused on the likelihood of future meetings with local citizens.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Table 1 (Appendix B) provides population information for Upper Merion Township in which the site is located. The nearest residence is about 500 feet from backfilled pit (quarry) 1. There are numerous industries and approximately 200 residences within one-half mile of the site. Exact population figures for the site vicinity are not available.

Land within several miles of the site is used almost exclusively for commercial, recreational, and residential purposes. An 18-hole golf course is immediately to the south. A recently capped, off-site landfill (quarry) is about one-quarter mile west of the western site boundary behind the former Henderson Road School (Figure 2). Some quarries, such as the PSWC Upper Merion Reservoir, furnish drinking water to the local population (Figure 3). The remainder of the water supply comes from public and private production wells. It is estimated that the PSWC serves over 600,000 people in Delaware, Montgomery, and Chester Counties through its integrated system of wells and surface water supplies.

There are at least two NPL (Superfund) sites within a mile of Crater Resources. Detailed information on these sites has not been provided to PADOH. However, their close proximity to each other and to nearby water supplies complicates the problem of understanding the sources of contaminants migrating through groundwater. Groundwater gradients have also been affected by high volume pumping from the Upper Merion Reservoir and production and irrigation wells (2, and Figure 3).

Only eight private residential wells were identified and sampled in the 1990 FIT study. None revealed site-related contaminants and none are downgradient of the site. The Schuylkill River, one mile east of the site, is an important fishing and recreational resource for the local community and much of the rest of southeastern Pennsylvania.

D. Health Outcome Data

Using state health data bases, special studies, or other relevant health outcome data bases, it may be possible to determine whether certain health effects are higher than expected in areas surrounding hazardous waste sites. This section introduces these data bases and discusses their limitations. An evaluation of the usefulness of these health data as they relate to the Crater Resources site is presented in the Public Health Implications section.

PADOH has maintained death records since 1903. The Pennsylvania Cancer Registry has collected cancer data for all areas of Pennsylvania since 1984. Field representatives interact with local hospitals to audit the accuracy of all reporting. However, the mobility of the patients, the variance in compliance rates among hospitals, and the newness of the program create difficulty in analyses of geographic areas smaller than the county level. The most recent report, published in May 1992, is entitled Cancer Incidence and Mortality in Pennsylvania, 1985. The report only presents data applicable at the county level (smallest geographic area). PADOH is unaware of the existence of any special studies or other relevant health outcome data bases associated with this site.


PADOH determined community health concerns by asking questions during the site visit and through interviews by telephone. Neither residents, Upper Merion Township officials, nor Montgomery County Health Department authorities expressed specific health concerns regarding possible contaminants from the Crater Resources NPL site. Similarly, both the township and the county health department say there are no organized or ad hoc groups in the area seeking relief or redress from health problems perceived to be caused by the site. The health department does not have any reports of outbreaks of disease or illness related to the site.

One resident raised the following general health-related concerns:

  1. Is the public water supply safe?
  2. Was the soil under the pipeline that carried chemical waste to the quarries contaminated?
  3. If the soil under the old pipeline was contaminated, where is the contamination today, and what is the likelihood of exposure subsequent to earth moving and construction in the community of Swedeland over the past few years?

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