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The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) provides advice and recommendations on specific health-related questions associated with hazardous waste sites, chemical releases, and chemical toxicity. ATSDR routinely provides this service to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other federal agencies, state and local agencies, and others, including the public. These responses, classified as health consultations, are mandated in Section 104(I)(4) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), as amended.



The Jackson Ceramix site (the site) is a former china manufacturing complex destroyed by fire in 1989, in west-central Pennsylvania. The site had been on track for inclusion in the National Priorities List (Superfund), but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) took the lead in cleaning up the site pursuant to provisions of the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) of 1988. This Health Consultation (HC) addresses questions of site-related public health hazards that have been created by the presence of raw sewage and physical hazards on site and that were identified in previous HCs.

Observations, conclusions, and recommendations in this HC are situation-specific and readers should not consider them applicable to any other situation. The interpretation, advice, and recommendations provided are based on the data and information referenced. Additional data could alter the advice being presented.



Site Description and History

The Jackson Ceramix site (the site) occupies approximately 20 acres just east of Pennsylvania Route 950 (Third Street) at the eastern perimeter of Falls Creek Borough, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania (Appendix A, Figures 1 and 2). Jackson China Company established business at the site in 1917 and operated until approximately 1982, when Jackson Ceramix, Inc., (Jackson Ceramix) purchased the business and property. On January 22, 1985, Jackson Ceramix filed a petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Jackson Ceramix operated at the site until October 1985 when the facility was closed (1).

Industrial operations conducted at the site involved the manufacture of decorated, glazed china plates. Workers sprayed glazing compound ("glaze"), which contained lead, onto china "blanks." While manufacturing glazed china, Jackson Ceramix generated large amounts of china waste, dumping much of it on site and disposing of some in a nearby playground area north of the site. The china waste was used to level a ball field and to build a soccer field; both now covered with soil and grass, at the playground (2). China waste is evident throughout the former manufacturing plant complex; those wastes were used as fill for on-site manufacturing plant expansion projects. Two large, uncovered china waste piles are still present north of Buildings 4 and 5 (Appendix A, Figure 3) where the china waste had been stockpiled above the ground surface (2).

During water washdown cycles and daily cleanup in the glaze spray area, workers discharged unheated glaze mixed with water from the plant into an unlined on-site lagoon (approximate dimensions: 90 x 80 feet) east of the plant buildings. PADEP inspections showed that sludge flowed from the lagoon into a downstream wetland east of the site, creating extensive and very thick deposits of white, clayey waste. The sludge deposits also covered the bed of the stream that flows through the wetland (1).

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) prepared a health consultation (HC) for the site at the request of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), in November 1987. ATSDR studied contaminant levels at the site and concluded in the HC that the site posed a potential threat to public health. ATSDR based this conclusion on lead levels found in on-site soils and organic vapor levels near an on-site drum storage area. Also in the HC, ATSDR recommended securing the site, verifying the extent of surface soil contamination, monitoring nearby private potable water wells, and assessing on-site indoor air quality for lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and explosive potential (1).

In March 1988, a USEPA Technical Assistance Team took samples to learn the extent of contamination. Analytical results showed that elevated levels of lead were present in the lagoon and wetland east of the site. Those results showed lead levels up to 15,600 parts per million (ppm) in the lagoon, and up to 17,000 ppm in the wetland (1).

A USEPA Emergency Response Cleanup Services (ERCS) contractor removed 1,900 cubic yards of lead-contaminated sludge from the site, mostly from the lagoon, in January 1989. In February 1989 USEPA teams completed removal and stabilization activities at the site, which included overpacking drums filled with flammable materials and placing them in a brick shed next to the main building (1).

In October 1989, a fire of suspicious origin destroyed the facility. The protective drum storage described in the previous paragraph enabled the most hazardous materials to survive the fire. In September 1990 ERCS removed various hazardous materials off site (1).

ATSDR prepared a second HC at USEPA's request in November 1991. ATSDR reviewed data obtained from sampling in the wetlands near the site. Investigators found elevated levels of lead at 14,000 ppm in the wetlands. ATSDR concluded that this lead contamination represented a health threat by way of inhalation and ingestion. ATSDR recommended that access should be restricted at the areas contaminated with high levels of lead (1).

In March and April 1992, Halliburton NUS sampled the china waste piles. USEPA's contract laboratory analyzed the samples using USEPA's toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP). The extract from the sample had 952 micrograms per liter (µg/L) of lead in it, which was below the USEPA definition of lead-bearing hazardous waste (1).

In April 1996, PADEP sampled the sludge deposits in the wetlands at 14 places. They found high levels of total lead in all 14 samples. In milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), the range of total lead in the samples was from 6,030 to 28,200; the average value of total lead was 19,300 and the median value was 19,600. Using the TCLP, all 14 samples tested positive as lead-bearing hazardous waste under USEPA's definition (1).

Recent Developments

August 1996 Health Consultation

In August 1996, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH), working under cooperative agreement with ATSDR, prepared a third HC for the site. PADOH described conditions at the site, including the discharge of raw sewage from homes in Falls Creek onto the site and adjacent property. PADOH and ATSDR concluded that the site is a public health hazard, basing the conclusion on the presence of raw sewage and physical hazards on site. Raw sewage, which represents the risk of exposure to infectious biological hazards, was draining onto the site from the borough of Falls Creek at the rate of about 30,000 gallons per day (gpd). An additional estimated 40,000 gpd were flowing into wetlands next to the site. Many physical hazards, such as unstable fire debris, climbing hazards, and water-filled pits, were present at the site. The public could access the site because the fence was insecure, making the hazards accessible to trespassers. An on-site electric power transformer atop a power pole may have contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). However, PADOH and ATSDR concluded that no completed or potential exposure pathways through drinking contaminated groundwater were present (1).

PADOH and ATSDR found these data gaps:

  • Previous investigators had not adequately characterized the china waste piles to the north of the plant buildings. Laboratory personnel tested the china waste by using the toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP) to find out if it is hazardous waste. Results of the TCLP analysis showed that it does not meet USEPA's definition of lead-bearing hazardous waste. PADOH and ATSDR do not know if the dust resulting from breakage and weathering may pose a lead exposure hazard. As a precaution, PADOH and ATSDR believed that the surfaces of the china waste should be characterized for lead-containing dust.

  • China waste was used as fill material for the nearby soccer field. The field has a grass surface that suggests that any lead from the china that is under the field is not likely to pose a problem for the children. As a precaution and to be able to answer any questions parents may pose, PADOH and ATSDR believed that the surface soil (0-3 inches) on the soccer field should be characterized for lead.

  • The chemical constitution of fluid, if present, in the on-site transformer atop the power pole was not known.

PADOH and ATSDR made the following recommendations:

  1. Raze the ruins of the burned-out factory to eliminate the many physical hazards present. Repair and maintain the security fence to reduce the chance of trespassing.

  2. Correct the raw sewage problem in Falls Creek Borough by constructing a PADEP-approved sewage collection system. In the interim, advise parents to instruct their children to stay away from the affected areas.

  3. Place warning signs around the areas of elevated lead contamination in swamp sediments stating that the areas present a health hazard for lead.
    Sample on-site groundwater for VOCs and lead annually.

  4. Sample surface waters annually for lead in the unnamed tributary to Wolf Run, which drains the former lagoon and runs through the wetland. Lead could be leaching into surface waters and/or groundwater from contaminated sediments.

  5. Collect wipe samples randomly from the surfaces of discarded china in the china waste piles and analyze for lead.

  6. Collect surface soil samples (0-3 inches) from the soccer field and analyze for lead.

  7. Sample the fluid, if present, in the on-site transformer for PCBs.

Site Visit

On Thursday, April 17, 1997, PADOH health assessor Mark Lavin, and ATSDR Regional Representative Tom Stukas, conducted a site visit. Chris Dougherty and Jack Fruehstorfer, PADEP, led a tour of the site. Most of the physical hazards described in the previous section were gone because the burned-out remains of the factory had been razed. The pits (one of which was at least five feet deep) filled with water were still open. The fence around the site was intact. A large pile of demolition debris had been created, but it was out of sight from the road. Ms. Dougherty said the first phase of the cleanup, Operable Unit 1 (OU1), will not be complete until after the sewerage project is finished. In addition, she said the Operable Unit 2 (OU2) work, which involves the lead in the wetlands, probably will not start till after the OU1 job is done.

We then met with Vance Oakes, Falls Creek Borough Manager, who gave us some update information about the sewerage project. He said that, once begun, it will take six months to finish. Local residents will then be able to hook up to the system and raw sewage will stop flowing onto the site. More recent events in the plans to construct a sanitary sewer system in Falls Creek are described in the Discussion section. A number of other significant developments have occurred since that site visit. Those changes will also be addressed in the Discussion section.

Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) Activities

PADEP contracted Ogden Environmental and Energy Services Co., Inc., (Ogden) to conduct a site investigation in late 1996/early 1997. Ogden's activities at the site are being carried out under provisions of Pennsylvania's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), Act 108 of October 1988. Ogden presented their findings and conclusions in a Site Characterization Report dated January 29, 1998 (2). As part of the ongoing cleanup activities, Ogden prepared a Phase II Site Characterization and Specification of Services report dated August 4, 1998 (3). The reports address many of the recommendations in PADOH/ATSDR's August 1996 HC . This HC covers those subjects in the Discussion section.

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