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In late 1997, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) requested that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) prepare a Health Consultation (HC) for the Hofmann Industries, Inc., site (the site) in Sinking Spring Borough, Berks County, Pennsylvania. This HC focuses on the threats posed to public health by groundwater near the site. The groundwater had been contaminated about thirty years ago by plating wastes from the site. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH), working under cooperative agreement with ATSDR, prepared this HC as requested by USEPA.

The site occupies approximately 30 acres just east of Pennsylvania Route 724 at 3145 Shillington Road, in Sinking Spring Borough (Appendix A, Figures 1, 2). The site is an active manufacturing plant where the main products are electroplated steel tubes.

Site History

Industrial operations began at the site in 1950 (1). Hofmann Industries notified PADOH and Sinking Spring borough in April 1967 that plating operations were starting (2). Plating operations result in the generation of plating waste sludges and industrial wastewater containing chromium, zinc, and cyanide. PADOH visited the site on June 11, 1968, and found that Hofmann Industries was sending industrial wastewater into an underground brick structure near a plating waste sludge holding lagoon (Appendix A, Figure 3) (1). From the brick structure the wastewater was being disposed underground through a sinkhole or fractured bedrock (2). Conflicting information exists as to whether the lagoon was lined with an impermeable material or not. Therefore, it is not clear if sludges in the lagoon were or are causing groundwater contamination.

Sometime in 1968, a municipal water supply well owned and operated by the Citizens Utilities Water Company of Pennsylvania (CUWC), showed contamination with hexavalent chromium (Cr+6) up to 0.23 micrograms per liter (µg/L) (2). This well, No. 18A (marked "PSW-1" in Appendix A, Figure 4) (1), was either removed from service for a time or treated to render the water safe for public distribution. PADOH could find no evidence that drinking water contaminated with Cr+6 at levels of health concern ever reached any consumers. According to CUWC representatives, the levels of Cr+6, in well No. 18A, were monitored monthly for many years up until about 1992. Because no elevated levels of CR+6 were detected, PADEP suspended the requirement for monthly sampling. CUWC next resampled the well No. 18 on November 11, 1997 and found no CR+6 in the sample (3).

PADOH in a report dated February 17, 1969, revealed that Cr+6 was also found in two on-site production wells used by Hofmann Industries, at concentrations up to 0.25 µg/L (Appendix A, Figure 3). The production wells were not used as potable water sources (1). Wells used by three neighboring industries also showed concentrations of Cr+6 at 0.18 µg/L, 0.5 µg/L and 0.01 µg/L (2).

On March 13, 1969, PADOH issued a Cease Order to Hofmann Industries. The Order instructed the company to stop the discharge of wastewater to underground waters without a permit (2).

In a memorandum dated May 5, 1969, PADOH stated that the company had made extensive internal changes to piping facilities such that all plating and pickling wastes were discharged to a 20,000 gallon steel tank. Two pumps were installed in the tank to automatically pump the waste to a manhole in the Sinking Spring borough's sanitary sewer system, then to the Reading city's sewage treatment plant. The plating waste discharge to groundwater ceased on May 5, 1969 (4).

The plating waste lagoon was closed in 1981. The sludges were removed by Waste Conversion, Inc., and the lagoon was backfilled with soil (1).

On May 2, 1989, NUS Corporation conducted an inspection of the site and collected water samples from three wells in the area. The wells sampled were one of two of the Hofmann Industries, Inc., production wells, the CUWC well No. 18A, and an off-site private home well at 540 Martins Road, Sinking Spring. The private well is marked as "H.W.-1" in Appendix A, Figure 4. Contamination of the aqueous blank sample with chromium led to an indeterminate conclusion about site-related groundwater contamination with chromium. Lead was found in the off-site private home well at a level of 189 µg/L (1).

Site Visit

On Thursday, November 20, 1997, Mark Lavin (PADOH), Michael Maiolie (PADEP), and Stephen Gibbs, (CUWC) conducted a site visit at the subject facility. During a site tour, the facility manager indicated the locations: 1) the old waste lagoon, 2) the underground brick structure, that constituted the old discharge point directly to groundwater, and 3) the two on-site water production wells. He reported that the production wells are used alternately for both process and cooling water, but not as potable water sources. He said that no recent chemical sampling data were available for either well.

PADOH staff noted limestone outcrops immediately next to the position of the old lagoon. Such outcrops are characteristic of karst topography and are strong indicators that surface water discharges can move freely through fractured rock, sinkholes or solution channels into groundwater. The only remaining visible evidence of the underground brick structure is a concrete footer showing through the grass growing over that position.

Representatives of both Sinking Spring borough and Spring township indicated that they have not received reports of health concerns relating to groundwater contamination from area residents."

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