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Public Health Assessment



The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) listed the Organic Chemicals, Inc. (OCI) site on the National Priorities List (NPL) on September 8, 1983. The OCI property forms approximately 5 acres of the U.S. EPA-designated OCI Superfund site, which covers approximately 20 acres and includes several other privately-owned industrial properties.

Early in the 1930s, an oil and gas exploration firm used the OCI site as its headquarters. Petroleum refining, transport, and storage on the site began in the 1940s. A succession of petroleum-related industries operated on the OCI property until 1966. In 1968, solvent reclamation and chemical manufacturing took place on the site property. OCI owned the property from 1979 until operations ceased in June 1991. Operations on the site by Organic Chemicals Company included recycling used solvents (such as paint thinners) and manufacturing small amounts of chemicals for use in pharmaceutical production and industry.

Contaminants of concern at this site include volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), semi-volatile organic chemicals (SVOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and inorganic compounds. Past operations on the site have affected groundwater, surface soil and subsurface soil. A Remedial Investigation (RI) of the site found three primary sources of contamination, as follows: within the fenced area of the OCI property, an area formerly used by oil refineries approximately 200 feet north of the fenced area, and two former petroleum lagoons located approximately 2,000 feet northwest of the OCI facility.

The site poses a public health hazard under current conditions. In the past, workers could have been exposed to various chemicals during operations at OCI. In addition, trespassers may have also been exposed to various chemicals when the site was in operation. Trespassers may be exposed to high levels of contaminants in surface soils via direct contact, incidental ingestion, and inhalation. The OCI property is fenced and there is no evidence of trespass, however, access to the former oil refinery operations area and former petroleum sludge lagoons area is possible.

Groundwater from the site probably discharges into Roy's Creek and the Grand River (north of the site). Further surface water and sediment sampling from these water bodies is necessary to determine whether the contamination in the groundwater has reached them. The groundwater beneath and downgradient of the site contains volatile organic chemicals and metals. There is no indication that residents in the nearby area have been significantly exposed to site-related contamination through private well use.

At the time of this writing, remedial cleanup activities are being planned. A groundwater pumping and treatment system has already gone into operation.

This assessment recommends that highly contaminated areas—the OCI property, the former oil refinery operations area, and the lagoons area—be remediated promptly. Until this is done, access to those areas should be restricted to deter unauthorized entry. Remedial workers should use proper protective gear and take proper protective measures to reduce the likelihood of exposure.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) listed the Organic Chemicals, Inc. site on the National Priorities List (NPL) on September 8, 1983 (1).

A. Site Description and History

The Organic Chemicals, Inc. (OCI) site is located in an industrial area at 3291 Chicago Drive, S.W. in Grandville, Kent County, Michigan (Figure 1). Grandville is a southwestern suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Organic Chemicals, Inc. property is bordered by property owned by the Packaging Corporation of America on the east, the former Haven Busch Co. on the west, and by the Grand Rapids Gravel Co. to the north. The OCI property covers approximately 5 acres. The U.S. EPA has defined the OCI Superfund site Area of Investigation (AOI) to include the OCI property and several other privately-owned industrial properties, covering a total of approximately 20 acres (23). For this assessment, the site includes the OCI property (5 acres), the former oil refinery operations area located north of the fenced area (5.5 acres) and the former petroleum lagoons (0.75 acres) area, located approximately 2,000 feet northwest of the OCI facility (Figure 2).

Early in the 1930s, the OCI site was used as headquarters for oil and gas exploration. Petroleum refining, transport, and storage began on the site in the 1940s. A succession of petroleum-related industries operated on the OCI property until 1968. In 1968, the Spartan Chemical Company acquired the site property for the solvent reclamation and chemical manufacturing operations of its subsidiary, Organic Chemicals Company (now Organic Chemicals, Inc.). In 1979, OCI separated from Spartan Chemical (2). The company continued operations on the site until May 1991 (4). The company filed for bankruptcy in February 1992 (5).

Operations on the site by Organic Chemicals Company included recycling approximately 100,000 gallons of used solvents (such as paint thinners) per month and manufacturing small amounts of chemicals for use in pharmaceutical production and industry. Company records show that between 1968 and 1980, OCI discharged its process waste and cooling water into an on-site seepage lagoon (Figure 3) (2).

On November 3, 1979, according to an OCI report to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), an error by a plant operator resulted in 2,200 gallons of lacquer thinner being spilled onto the ground on their property. The company recovered some of the thinner and disposed of it in the on-site seepage lagoon. Subsequently, the MDNR requested that OCI perform a hydrogeological study to investigate suspected groundwater contamination. The company completed the study in October 1981. Analysis of water samples collected from monitoring wells north and west of the former seepage lagoon found chlorinated and aromatic solvents, ketones, pentachlorophenol, and various aliphatic hydrocarbons. Analyses of soil samples taken from spill areas revealed the presence of the compounds mentioned above and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (26).

In June 1980, OCI installed a wastewater pretreatment facility that discharged to the City of Grandville Sanitary Sewer System. In September 1981, the company excavated approximately 280 cubic yards of sludge from the former seepage lagoon and disposed of the sludge at an off-site disposal facility (26).

In 1983, the U.S. EPA completed a Preliminary Assessment (PA) for the site, which documented potential groundwater contamination from the seepage lagoon. The PA also found that soil beneath the lagoon was contaminated. The PA also concluded that drinking water sources could be contaminated and the flora and fauna in nearby wetlands were endangered (26).

In September 1986, MDNR Law Enforcement Division personnel received a complaint alleging that OCI personnel were illegally disposing of hazardous wastes at the facility. OCI personnel allegedly disposed of hazardous materials into drums and roll-off containers along with their normal nonhazardous solid waste materials. Analyses of samples taken from these containers revealed the presence of various regulated hazardous substances, including methylene chloride, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and Aroclor 1242 (a trade name for a PCB formulation) (26).

In August and September 1987, OCI conducted a voluntary investigation in cooperation with the MDNR. The investigation discovered approximately 150 buried drums, some of which contained sludge and liquid residues, in an area near the southwest corner of the OCI warehouse building. The company removed the drums and disposed of them in an off-site disposal facility. Groundwater samples taken at that time from a monitoring wells located south and west of the warehouse building contained 1,1-dichloroethylene (DCE), 1,1-dichloroethane (DCA), cis-1,2-DCE, dibromochloromethane, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (26).

In the Fall of 1988, the U.S. EPA and the Alternative Remedial Contracting Strategy (ARCS) V team conducted a Preliminary Field Investigation (PFI) to assist in the development of the Remedial Investigation (RI) and Feasibility Study (FS) workplan. The contractors conducted a geophysical survey and a soil gas survey and collected groundwater and surface soil samples (26).

The Michigan Department of Public Health (MDPH), under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), released a Preliminary Health Assessment (PHA) for the OCI site in March 1989. The PHA concluded that the site was of potential public health concern because of the possibility of exposure to many organic chemicals found on the site. Among the exposure pathways of concern identified were the consumption of contaminated groundwater, direct contact with and incidental ingestion of contaminated soil, and inhalation of volatilizing contaminants and contaminated fugitive dust (7).

The PHA recommended further environmental characterization of groundwater, surface water, surface soil, and air on and near the site. In addition, the PHA recommended renewed monitoring of private wells near the site. The PHA did not recommend any follow-up health activities at that time (7).

The OCI property is currently fenced and several buildings and storage structures remain on the site (Figure 3). The chemical manufacturing operation was formerly housed in two buildings located along the western boundary of the property. The solvent recovery operation was housed in several buildings in the southeastern portion of the property. Other structures include a warehouse, several drum and aboveground storage tank areas, an office building, a boiler facility, and a wastewater pretreatment facility. Empty drums, dismantled storage tanks and processing equipment have been placed in the northeast corner of the property. Two adjacent railroad sidings run parallel to and just outside the OCI property line on the south and east. Concrete footings and underground piping, remnants of aboveground storage tanks, remain near the sidings (2).

The ground surface of the site is relatively flat due to the grading associated with the facility construction. The land surface north and northwest of OCI is lower than the rest of the area because of past sand and gravel mining activities. Surface runoff is slow, and in general flows northwest toward the Grand River. The OCI property is approximately 10 feet above the Haven Busch property to the west (6).

OCI is located 0.75 miles southeast of the Grand River, within the Grand River surface water drainage basin. The nearest surface water body to the OCI property is Roy's Creek, located approximately 1,000 feet to the northeast. This creek is an intermittent stream and flows from the east to the west toward OCI, then north, eventually discharging into the Grand River (6).

Two groundwater systems, separated over most of the site by a clay layer, have been identified in the site area. The thickness of this clay layer ranges from a few tenths of a foot to 7.5 feet. The upper (shallow) aquifer is found in saturated unconsolidated deposits of sand and gravel, which range from four to 30 feet in thickness. Groundwater flow within the shallow aquifer is to the north-northwest toward the Grand River. There is a north to south clay ridge to the west of the Haven Busch property that acts as a natural dike and apparently restricts westward movement of the groundwater within the shallow aquifer. The lower (deep) aquifer is found in the bedrock and also appears to flow to the northwest. The deep aquifer is probably recharged from both the regional groundwater flow and the shallow aquifer (6).

B. Actions Implemented since the Preliminary Health Assessment

From July to December 1989, contractors for the U.S. EPA conducted Phase I of the Remedial Investigation (RI) as a Remedial Investigation/Focused Feasibility Study (RI/FFS). After the RI/FFS was completed, the U.S. EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the OCI site on September 30, 1991. The selected remedy in the ROD consisted of the installation, operation and maintenance of an interim groundwater extraction and treatment system for the upper aquifer (8). The interim groundwater action began in April 1995, and the environmental agencies are evaluating the effectiveness of the action (9).

Between January 1993 and February 1994, a contractor for the U.S. EPA conducted field activities for Phase II of the RI. Phase II of the RI included sampling of groundwater at locations specified in Phase I and sampling of additional wells. Surface soil and subsurface soil sampling conducted during Phase II of the RI were done in locations other than those sampled during Phase I. The final report on Phase II of the RI was issued in September 1995 (6).

C. Site Visits

Michael Lee of the MDPH and the project manager from the MDNR visited the Organic Chemicals, Inc. site on July 8, 1994. On-site structures and land features were observed from the 5-acre OCI property perimeter because the site was completely fenced and the gates were locked. The two drove through the neighboring area as a part of the site visit. In addition, the two walked around the area to the north of the site to gain access for observation of Roy's Creek and saw no evidence of trespass (10).

Although access to the 5-acre OCI property is completely restricted by a fence, the OCI Superfund site, as defined by the U.S. EPA extends to the north and west beyond the actual OCI property (2).

On November 1, 1994, Michael Lee of MDPH and the project manager from MDNR revisited the site. They met the two owners of the properties to the north and northwest of the OCI facility. The four toured the former petroleum sludge lagoons area, which is owned by one of the property owners. A strong odor from the larger of the two lagoons was apparent. Lee and the MDNR representative then posted caution signs on either side of the access road and in front of the larger lagoon (see Health Actions Undertaken section below).

The two observed Roy's Creek, the Kent County bike and walking path, which runs parallel to and 400 to 500 yards east of the creek, the former oil refinery operations area, which is owned by the same property owner of the former petroleum sludge lagoons area, and the residential area located to the west of the OCI facility (11).

Other observations and information collected on the site visits are mentioned throughout this health assessment.

D. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

The OCI site is located in Grandville, a suburb of the City of Grand Rapids. There are estimated to be approximately 2,850 people within a one mile radius of the site. There are approximately 9,000 persons within a three-mile radius. The 1990 Census reported the population of Kent County to be: non-Hispanic white (85.4%), 8% Black, 3% Hispanic, 1% Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.6% Native American, and 2% other races. The total populations estimate for Kent County was 500,631. Twenty-eight per cent of the County population was under 18 years of age and 11% was 65 or older (12).

Land use in the OCI site area is mainly industrial and commercial. The nearest residence to the site is approximately 300 feet to the southeast, across the railroad tracks and Chicago Drive. Grandville residents use municipal water for drinking and cooking. The source of the municipal water supply is Lake Michigan. Some residents who live near the OCI site may use water from private wells (drilled into the lower aquifer) for watering lawns and gardens and for outdoor cleaning purposes, but it is not certain that any residents actually do so (6). The RI contractors sampled five private wells west of the site (PW-1, -2, -3, -5, and -7 in Figure 1(1)), including two residential wells located approximately 1,500 feet west-southwest of the OCI property (PW-2 and PW-7, the residential wells closest to the site) and wells serving two commercial establishments located approximately 2,400 feet west-northwest of the OCI property (PW-1 and PW-5, the closest producing wells generally downgradient of the site). They also located, but did not sample, a private well owned by a commercial firm approximately 1,200 feet north-northeast of the OCI property (6).

E. Health Outcome Data

Based on the evaluations performed as part of this public health assessment, there are no indications that humans may have had significant exposure to site-related contaminants. In addition, there were no community health concerns identified, therefore, health outcome data were not evaluated for this public health assessment.


From July 22 through August 20, 1991, the U.S. EPA provided a public comment period and held a public meeting (August 6, 1991) to present the results of the FFS and the preferred alternative as presented in the Proposed Plan for the interim action. During the public comment period, no community health concerns were expressed (6). Kent County Health Department personnel report that they have had no reports of citizen concerns regarding the OCI site (1314).

The MDCH released a draft of this assessment for public comment on November 6, 1996. The comment period lasted until December 6, 1996. Comments received and MDCH responses are listed in the Responsiveness Summary at the end of the document.

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