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Public Health Assessment
CERCLIS NO. VA3170024605


Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Cheatham Annex (hereafter Cheatham Annex or CAX) is located in York County, Virginia, outside of Williamsburg. It opened in 1943 and has been used for bulk storage and overseas shipping.

During World War I, much of what later became CAX was used for the Penniman Shell Loading Plant and an ordnance depot. After the war, the facilities and remaining shells were decommissioned. In 1926, the property was sold to a private owner. Unfortunately, records from the Penniman era are incomplete and it is not known how some of the materials were taken out of service. Explosive materials or shells could still be buried somewhere in this area. None of the investigations conducted to date have identified ordnance that could pose an explosion hazard at any CAX site. However because of the uncertainty about the disposal of the Penniman ordnance-related products, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to search for information about the past operations and disposal practices.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reviewed available information about the historical and current use of the sites, environmental sampling, and remedial actions. Although contaminants have been identified in many on-base sites, on-base residents or visitors, and the neighboring community are not exposed to contaminants from any of these sites at levels that could cause adverse health effects (Table 1). ATSDR did identify some potential past exposures that cannot be completely evaluated due to insufficient data. These include:

  1. Past exposure to air emissions. Past air emission sources include an incinerator which apparently operated between 1942 and 1951. Little information is available about the actual time period it operated, how it was used, or the locations of past on-base family housing areas. As a result it is not possible to evaluate whether people could have been affected by past releases.
  2. Past exposure to drinking water. Jones Pond was the source of drinking water at CAX from the 1940s to 2002. The Navy filtered, treated, and sampled the water in accordance with federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. However, samples were not analyzed for explosive compounds (also known as nitroaromatics) because they are not part of the regulatory requirements. Traces of nitroaromatics were detected, below levels of health concern, in 1999 and 2000 surface water and sediment samples from Jones Pond and its tributaries. The nitroaromatics could have been introduced from the nearby Penniman era disposal sites. Although sampling data obtained since 1999 indicate the nitroaromatics were not a health concern at that time, no information is available to estimate whether the concentrations were higher, or lower, in the past. Therefore, ATSDR cannot draw conclusions about past exposure to drinking water from Jones Pond. Currently no one is drinking water from Jones Pond. The Navy distributes drinking water from the Newport News Waterworks; this water is treated and sampled regularly to ensure it is safe to drink.
  3. Past exposure to fish in Penniman Lake and Youth Pond. Before 2000, people were permitted to eat fish from all four on-base ponds and lakes. In 2000, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were identified in sediment samples collected from Penniman Lake and Youth Pond at levels that could lead to accumulation of PCBs in some types of fish. After that sampling event, the Navy instituted a policy that allowed people to fish from the on-base ponds and lakes, but only eat fish from Cheatham Pond and Jones Pond. PCBs were not detected in Cheatham Pond or Jones Pond; consuming those fish does not pose a health concern. No fish tissue samples were collected from Penniman Lake or Youth Pond. While it is not possible to evaluate if fish from Penniman Lake or Youth Pond contained elevated concentrations of PCBs, past and current consumption of fish from Cheatham Pond or Jones Pond is not expected to cause health problems.

ATSDR identified two areas with physical hazards and recommends the Navy take prompt measures to prevent people from coming into contact with these possible safety hazards:

  1. Buried medical waste. In the past, some buried medical waste within the fenced-in part of CAX washed into an adjacent pond and then into Youth Pond, which is a destination for Navy families and visitors. A 1998 removal action significantly reduced the potential for waste transport, but not all of the medical waste has been removed. It is possible that some of the remaining waste could be transported into Youth Pond and encountered by recreational users. ATSDR recommends that the Navy complete the remedial actions necessary to prevent additional waste transport from the burial site.
  2. Damaged fence near the rental cabins. Some of the rental cabins are located near a short cliff overlooking the York River and sites where materials from the Penniman era were buried. A fence that protects visitors from the cliff was damaged in 2003. The two cabins closest to the cliff have not been used since, but other cabins approximately 100 yards away are still used. ATSDR considers this to be a safety hazard because children may try to slip under the fence. The Navy indicated it plans to fix the fence. ATSDR recommends that the fence be repaired as soon as possible or that other measures be taken promptly to reduce this hazard.

During the evaluation, ATSDR also identified two items related to future activities:

  1. Soil and safety concerns. Some of the disposal sites contain buried materials or soil contaminants. On-base residents and visitors are not currently and were not in the past exposed to contaminants at levels that could cause health concerns from these sites. These areas are in remote locations or behind locked fences. Under current land use, people only have incidental contact with the soil contaminants and little contact with the buried materials. ATSDR expects that if modifications to the land use are proposed, EPA and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) approved actions will prevent any exposures that could cause health concerns.
  2. Future discoveries. CAX is still being actively investigated. Additional environmental sampling is planned for many disposal sites. EPA continues to look for additional information about ordnance manufacturing and disposal processes on portions of CAX where Penniman operations are believed to have occurred. It is possible that new information about past disposal sites could be identified in the future. If new data become available or land use changes are proposed, and if requested, ATSDR will review the new information, if it is likely to modify this health evaluation.

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