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Public Health Assessment
CERCLIS NO. VA3170024605


Site Description and Operational History

Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Yorktown, Cheatham Annex (CAX), is located outside Williamsburg in York County, Virginia. The site is adjacent to the York River between Kings Creek and Queens Creek (Figure 1). CAX is approximately 15 miles upstream from the Chesapeake Bay and 35 miles from Norfolk, Virginia. The facility was established in 1943 as Cheatham Annex Supply Center, a satellite unit of the Naval Supply Depot in Norfolk. During World War II, CAX was used for bulk storage and as an assembly location for products to be shipped overseas. Since the war, the primary mission of CAX has been to receive, store, pack, and ship materials to federal facilities on the East Coast and distribution centers in Europe (CH2M Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] 2000a; EPA 2003c).

At CAX, the Navy maintains and distributes mechanical, electronic, and navigational equipment for ships, as well as personal effects. The annex also provides warehouse and distribution services for other military storage programs and tenant organizations. CAX was an annex of the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center Norfolk from the 1940s until 1998, when it was transferred to NWS Yorktown. The transfer did not affect its mission (CH2M Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001; EPA 2000a; EPA 2003c).

CAX originally occupied approximately 3,400 acres, but several parcels have been transferred to other agencies, leaving CAX a little less than half of its original size (Figure 2). In 1976, approximately 540 acres immediately south of Queens Creek (and east of the Queen Lake housing area) were transferred to York County. This parcel is currently a York County park called New Quarter Park, and includes a floating pier on Queens Creek (Noel 2003). In 1979, approximately 790 acres were transferred to the U. S. Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS). This transfer included a large parcel north of Sanda Avenue and east of the land transferred to York County. The boundary between CAX and the property transferred to the NPS parallels Sanda Avenue as far as A Street, then runs along the eastern edge of Cheatham Pond. NPS has made this area part of the Colonial National Historical Park. The NPS also holds a right-of-way easement through the center of the Navy's property, now traversed by the Colonial National Historical Parkway, as well as a parcel at the mouth of Kings Creek that is approximately 1 mile long and 1/3 mile wide. In 1981, the Navy sold to the Virginia Department of Emergency Services approximately 460 acres that had previously been used for fuel storage, referred to as the Fuel Farm or the Virginia Fuel Farm. The Fuel Farm shares borders with NPS property and NWS Yorktown (EPA 2000a; EPA 2003c; Weston 1999a; Naval Supply Corps 2002).

CAX comprises two separate sections on either side of the Colonial National Historical Parkway; totaling approximately 1,578 acres (Figures 1 and 2). The larger parcel is north of the Parkway and east of Cheatham Pond, west of Kings Creek, and south of the York River. Most base activities take place on this parcel. The smaller parcel is south of the parkway, west of Penniman Road and the Virginia Fuel Farm. This smaller parcel includes Jones Pond, which served as CAX's water supply until 2002 and is open to fishing and boating. Much of the remainder of this parcel has been designated a watershed protection area (CHM2 Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001; Newport News Waterworks 2002). No decision has been made about whether there might be future development of this parcel now that the pond is no longer used to supply drinking water to CAX. Currently, the area is used for recreation (Public Works Center [PWC] Regional Environmental Group 2003d).

There are 18 warehouses at CAX, all were built by 1943 and are located north of Sanda Road (Naval Supply Corps 2002; 2002). More than 50% of the land that is currently part of CAX is undeveloped. This includes almost 200 acres of lakes and marsh. In 1987, the Navy designated CAX the Hampton Roads Navy Recreational Complex to provide recreational opportunities to military and civilian personnel throughout the region. The Navy created outdoor recreational facilities in designated areas within CAX, including cabins, campsites, recreational vehicle sites, ball fields, a golf course, and a pool (NWS Yorktown n.d.a., n.d.b.). There are four on-base lakes and ponds, Cheatham Pond, Jones Pond, Penniman Lake, and Youth Pond, used for boating and fishing. Navy personnel indicated that posted signs state that swimming in these four water bodies is not allowed (Hill 2004). Hunting is allowed within selected areas at CAX and the York River is used for commercial and recreational fishing and crabbing (CH2M Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001).

Site History Before World War II

Much of the area that later became CAX supported the war effort during World War I and later used for farming. In 1916, E.I. Dupont de Nemours Company (DuPont) constructed a dynamite (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene [TNT]) manufacturing plant at the site. Even though TNT production lines were constructed, historical records indicate that TNT production never began. In 1917, the U.S. government contracted with DuPont to construct a shell loading plant, to load explosives into large-caliber shells, near the idle TNT plant. The plant and the city that grew up around the plant were both named after Russell Penniman, the inventor of ammonia dynamite. At its largest, the city was home to over 15,000 people (Naval Fleet Industrial Supply Center 2001). The Penniman Shell Loading Plant had the capacity to load more than 54,000 shells every day. It was one of the top five ordnance-producing plants in the world. The U.S. government reportedly paid for the equipment and supplies needed for shell loading, as well as for removing finished shells and casings. The Shell Loading Plant also included magazine areas, along with a booster plant that was located between Cheatham Pond and Queens Creek (EPA 2003a; Goodwin 1994).

After the war ended in October 1918, DuPont was instructed to decommission remaining shells (i.e., take them out of service), but the manner in which that was done is unknown. Decommissioning was reportedly completed in February 1919. DuPont also dismantled the plant and salvaged certain materials (Weston 1999a; Goodwin 1994). Beginning in late 1918 or early 1919, the U.S. government operated the Penniman General Ordnance Depot at the site, which operated side-by-side with DuPont workers. The primary activities of the Penniman General Ordnance Depot were the preparation of manufactured ordnance and explosives for long-term storage and shipment to other ordnance depots in the United States (Weston 1999a). Whether ordnance and explosives were disposed of in any other manner is unknown.

Little specific information is available about the disposal of shells and explosive materials that remained at the Penniman site after WWI. Records indicate that approximately 5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate were to be shipped to a company in North Carolina, and almost 50,000 155-milimeter shells were shipped to a site in Suffolk, Virginia, now known as Nansemond Ordnance Depot (Weston 1999a). Records associated with the former Nansemond Ordnance Depot also indicated that some shells from the Penniman plant were shipped there after the war, but the quantity of shells received at Nansemond is thought to be substantially smaller than what would have been present at the Penniman plant at the end of the war. In addition, shells of four other sizes were produced at the plant and were presumably present there when the war ended. According to EPA, other ammunition expected to have been present at that time has not been accounted for (EPA 2003a).

Records indicate that fewer than 100 people lived in the city of Penniman by mid-1919 (Naval Fleet Industrial Supply Center 2001). By 1926, the Penniman General Ordnance Depot had closed, and DuPont had dismantled the former TNT plant and shell loading plant structures. That same year, all of the property associated with Penniman activities was sold to a private owner for farmland. In 1942, the U.S. Navy condemned more than 3,000 acres along the York River to establish CAX. Much of the condemned property is believed to have been part of the Penniman Shell Loading Plant and its successors (Weston 1999a). By 1943, the government had constructed 10 storehouses, one cold-storage building, and two piers at Cheatham Annex. Some of the warehouses were built on the foundations of Penniman buildings. Additional storage and support facilities were added over time. Maps of the specific locations where different Penniman activities occurred suggest that approximately half of the land CAX transferred to the NPS in 1979 had been part of the Penniman complex.

Remedial and Regulatory History

In 2000, Cheatham Annex was added to the National Priorities List (NPL), pursuant to Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERLCA), but investigations and remediation at CAX began in the 1980s. A Navy program to assess environmental contamination associated with its installations, known as the Installation Restoration Program (IRP), was created in the early 1980s. An Initial Assessment Study (IAS) completed in 1984 reviewed available information about 12 CAX sites potentially affected by contamination from past waste-handling practices. This assessment was followed by a series of investigations and remedial measures (Baker 1997; CH2M Hill and Baker 2000b; CH2M Hill 2002; Dames & Moore 1986; Dames & Moore 1988). The bulk of the work conducted at IRP sites since 1997 has addressed contamination at Sites 1, 4, and 11. In 1998, the Navy identified five additional sites potentially affected by contamination and designated them areas of concern (AOCs) 1-5. All of the IRP Sites and AOCs are described in greater detail in Table 2. Major work conducted at the CAX IRP sites and AOCs is summarized below.

  • At Site 1 - Landfill, investigations conducted in 1998, 1999, and 2000 supported a remedial investigation (RI). In 1998 and 1999, the Navy noted shoreline erosion of the bank of the York River near the site, including a partially exposed 60-foot section of the Site 1 landfill and surface debris in the vicinity. Debris was removed from the beach, and the eroding area was temporarily stabilized. In summer 2003, the Navy removed approximately 20,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, landfill material, and debris. A final RI for Site 1 is in progress. The Navy will also evaluate how to investigate and address potential sediment and groundwater contamination, including contaminants affecting the adjacent wetland area (Baker 2003; Harlow 2003; Bridges 2003).
  • At Site 11 - Bone Yard, tanks and drums of gasoline and oil, scrap metal, and other debris had been dumped and/or buried prior to 1978. A removal action was conducted in 1987. A second removal action in 1997, transported approximately 60 tons of materials, including drums, tanks, scrap, and debris, off site (CH2M Hill and Baker 2000b). The Navy continues to investigate this site 11.
  • At Site 4 - Medical Supplies Disposal Area, the Navy removed surface debris and sharp metal and plastic items in 1998. Some of these items were reported to have periodically washed into an unnamed pond within the fenced-in industrial area and then into Youth Pond in prior years. Some waste material still remains. The Navy has investigated the extent of the remaining buried waste and is evaluating remedial options.
  • Surface water and sediment samples were collected in 2000 from the four named water bodies at CAX that are used for recreation. Sampling was in support of a planned ecological risk assessment (ERA) (CH2M Hill and Baker 2000a). Rather than preparing an ERA for all of CAX, the Navy plans to focus ERA data evaluations on particular IRP sites. An ERA for Sites 4, 9, and 11 was drafted in late 2003; previously, the Navy had investigated the extent of contamination at Site 9 in 1999 and Site 4 in 2001 (Harlow 2003, Bridges 2003).
  • In September 2003, the Navy, with EPA and VDEQ concurrence, assigned No Further Response Action Planned (NFRAP) status to Sites 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 10 (CH2M Hill and Baker 2003b).
  • Five documents were originally expected to be finished around the end of 2003: the ERA, RIs for Sites 1 and 11, a report documenting the findings of a limited field investigation at Site 12, and a study presenting information about background levels of contaminants at CAX (CH2M Hill and Baker 2001b). However, final drafts have not yet been issued (McConaughy 2004).

Contamination at CAX results not only from Navy activities, but also from the operations of the former Penniman Shell Loading Plant. EPA analyzed historical aerial photographs to identify areas currently or formerly part of CAX potentially worthy of further investigation and completed a Site Investigation (SI) of those areas (EPA 1998; EPA 2003a; Weston 1999a). The SI included soil, sediment, and surface water sampling at the locations of 10 potential sources of contamination. EPA samples from all 10 locations contained elevated levels of contaminants, most commonly arsenic and lead. Chromium, manganese, and TNT were also detected in some samples (Weston 1999b).

In December 2000, EPA added CAX to the NPL, on the basis of EPA's analysis of eight sources of contamination at CAX: IRP Sites 1, 10, and 11, and five sources of contamination associated with the Penniman Shell Loading Plant (known collectively since then as the Penniman AOC). EPA noted that contamination from these sites was not fully contained and might migrate to adjacent surface water bodies, which serve as recreational fisheries. Insufficient data were available at that time to assess the impact of contaminant migration into those surface water bodies (EPA 2000c).

The Penniman AOC is entirely on Navy property and does not include IRP Site 7, Site 13, or AOC 1 (each of which potentially includes waste relating to the Penniman plant). However, IRP Site 7, Site 13, and AOC 1 are affected by contamination from the Penniman era.

The Penniman Shell Loading Plant operated before CAX was established and spanned most or all of the area that became part of CAX. Current investigations suggest that environmental contamination by Penniman activities generally affects just the past production and disposal areas. This PHA discusses two Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites (Sites 7 and 13) and two areas of concern (AOCs) (AOC 1 and the Penniman AOC). All of these sites are potentially affected by the Penniman plant.

Site 7 was described in the IAS as a disposal area near the York River that received waste from the City of Penniman and the former DuPont facility, including ammunition waste. Initially, its location could not be identified from the map in the IAS. When an inspection and sampling were conducted in 1999 at what was thought to be the Site 7, the site investigated turned out not to be the location described in the IAS as affected by waste disposal during the Penniman era.

Site 13 was discovered in 2000 and appears to be the area described in the IAS, it has been identified at the Penniman Disposal Area. In the future, waste and contamination present there will be addressed along with Site 7. Sites 7 and 13 are very close to each other, within approximately 300 feet of the York River.

AOC 1 is a landfill near Jones Pond that is thought to have received some waste during the Penniman era.

The Penniman AOC is distinct from AOC 1, Site 7, and Site 13. It comprises five locations identified by EPA in 1999. Each of the five locations was affected by contamination resulting from activities conducted while the Penniman Plant operated. Three of the locations in the Penniman AOC are along the southern shore of Penniman Lake; the other two are also within the northeastern part of CAX.

ATSDR Involvement

In November 2000, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted an initial site visit to gather information necessary for initiating the public health assessment process at CAX. During the site visit, ATSDR toured the site and met with representatives of CAX, the Atlantic Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, and the Navy Environmental Health Center. We also identified representatives of other interested agencies, including the Department of Interior and Virginia Department of Emergency Management. ATSDR identified past, current and future exposure pathways at CAX, but determined that none of these pathways posed an imminent public health threat (ATSDR 2000a; ATSDR 2001).


The U.S. Census Bureau identified more than 56,000 people living in York County in 2000, including 3,500 were military personnel. Williamsburg had approximately 12,000 residents in 2000 (Bureau of the Census 2001; York County Planning Division 2003). On-base housing includes approximately 13 family housing units, 16 apartment buildings, and bachelor quarters (Norfolk Department of Planning and Community Development n.d., Hill 2004, Weston 1999a). As of 1999, approximately 1,840 people worked at CAX (Weston 1999a). Aside from the on-base residences, the nearest homes to CAX are located along Route 641, immediately east of the southwestern portion of CAX (CH2M Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001).

In 2000 an estimated 2,416 persons lived within 1 mile of CAX, including 172 children less than 6 years of age (Figure 3). There are no schools within 1 mile of CAX, but there is a playground near the on-site family housing units (CH2M Hill, Baker, and CDM 2001; Norfolk Area Naval Housing Office n.d.).

Land Use and Natural Resources

CAX is located along the York River. The York River watershed is larger than 2,500 square miles and is affected by numerous point and non-point sources of pollution (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences [VIMS] 1994). Boating occurs throughout the river, and there is also a popular beach north (upstream) of CAX. The York River is a popular site for both recreational and commercial fishing and crabbing. Besides crabs, other shellfish found off-shore of CAX include oysters and hard and soft clams (Baker 1991; Baker and Weston 1994).

The main (northeastern) part of CAX contains buildings, recreation areas, and Cheatham Pond, Penniman Lake, and Youth Pond. There is an unnamed pond immediately upgradient of Youth Pond, but the upstream pond is within the fenced warehouse area, while Youth Pond is outside of it. The CAX warehouses are located north of Sanda Avenue, as are some small buildings used for mission support activities. Administrative and support structures line the south side of Sanda Avenue, before it reaches two piers extending into the York River. Near the piers are officer housing and a golf course (Goodwin 1994). Bachelors' quarters are located due north of Penniman Lake (Harlow 2003; Bridges 2003). There is a picnic and camping area along the northeastern shore of Penniman Lake. There are also cabins that can be used by Navy families along the edge of Cheatham Pond, on both Navy and NPS property.

The major feature in the southwestern part of CAX is Jones Pond. The pond is approximately 62 acres in size and is spring-fed (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003b). It is dammed at the Colonial National Historical Parkway; beyond the dam, water flows to Queens Creek. There is also a camping area near Jones Pond, as well as a boat ramp on the eastern side of the pond (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003d; Tucker 2003).

Navy personnel and their families fish in Cheatham Pond, Jones Pond, Penniman Lake, and Youth Pond. Since 2000, fishing in the latter two water bodies has been designated for "catch and release" only. Residents and visitors are still permitted to eat fish they catch in Cheatham Pond and Jones Pond (Harlow 2003; Bridge 2003). Boating and fishing occurs at most or all of the four water bodies, but swimming is currently and was in the past prohibited. Signs to this effect are posted at some or all of the ponds or lakes (Hill 2004).

Hydrogeology and Groundwater Use

Topographically, CAX is characterized by gently rolling terrain, with ravines and stream valleys trending mainly northeast, in the direction of the York River, which is at sea level. In the western part of Cheatham Annex (i.e., near Jones Pond), hills reach a height of 90 feet above mean sea level. Steep 40- to 60-foot ravines run along the major creeks at CAX (Baker and Weston 1994). Groundwater tends to flow toward surface water features, such as Kings Creek, Queens Creek, the York River, small tributaries, and springs. It also may flow to wetlands areas, such as those between Jones Pond and Queens Creek (Nelms 2002, 2003).

Groundwater is encountered at depths as shallow as 10 to 20 feet below ground surface (bgs). Regional shallow groundwater units, described as the York County shallow aquifer system, are comprised of three layers. From shallowest to deepest, they are the Columbia aquifer, which is unconfined, the Cornwallis Cave confining unit, and the Cornwallis Cave aquifer. The Cornwallis Cave confining unit is missing in some areas, particularly near the York River. Even in areas where it is present, it serves only as a "leaky" confining unit because it does not effectively provide a barrier between groundwater in the Columbia aquifer and groundwater in Cornwallis Cave aquifer (USGS 1997; USGS 2001; Nelms 2003). Most groundwater samples have been collected from the shallow aquifer system. The only IRP sites or AOCs where there has been groundwater sampling are Sites 1 (at 3 to 11 feet bgs), 10 (at 23 to 25 feet bgs), and 11 (15 to 21 feet bgs), as well as AOC 2 (20 to 38 feet bgs). Beneath the Cornwallis Cave aquifer is the Yorktown confining unit, comprised of clays and silts, followed by the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer. The Yorktown confining unit is also absent in some areas, including locations near the York River (Baker and Weston 1994; Baker 1997; CH2M Hill and Baker 2001a).

Between approximately 1943 and October 2002, drinking water used at CAX came from Jones Pond. Before being distributed, pond water was filtered and chlorinated at a treatment plant located near the intake, on the eastern side of the pond, approximately 2,000 feet south of Colonial National Historic Parkway (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003a; Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water 2003). Water filtration has been documented as having occurred at least as early as 1961 (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003b). Water was treated and sampled in accordance with the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The treatment plant was upgraded in approximately 1991. After the Fuel Farm was transferred to the Virginia Department of Emergency Services in 1981, CAX continued to provide water to one building there (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003a).

Newport News Waterworks, a department of the City of Newport News, distributes water to Newport News, Hampton, and Poquoson, as well as parts of York County and James City County. By mid-2002, the Newport News water distribution system had been extended sufficiently far into the Williamsburg area that it could provide water to CAX. In 2002, the source of water for CAX from switched from Jones Pond to water distributed by the Newport News Waterworks (PWC Regional Environmental Group 2003a). The Newport News Waterworks draws water from sources that are more than 4 miles from CAX and treats and samples the water before distributing it, in accordance with SDWA requirements (Naval Public Works Center 2001).

Residences near CAX may currently or may have originally used wells for drinking water, given that a public water supply was not available on some streets until the last several years. In the past, there was no comprehensive requirement for individuals or institutions to notify state, county, or city agencies before or after drilling private wells. ATSDR contacted several state and local agencies to inquire about available information on any residential and commercial private wells that might be (or have been) present near CAX, outside of its boundaries. It appears that a small number of drinking water wells could exist near the base, although specific information about the potential wells was generally not identified (VDEQ 2003b; Weston 1999b; Jordan 2004).

Scientists who have studied hydrogeologic conditions in the area indicate that the one known well would not be affected by any groundwater contamination coming from CAX (Tucker 2003; Nelms 2003). The available information indicates that off-site wells would not be affected by CAX activities because there is no known groundwater contamination associated with CAX that extends beyond its boundaries.

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

In preparing this PHA, ATSDR reviewed and evaluated information provided in the referenced documents. Documents prepared for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) program must meet standards for quality assurance and control measures for chain-of-custody, laboratory procedures, and data reporting. The environmental data presented in this PHA come from site characterization, remedial investigation, and groundwater monitoring reports prepared by CAX under CERCLA. Based on our evaluation, ATSDR determined that, overall, the quality of environmental data available for CAX is adequate for making public health decisions.

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