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This health consultation updates activities at the Gulf Mobile and Ohio Rail Yard (GM & O) site. In March 2000, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) completed an Environmental Investigation report for the site. In November 2001, IDPH also issued a public comment release of a Public Health Assessment (PHA) for the northern portion of the GM & O site. In January 2002, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finalized and released this PHA. IDPH evaluated data collected during the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) site investigation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) immediate removal activities. IDPH concluded the site posed a past public health hazard based on the contamination identified in the surface soil of the residential area and adjacent fenced areas. IDPH also provided educational materials to residents to help them learn ways to reduce their exposure to chemicals in the soil. Residents of the Meadows of Murphy subdivision were moved, the subdivision fenced, and contaminated soil removed. Contaminated soil was also removed from the fenced areas.

Illinois EPA has conducted additional sampling activities to characterize further the extent of site-related contamination. This health consultation examines the most recent sampling data to evaluate any known or potential adverse human health effects.


The GM & O site is in the north-central portion of Murphysboro in Jackson County, Illinois. The former rail yard is about 10 blocks in size and occupies about 40 acres. The rail yard was active until 1925 when a tornado destroyed it. The former Greenberg Salvage site occupied approximately 4 acres of the former rail yard property on Gartside Street between 17th and 19th Streets. The Meadows of Murphy, a 27-lot manufactured home subdivision about two blocks in size, was adjacent and southeast of the former salvage property. The subdivision was developed in the early 1990s on former rail yard property.

In June 1999, Illinois EPA initiated an investigation that identified lead levels as high as 114,000 parts per million (ppm) in surface soil on parcels of land formerly occupied by salvage operations. Because of the high lead concentrations identified in the surface soils, Illinois EPA sealed and fenced three parcels of land. Lead levels as high as 7,400 ppm were identified in surface soil at the Meadows of Murphy subdivision. Elevated concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pentachlorophenol (PCP), and dioxins were also detected in surface soil samples from the subdivision.

In response to a request from the Illinois EPA, USEPA initiated a time-critical removal action of the contaminated soils in the three sealed areas. This removal action was completed in March 2001. The Canadian National Railway (CNR), as current holder of the GM&O liabilities, agreed to clean up the Meadows of Murphy subdivision. CNR purchased all the residential properties, and by December 2000 the subdivision had been fenced. All of the homes were removed and disposed of at the Southern Illinois Regional Landfill in Desoto, Illinois. In August 2001, CNR completed the removal action of contaminated soil at the subdivision. Given the site's history, Murphysboro city officials will likely change the zoning of the former subdivision property from residential to industrial.


In April 2001, Illinois EPA began sampling activities to evaluate other areas on the former GM&O property that could be contaminated. Most of the sampling locations were along a six-block area south of the former Meadows of Murphy subdivision, which was south of Gartside Street between 17th and 19th Streets, to Spruce Street (Attachment 1). Illinois EPA tested the soil using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) technology to assess metal concentrations - specifically lead - at private homes, city property, vacant lots and industrial/commercial properties. Based on the results of the XRF field screening, Illinois EPA collected soil samples that were analyzed by a laboratory for metals, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. The soil sampling activities included surface soil samples and soil borings using a Geoprobe. To determine the extent of contamination in the soil, Illinois EPA collected samples up to 3 feet in depth.


Chemicals of Interest

IDPH compared the results of each soil sample collected in April 2001 with the appropriate screening comparison value used to select contaminants for further evaluation for carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic health effects. Chemicals found at levels greater than comparison values or those for which no comparison value exists were selected for further evaluation. A discussion of each comparison value is found in Attachment 2. Lead was the only chemical of interest.

Exposure Assessment

Results showed elevated levels of lead as high as 3,830 ppm in surface soil in unrestricted areas. The areas with the greatest levels of lead were in gravel parking areas and a grassy field near an apartment complex. One parking area identified with elevated lead concentrations in the surface soil is used for occasional outdoor events and picnics. Lead levels from 0 to 3 inches in surface soil are of greatest interest because under normal activities in residential areas, this is where exposure is likely to occur.

A lead level of 4,400 ppm was detected in surface soils on a vacant lot owned by an industrial facility; however, this lot is surrounded by a fence, so public access is restricted. The highest level of lead (12,100 ppm) was detected in a subsurface soil sample collected at a depth of 12 inches. Contaminated subsurface soils can serve as an exposure point for individuals involved in excavation or drilling.

Because elevated levels of lead were detected in unrestricted surface soils near residential areas, IDPH recommended that area residents with children who play in this soil have their children's blood tested for lead to determine whether they were exposed to lead in the soil. Several persons had their blood tested and no individuals associated with this area have been identified with elevated levels of lead in their blood.


Because lead is a neurotoxin that permanently interrupts normal brain development, exposure can cause adverse health effects, especially for young children and the fetuses of pregnant women. Lead has no beneficial biological function and is known to accumulate in the body. No safe threshold has been identified [ATSDR 1999].

The primary exposure routes are inhalation and ingestion - lead is not readily absorbed through the skin. Children, especially those who are preschool age, are at particular health risk if exposed to lead because through normal hand-to-mouth activity they ingest more lead than do adults, absorb more of the lead they ingest, and are most sensitive to its effects.

The IDPH Lead Poisoning Prevention Code states that the permissible limit of lead in soil readily accessible to children is 1,000 ppm. Exposure to lead levels greater than 1,000 ppm in residential soil can increase lead levels in exposed persons.

Elevated body burdens of lead can cause learning difficulties and reduce the growth of young children. Exposure to lead is also dangerous for the fetus because lead can adversely affect the developing organ systems, particularly the nervous system. Lead easily crosses the placenta and appears in umbilical cord blood at nearly the same concentration as in the mother's blood. Lead exposure in middle-aged men can increase blood pressure.


IDPH recognizes that children are especially sensitive to some contaminants. Thus IDPH includes children when evaluating exposures to contaminants. Exposure to lead in soil is dangerous for young children because of their frequent hand-to-mouth activity and their increased susceptibility to lead. At this site, young children (i.e., children 6 years of age or less) living and playing in the areas where high levels of lead were found in surface soil are at greatest risk of exposure and the adverse effects that lead can cause.


IDPH concludes that should individuals routinely contact lead-contaminated soil, portions of the former GM&O site will pose a public health hazard. Based on environmental investigations of former railroad and other nearby properties, residents could be exposed to lead in residential soil or unrestricted non-residential property.


IDPH recommends that Illinois EPA contact the Canadian National Railway (CNR) to discuss options to reduce potential exposure to surface soils in areas exhibiting high lead levels. Illinois EPA has agreed to contact CNR. IDPH will continue its education efforts regarding reduction of exposure to lead in soil.

If parents wish to have their children's blood tested for lead they should contact their physician or the local health department.


Lynn Stone
Environmental Toxicologist
Illinois Department of Public Health


[ATSDR] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1999. Toxicological profile for lead. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services.

[IDPH] Illinois Department of Public Health. 1995. Lead Poisoning Prevention Code. Springfield, IL.

[IEPA] Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Files, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Springfield, IL.

[IEPA] Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. 1999. Integrated Assessment and Field Activity Work plan for Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Springfield, IL.


This Gulf Mobile and Ohio Rail Yard Health Consultation was prepared by the Illinois Department of Public Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the health consultation was begun.

W. Allen Robison
Technical Project Officer
Superfund Site Assessment Branch (SSAB)
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC)

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this health consultation and concurs with its findings.

Richard E. Gillig


Site Area Map


Environmental Media Evaluation Guides (EMEGs) are developed for chemicals based on their toxicity, frequency of occurrence at National Priorities List (NPL) sites, and potential for human exposure. They are not action levels but are comparison values. They are developed without consideration for carcinogenic effects, chemical interactions, multiple route exposure, or exposure through other environmental media. They are very conservative concentration values designed to protect sensitive members of the population.

Reference Dose Media Evaluation Guides (RMEGs) are another type of comparison value. They are developed without consideration for carcinogenic effects, chemical interactions, multiple route exposure, or exposure through other environmental media. They are very conservative concentration values designed to protect sensitive members of the population.

Cancer Risk Evaluation Guides (CREGs) are estimated contaminant concentrations based on a probability of one excess cancer in a million persons exposed to a chemical over a lifetime.

Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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