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The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) requested a health consultation for the Laclede Steel Company from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The purpose of this health consultation is to determine if a public health hazard exists from exposure to hazardous materials or conditions at the site. Illinois EPA provided field and laboratory results from sampling conducted in residential yards near the site in March 2002. These data are the basis for this health consultation.


The city of Alton is in western Madison County on the Mississippi River. The Laclede Steel facilities are between Cut Street and Chessen Lane in Alton in the flood plain of the river. The site is about 450 acres in size and is within one mile of the river. The Laclede Steel property contains about eighty buildings covering 43 acres. About 26 miles of railroad track are on the property (Attachment 1).

Laclede Steel was founded in 1911 and acquired the Alton steel works in 1915. According to company literature, they produced about 200 different chemical combinations (sometimes called "grades") of steel. Most recently, the facility used electric arc furnaces to produce steel from recycled scrap steel. Some major operations and areas of the facility included the main offices, rolling mills, warehouses, a tube mill area, an electric melt shop, a wastewater treatment plant, and landfills.

In July 2001, Laclede Steel declared bankruptcy and the work force was reduced to a small crew of about 10 to 20 workers. Company staff reported the following environmental issues:

  • asbestos,
  • sulfuric acid (1,000 gallons in a tank, 2,120 gallons in other containers),
  • clarifier sludge from the water treatment plant,
  • lime residue from a silo,
  • three tankers of unknown contents,
  • 6,625 gallons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) oil and mill scale,
  • PCB contamination of ponds, waterways, and structures around the treatment plant,
  • thirty drums of PCB materials,
  • transformers with about 15,000 kilograms of PCBs
  • 10,600 gallons of waste oil,
  • forty drums of waste grease,
  • chlorofluorocarbon-containing appliances,
  • lead and chromium wastes in the wire mill area, and
  • batteries & fluorescent bulbs.

Other environmental issues included unknown materials, unmarked containers, oil pits, lagoons Exiting ATSDR Website, drainage ways, trash, stained areas that required additional testing, and clean-up plans.

The facility had several environmental permits. Metal particulate dusts in air emissions from the electric furnaces and the steel casting areas were controlled in four bag houses. Laclede Steel was granted waste disposal permits for the hazardous bag house dusts. This waste was temporarily stored in several areas before being landfilled on the site. The landfill closed in November 2001.

Another on-site landfill for other solid wastes was closed in 1994 by covering the mound with one foot of clean slag, covered by 1 foot of compacted clay, topped with 6 inches of topsoil, and planted with grass. This landfill covers about 34 acres and will be maintained for 15 years. Areas of erosion and standing water have been reported on the northeast slope of the landfill. A creek west of the area receives drainage from the landfill.

Other permits included three water emissions outfalls at the west drainage ditch, the entrance road, and near the truck gate. The facility also had several air source permits.

The Laclede Steel wastewater treatment plant is west of Cut Street. Skimming, neutralization, aeration, chemical precipitation, and sedimentation were used to treat wastewater. In August 2001, inspections by Illinois EPA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) noted a large amount of PCB-contaminated oil in the plant lagoons.

On-site Sampling

On July 22, 1998, investigators from Illinois EPA and USEPA collected six samples of bag house dust and mill scale. The results showed elevated levels of cadmium, chromium, and lead. According to a January 15, 1999 USEPA report titled "Multimedia Compliance Evaluation Inspection Report," the inspectors noted visible air emissions during their site visit (1).

On July 27, 1999, Illinois EPA collected groundwater samples from three on-site wells and had the samples analyzed for 24 metals. Illinois EPA found aluminum, arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium and lead at elevated levels in the groundwater samples (2).

Residential Investigation

The nearest residential area is in Alton north of Laclede Steel, and is north of a four-lane state highway. This residential area is on the bluff of the Mississippi River, up-gradient from the site. In March 2002, Illinois EPA staff used an x-ray (XRF) fluorescence field instrument to measure lead and zinc levels in soil at 50 properties on eleven streets in this neighborhood. Some soil samples were also collected for analysis of 23 metals and cyanide; one background sample was collected. In June 2002, these data were forwarded to IDPH for review (3). IDPH staff evaluated the data and sent letters providing a health-based evaluation of the testing results to each home.

Site Visit

IDPH staff last visited the site and the nearby neighborhood on August 16, 2002, to confirm the site conditions described previously. The residential area is up the bluff from the site.


Chemicals of Interest

IDPH compared the results of residential soil samples with appropriate comparison values to determine which chemicals needed further evaluation for possible carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic health effects. IDPH assumed that the samples were collected and handled properly and that appropriate standard methods and analytical techniques were used.

Although a concern about lead in soil may have prompted the residential soil sampling, the results did not reveal any metals at levels that exceeded health-based comparison values.


IDPH evaluated surrounding environmental conditions and activities that could lead to exposure to determine whether residents living near the site have been, are being, or might be exposed to hazardous chemicals. A chemical can cause an adverse health effect only if people come into contact with it at a sufficient level. This requires a contaminant source, an environmental transport pathway, a point of exposure, a route of exposure, and an exposed population.

An exposure pathway is considered complete if all these components are present and people were exposed in the past, are currently exposed, or will be exposed in the future. A potential exposure pathway is one in which at least one of the five elements is missing but could exist. If part of a pathway is not present and will never exist, the pathway is incomplete and can be eliminated from further consideration (4).


Due to the low levels of metals detected in residential soil, no adverse health effects would be expected from this exposure pathway. Past exposures to airborne emissions may have occurred in nearby homes; however, no data are available at this time.


Workers may have inhaled metals while the facility was operating, but we do not know if blood testing of workers was done in the past. Breathing too many metal particles, or dust contaminated with metals, can cause irritation of the lungs. This is typically problematic for people with respiratory disorders or allergies. In addition, breathing metals can increase the possibility of lung infection or make breathing more difficult. This condition is referred to as "metal fume fever."

Although this phenomenon was first associated with zinc oxide, it has also been attributed to other metals, including cadmium, copper and chromium (5). In other occupational settings, metal fume fever has occurred because of exposures to high doses of metals. We do not know if this type of exposure occurred in the past to workers at this site. Soil data from residential areas north of the site indicate that it is unlikely that current exposures to metals in soil would approach occupational exposure levels.

Exposures to organic liquid wastes likely occurred to workers at the facility. Some of these products may be absorbed through the skin or ingested via hand-mouth behaviors. No data regarding this exposure are available.


Solid process wastes stored on the site were sampled in 1999. Levels of metals in some of these samples were elevated; however, no data are available regarding the contamination of soils and sediments on the site or downstream. Other than reports of oily sludges and staining, no data are available regarding the levels of contaminants in these areas. With the plant closed, persons may be more likely to trespass onto the site and be exposed to contaminants.


Groundwater is not used at or near the site as a source of drinking water, so no one would be exposed to metals in the groundwater.

Recreational Users of Mississippi River

On-site soil, sediment, and wastes washing off the site into the Mississippi River could be potential exposure pathways for individuals fishing or boating nearby.


IDPH recognizes that children are especially sensitive to some contaminants. For this reason, IDPH included children when evaluating exposures to site-related chemicals. No adverse health effects would be expected for children exposed to the levels of metals identified in residential soils.


Based upon the available data and information reviewed, IDPH concludes that under current conditions, this site poses no public health hazard to the residents of Alton north of the site. Years of producing steel products has resulted in some metals accumulating in on-site soil, wastes, and sediments, but metals have not been found at elevated levels in the soil samples collected from the residential neighborhoods north of the site.


Although current data do not show that a public health hazard exists, steps should be taken to limit exposures to materials on the site. Careful handling of site wastes containing metal contaminants should reduce exposures for workers and nearby residents. IDPH recommends that Illinois EPA and USEPA restrict public access to the site during any remediation activity.

In September 2002, IDPH mailed letters to the fifty addresses where soil testing was conducted to inform residents that exposure to the levels of metals in their soil posed no health hazard.


Catherine Copley
Environmental Health Specialist
Illinois Department of Public Health


  1. U.S. EPA. Multimedia Compliance Evaluation Inspection Report dated January 15, 1999, U.S. EPA, Region 5.

  2. Illinois EPA. Site file for Laclede Steel. Springfield. 2002.

  3. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Bureau of Land, Office of Site Evaluation. Project Manager Mark Wagner. Letter dated June 5, 2002 with data from March sampling events.

  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Public Health Assessment Guidance Manual. U. S. Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia. 1992.

  5. Rose, C.S. and P.D.Blanc. Inhalation Fever (Chapter 32). Environmental and Occupational Medicine, 3rd ed. W. N. Rom,ed. Lippincont-Raven Publishers, Philadelphia, PA. 1998.


This Laclede Steel 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 (SAAB)
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DAC)

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

Roberta Erlwein
Chief, State Programs Section


Approximate Location of LaClede Steel Company


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.

Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) have been established by USEPA for public water supplies to reduce the chances of occurrence of adverse health effects from use of contaminated drinking water. These standards are well below levels for which health effects have been observed and take into account the financial feasibility of achieving specific contaminant levels. These are enforceable limits that public water supplies must meet.

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