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The National Electric Coil (NEC) site in Dayhoit, Kentucky, was placed on the National Priorities List on October 14, 1992. The company, operating as a cleaning and rebuilding facility for electric coils and motors, used chlorinated solvents from 1951 through 1985. Soil contaminated with volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and heavy metals was removed from the site from 1989 through 1991. Groundwater contaminated with chlorinated solvents is being remediated via air stripping.

In the past, residents and workers were exposed to contaminants from NEC. Contaminated drinking water wells were found at NEC, at the Holiday Mobile Home Park (serving more than 100 people), and at several private residences and businesses. Since then, municipal water lines have been extended beyond the area of groundwater contamination. Off-site contamination includes PCBs, lead, and dioxin/furans in soil, and vinyl chloride, dichloroethene, and trichloroethene in water. The off-site soil contaminants are not at levels of health concern. Residents of the Dayhoit area could have been exposed to contaminants in the following media: groundwater, surface water, sediment, soil, food chain, and ambient air. It is assumed that there were completed exposure pathways in the past for National Electric Coil workers who had direct contact with liquid solvents and waste material.

Citizens voiced their site-related health concerns at an ATSDR-sponsored public availability meeting in April 1992. The range of health concerns expressed was very broad. Primary concerns include cancer and reproductive effects, as well as "nerves," rashes, blisters, nausea, diarrhea, and/or persistent colds.

In March 1993, ATSDR presented information contained in the public health assessment to the Dayhoit community and provided information on site contaminants to local physicians.

The National Electric Coil site was considered a public health hazard before removal of contaminants at the site, provision of alternate water, and restriction of access to the site. ATSDR now considers NEC an indeterminate public health hazard because additional information on air emissions from the air stripper is needed to evaluate if health effects are possible.

This site has brought attention to an additional groundwater problem in the Dayhoit area of heavy metals contamination believed to be unrelated to the NEC site. Similarly, PCBs in fish sampled upstream and downstream of NEC could cause an increase risk of cancer but fish contamination appears to be attributable to multiple sources of PCBs in this area.

Nevertheless, ATSDR recommends that a fish advisory be issued for the Cumberland River near the NEC site.

ATSDR has determined that a disease and symptom prevalence study and a biological indicators of exposure study for PCBs are indicated. ATSDR will encourage state government or universities to undertake these activities.


In this public health assessment, ATSDR evaluates the public health significance of the National Electric Coil site near Harlan, Kentucky. More specifically, available environmental and health outcome data and community health concerns are evaluated to determine whether health effects are possible as a result of people being exposed to hazardous substances. In addition, this public health assessment will recommend actions to reduce or prevent possible health effects. Atlanta-based ATSDR is one of the agencies of the U.S. Public Health Service. ATSDR is authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) (also known as Superfund) to conduct public health assessments at hazardous waste sites.

A. Site Description and history

The National Electric Coil (NEC) site, which covers 3.5 acres on old U.S. Route 119 in Dayhoit, Harlan County, Kentucky, is adjacent to the Cumberland River. The site lies in the valley and ridge topography of southeastern Kentucky (Figure 1). On October 14, 1992, the NEC site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) for cleanup under the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund program (1). Several residences are north of the site, and two subdivisions, Fresh Meadows and Dayhoit (also known as Wilhoit), are south. The closest residents live in the Holiday Mobile Home Park, established in 1978, on property immediately south of NEC. The property was previously a drive-in theater. A flood in 1977 covered the Harlan-Loyall area, including NEC.

NEC began operations in 1951 under the ownership of the McGraw-Edison Company. McGraw-Edison was purchased as a subsidiary by Cooper Industries of Houston, Texas, in 1985. The facility and property were sold again in 1987 to Treen Land Company, which currently leases them to National Electric Services Inc. [NES] (1). NES uses a pressure water wash with a commercial caustic cleaner to clean motors.

Past operations at NEC included cleaning and rebuilding of electric motors, electric coils, hydraulic systems, and transformers used in coal mining and related industries. Past activities included the cleaning of equipment in a vat of trichloroethene (TCE) and other solvents. Former NEC employees worked with TCE and other chlorinated solvents, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, paints, varnishes, epoxy resins, silica, and lead. Processing areas included a lead pot, an underground storage tank of varnish dip, a burn-out oven, sand blast unit, bag house, and degreaser pit (1).

Work practices at NEC resulted in environmental contamination of the site. From 1951 through 1987, wastes from the cleaning vat were dumped on site or discharged to the river. PCBs in waste oil also were drained to the river. Vats of molten lead were used during processing; fumes may have been vented directly to the air (1). Wastes were drained to the river, burned and buried on site, or deposited in off-site landfills (1). Other potential sources of chemicals included aboveground fuel oil tanks and underground gasoline storage tanks.

Water well surveys, conducted by the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (KDEP) in 1989, indicated that groundwater was contaminated with vinyl chloride and dichloroethene (DCE). The KDEP Division of Water issued a water consumer advisory in late 1988 to early 1989 (Appendix D). ATSDR prepared a health consultation in March 1989 (2) (Appendix D). Temporary water tanks were brought in until city water lines could be expanded in order to provide water to areas with contaminated groundwater. By February 1989 a municipal water service was installed that extended several miles beyond the NEC site.

Cooper Industries, a potentially responsible party, began a site investigation in April 1989. The company excavated soils and drums in the riverbank fill area to remove those sources of contamination. The riverbank fill area is the area next to the river and adjacent to the property where drums and wastes were buried. This riverbank fill area as well as the NEC property are completely fenced. Later removal included removing soil from along the southern fence line and from equipment and drum storage areas. Most remedial activities were completed by August 1991.

A Remedial Investigation (RI) of the NEC site has been conducted. On September 30, 1992, USEPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the operation of a ground-water recovery and treatment system. The system began operation on July 30, 1993 and uses an air stripper to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as the TCE and other chlorinated solvents, from the groundwater (1).

A spokesperson of the citizens group Concerned Citizens Against Toxic Waste (CCATW) petitioned ATSDR in May 1989 for a public health assessment to address residential exposure to chemicals at NEC. It was accepted as a petition site by ATSDR in February 1991. ATSDR collected community concerns during site visits in July 1991 and April 1992. A Public Health Assessment was released to the general public in January 1993. In March 1993, ATSDR returned to the community to present the findings of the Public Health Assessment.

B. Site Visits

ATSDR visited the NEC site or Dayhoit community in September 1989, July 1991, April 1992, and March 1993. The purpose for each trip is explained below.

The September 1989 trip was made by the Emergency Response and Consultation Branch (ERCB), Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, because chlorinated solvents were found in water from private drinking water wells. ERCB concluded that the concentrations of chlorinated solvents were an imminent and substantial threat to public health and that immediate action should be taken to prevent further exposure (2) (Appendix D).

In July 1991, ATSDR representatives attended an EPA public meeting regarding the NEC site. Because citizens had petitioned ATSDR to conduct a public health assessment, ATSDR representatives listened to and compiled citizen's concerns and informed some residents about the petitioned public health assessment process.

The site was again visited in April 1992, after it was proposed for inclusion on the NPL. Observations made during the April 1, 1992, site visit are described here and included in appropriate sections of this public health assessment:

  • The site was secured with a high fence and appeared to be inaccessible to trespassers. The fence extended beyond the NEC property boundary to include the riverbank area.

  • No remedial activities had recently been, or were, taking place outside the plant.

  • NES, the existing facility, was operating, and several workers were seen on site.

  • A fenced power substation, including a transformer, is about 25 feet north of the property, off of the northwest corner of NES.

  • The Holiday Mobile Home Park, which is at the southern property boundary of NES, has approximately 60 residences. Ponds and areas devoid of vegetation were seen at the park. Dogs and barefoot children were seen playing outside of their homes.

  • The banks of the Cumberland River were cluttered with garbage. In some areas near NES, there is access to the banks.

ATSDR held a public availability session on April 2, 1992; approximately 150 residents attended and talked about their site-related health concerns. ATSDR considers the number of residents who attended significant because the population of the Holiday Mobile Home Park is only about 180 residents. Many of the attenders were from the mobile home park. The primary goal of the meeting was to collect information so that citizen's concerns could be evaluated in this Public Health Assessment.

We returned to the Dayhoit community on March 30, 1993 to present conclusions and convey information from the Public Health Assessment. Approximately 50 residents attended ATSDR's presentation.

C. Demographics, Land use, and Natural Resource Use


The population of Dayhoit is approximately 350; about 180 people live in the mobile home park adjacent to NEC. In the past, as many as 120 people from nearby communities worked at NEC (1).

The closest town, Harlan, is several miles east of the NEC site and has about 2700 residents (3). According to the 1980 census, more than 90% of Harlan's population is white; about 50% are high school graduates. Approximately 25% of Harlan residents have incomes below the poverty level (4). In 1990, more than one third of the work force of Harlan County was employed in mining and quarrying operations (3). According to the U.S. Census, Harlan County's 1990 population was 36,574 (3).

Land Use

Most Harlan County residents live along the Cumberland River. The land adjacent to the NEC site is primarily residential with some commercial establishments. The State Highway Garage is approximately 1000 feet south of the NEC site. Riverside Baptist Church is approximately a half mile south of the site.

Coal is the only developed mineral resource in the Harlan area (5). Coal mining is the primary industry in the Dayhoit/Harlan area. The closest former coal mine, a strip mine, is less than a half mile southeast of the NEC site. Another coal-mining shaft has been reported to be less than a mile southwest. Due to the mountainous terrain, there is not much agriculture in the area.

Natural Resource Use

Groundwater is used for drinking water and industrial purposes in Harlan County; there are about 143 private wells in the bedrock aquifer in the Dayhoit area. Before the groundwater contamination was found in February 1989, water from the wells was used for drinking, bathing and showering, and cooking.

A contaminated well was found at NEC, another at the Holiday Mobile Home Park (which served more than 100 people), and at several private residences and businesses. The Cumberland River had been used for recreational fishing in the past, but is not widely used now near the NEC site. Residents said that they frequently swam in the river as children. According to area residents, there once was a garden on the southern property line of NEC. At that time, the Holiday Mobile Home Park area was a drive-in theater. Residents also reported that they currently have gardens at their homes.

The Harlan County Municipal Water supply comes from the Poor Fork Branch of the Cumberland River, upstream of the NEC site (3). The City of Harlan Sewage Treatment Plant discharges treated effluent into the Cumberland River. There is no regional sewer system in the Dayhoit area.

D. Health Outcome Data

Health outcome data available to ATSDR staff include the mortality statistics of the Wideranging Online Epidemiology, or WONDER, database. That resource is an on-line cancer mortality rate database for all counties and states in the United States and is available through the Centers for Disease Control. ATSDR staff have examined rates for Harlan County, adjoining Bell County, the state of Kentucky, and the United States.

The Kentucky Department of Health Services maintains vital statistics for the counties and the state of Kentucky and releases an annual vital statistics report; ATSDR staff have reviewed the 1990 report (6). In the report, death statistics are shown for the state by district and by county, and are broken down by age (with special attention given to birth-related and infant deaths), race, and primary cause of death. Malignant neoplasms (cancers) are further broken down by cancer category (organ site).

The Kentucky Cancer Registry was founded in 1990 and began collecting data in 1991. A representative informed ATSDR staff members that the registry will include cancer incidence and mortality rates; that the cancers will be broken down by category (organ site); and that the population will be able to be analyzed to zip-code level. The first data set, covering 1991, became available in November, 1992, in a report entitled "Kentucky Cancer Registry, 1991 Kentucky Cancer Incidence."

ATSDR staff members also have identified local and other physicians who have been visited by community members. ATSDR staff members spoke with them about community health trends that may be related to exposure to contaminants from the NEC site. ATSDR staff reviewed 36 medical records of former NEC employees and Dayhoit residents, including some who live in the Holiday Mobile Home Park, at the Center for Occupational Health at University Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio. Evaluations were performed at the center to determine if the 36 individuals had illnesses related to contaminants in and near NEC. That information is analyzed in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section of this public health assessment.


At the ATSDR-sponsored public availability meeting held in Harlan on April 2, 1992, more than 100 community members raised numerous site-related health concerns (listed here). Concerns about cancerous, neurologic/psychiatric, dermatologic (skin), gastrointestinal, immunologic, reproductive, and other adverse health effects were reported to ATSDR staff by the community members. (Appendix C includes a full list of the reported health effects.) The questions listed here will be addressed in the Community Health Concerns Evaluation section.

  1. Is cancer a problem in our community?

    Many citizens are concerned that they, their family members, or their neighbors are suffering from or have died as a result of cancer. Residents believe that there is an increased rate of cancer and that it is site-related. Many types of cancer were mentioned at the public availability meeting.

  2. We are suffering from nerves, rashes, blisters, nausea, diarrhea, and/or persistent colds. Are those effects site related?

    The adverse health effects listed in question #2, as well as cancer, were among those most frequently mentioned at the public availability meeting.

  3. Can contaminants be stored in women's bodies and later be passed on to their children?

    Several women were concerned that contaminants might be stored in their bodies and passed to an infant during pregnancy or breast feeding.

  4. Is the water from our wells safe to drink, now and in the future?

    Families close to the NEC site who still use water from their private wells expressed concern about the lack of comprehensive well testing and about the possibility of groundwater contamination migrating to their wells.

  5. Will the air stripper used in remediation affect our health?

    Many citizens are concerned that discharges to air and water from air-stripping operations will affect both health and environmental quality; in particular, residents of the mobile home park want to be relocated because of their concerns about air-stripping activities.

  6. Is it safe to eat the produce from our gardens?

    Several people reported that they no longer eat vegetables from their gardens because they suspect the produce contains contaminants from the soil and water, and they want to avoid exposure from ingestion.

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