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The Sharon Steel Slag Pile (SSSP) and disposal area is a public health hazard to site visitors(trespassers) because of potential irritation from highly alkaline pond water (pH to 13) and thephysical danger posed by slumping or sliding slag piles. The site is unrestricted and receivesfrequent foot and vehicular traffic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances andDisease Registry (ATSDR) prepared a health consultation for the site in June 1997. Thatdocument, accompanied by a PADOH fact sheet, recommended that local citizens, particularlychildren, not play on the site or wade or swim in the on-site ponds. We also recommended that the slag pile be removed.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the SSSP on the National Priority List (NPL)of hazardous waste sites on July 28, 1998. Federal law mandates that NPL sites receive a publichealth assessment within one year of listing. Accordingly, PADOH and ATSDR have evaluated thesite for adverse health effects posed by the slag pile and other site features. After several site visitsand extensive citizen interviews, no one has expressed any community health concerns about the site.


The Sharon Steel acid slag disposal area is a 400 (+) acre site southwest of the former Sharon Steel(now Caparo Steel) plant in Hermitage, Mercer County, Pennsylvania just north of Interstate 80(Figures 1 and 2). Parts of the waste disposal area are only about 500 feet east of the Ohio border. The site is bounded on the east by the Shenango River (Figure 2). Sharon Steel used the area todispose of blast furnace slag, basic oxygen furnace (BOF) slag, electric arc furnace (EAF) slag, andsludges since about 1900 (1). From 1949 to 1981, millions of gallons of spent pickle liquor acidwere dumped over the slag. Theoretically, the acid would be partly evaporated and then neutralizedby the carbonates in the slag. In actuality, considerable groundwater and surface watercontamination was the result.

Most of the blast furnace slag, particularly north of Ohio Street (Figure 3), has been mined and usedas aggregate for railroad ballast, highway construction and other similar applications. The BOFslag, predominantly south of Ohio Street, is frequently mined to recover the metals within it.

In November 1980, eighteen monitoring wells were installed to detect the extent of groundwatercontamination. Table 1, obtained from the files of the Pennsylvania Department of EnvironmentalProtection (PADEP), reports some significant parameters and their respective concentrations. It isuncertain if these are maximum values for each listed parameter. Concentrations of arsenic,chromium, and lead exceed maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for drinking water by one to twoorders of magnitude. Monitoring was ended in 1986 when the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) determined that the wells were improperly constructed (1).

In 1992, four well clusters containing two wells each (one shallow, one deep) were constructed toreplace the original wells. Table 2 (2) summarizes data from an August 1992 sampling round fromthe new wells. We were unable to obtain an accurately scaled map of reasonable size (8 ½" x 11")which shows the locations of wells on site. Concentrations of selected parameters in the new wellsare much lower than in the original wells.

In a telephone conversation with PADEP on September 15, 1998, PADOH learned that there hadbeen no additional sampling of environmental media since the June 1997 health consultation.Neither had there been formal action to remove any slag from the site.

Site Visits and Current Site Conditions

On October 23, 1996, J.E. Godfrey of the PADOH visited the site with a PADEP representative. Site access is unrestricted. The slag pile rests on glacial and stream deposits in the Shenango RiverValley. The bedrock beneath the valley is predominantly sandstone, conglomerate, and shale of theMississippian Cuyahoga Group (3).

Sharon Steel, now in bankruptcy, has sold the steel production plant to Caparo Steel. Sharon Steelstill owns the slag waste area, except a small parcel sold to another company (Dunbar Slag) for theoperation of an asphalt plant. Dunbar also operates a second asphalt plant on Sharon Steel property. Asphalt production and occasional slag removal (mining) are the only industrial activities takingplace on the site.

The remaining slag piles (mostly arc furnace and BOF slag) are south of Ohio Street and occupy aspace nearly one-half mile long, several hundred feet wide and fifty or more feet high. Two or threeshallow ponds, several acres in area, are in the southern part of the site (Figure 3). Rain and meltingsnow leach calcium oxide from the slag to form calcium hydroxide, a compound that causes surfacewater (and groundwater) to become very alkaline (high pH value). On the day of one site visit, thePADEP representative took three or four pH readings approximately in the area shown in Figure 4. Even after several diluting rain showers, all pH values were above 12.0 with the highest recorded at12.9 near the base of one slag pile. Despite the alkaline water, the PADEP representative stated thatducks and geese use the ponds. Remnants of an apparent duck/goose blind were in one of the ponds. We also know that humans frequent the site because we observed vehicle tracks and spent shotgunshells and bullet casings near the ponds. Several sections of the slag pile were so steep that slumpingor sliding appeared imminent.

More than 50 homes are within one-half mile of the site (Figure 2). Nearly all are south and west ofthe site and at least half are in Ohio across Bedford Road, the center of which is the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line. Areas just east of the Shenango River contain predominantly industrial facilities,including the Caparo Steel plant. Farrell High School is about three miles east of the site.

On January 29, 1997, J.E. Godfrey again visited the site with Barbara Allerton and Alice Hoffmanof PADOH, and an official of the Ohio Department of Health. While on the site the investigatorsnoted loose debris sliding down steep slopes of slag without any disturbance from humans oranimals. Apparently the diurnal freeze/thaw cycle in winter is sufficient to loosen the slag and causedebris slides. Investigators extensively interviewed local school officials and citizens of both Ohioand Pennsylvania. On January 30, 1997, PADOH staff continued to interview local officials fromthree nearby municipalities.

The site was formally placed on the NPL on July 28, 1998.

On October 7, 1998, Mr. Godfrey met with PADEP and EPA officials subsequent to the NPL listingand discussed the forthcoming Remedial Investigation for the site. No significant change occurredon the site since the January 1997 visit.

A summary of site demographics is presented in Figure 5.


The site presents several physical hazards. Site visitors may drown in the open ponds. Slumping orsliding waste piles could injure or bury people whether on foot or motorized vehicle. The highly alkaline pond water poses a risk of skin and eye irritation to anyone wading or splashing in it.

We are basing our discussion of health hazards on the assumption that calcium hydroxide (slakedlime) is the substance in the slag that is raising the pH of the water. Calcium hydroxide in its solidform is a skin, mucous membrane, and respiratory tract irritant. In its solid form it is also a severe eye irritant (4).

About 0.185 grams (gm) of calcium hydroxide will dissolve in 100 milliliters (ml) of water at roomtemperature. This will produce a saturated solution with a pH reading of about 12.4. However,aqueous solutions of calcium hydroxide are not readily absorbed into tissues and prolonged contactis necessary for toxicity.

Lime burns of the eye are caused by a splash of a thick, moist, pasty material (plaster, mortar, orcement), less commonly by a splash of milky fluid (whitewash) and rarely by a clear solution ofcalcium hydroxide (lime water) (5).

PADOH does not feel that accidental ingestion of small amounts of limewater with a pH of up to13.0 will cause any serious damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Minor irritation to the skin mayoccur following prolonged contact. Some eye irritation may occur if the limewater is splashed intothe eyes but we do not expect serious or permanent damage.

People should avoid skin, eye, and respiratory tract contact with dust from the slag pile. Solidparticles of calcium hydroxide or its parent compound calcium oxide (burnt lime) may be present inthe dust.

Groundwater beneath the slag is high in dissolved metals, but no drinking water wells are on orimmediately downgradient of the site. Therefore, no exposure is occurring through groundwater. The Shenango River receives surface water runoff and groundwater discharge from the site, but themost recent river monitoring results show no increase in metal concentrations and only a slightincrease in downstream pH (7.50 upstream, 7.57 downstream) (2). The wetlands in which disposaloccurred are apparently doing a remarkable job of "buffering" the effects of the waste. The PADEPmaintains a "Do Not Eat" fish advisory for carp from the Shenango Lake Dam near Sharpsville tothe river mouth near New Castle, some 15 miles south of the site (Figure 4). The chemicalsresponsible for the advisory are PCBs and chlordane, neither of which is associated with the site (6).

Children's Health Section

Children are a sensitive subpopulation that were considered in preparing this document. There is noevidence that small children have access to the site. Older children that may trespass on the site, are at the same risk as adults that may occasionally trespass on the site.


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains several health outcome databases including the vitalstatistics and the cancer registry. These databases provide information on, but are not limited to,total mortality, cancer morbidity and birth defects. They are often used to evaluate the health statusof the people living in the surrounding area of the Superfund site if the site may potentially causeadverse health effects on the residents.

The primary hazardous substance on the Sharon Steel site is calcium hydroxide which is not knownto induce cancer. The site is in an industrial area and the only residential housing within a one mileradius of the site is on the east side of the Shenango River and along Bedford and Wansack Roads(Figure 3). Therefore, the site poses a threat only when people trespass on it. Otherwise, the healthimpacts are small to the residents in the area. In addition, no residential wells are on or immediatelydowngradient of the site, so no exposure through the groundwater (private wells) occurred . Therefore, the review of the township-wide mortality, cancer morbidity, and birth defects data is notrelevant here.

Occasionally, some people may eat carp or other fish from the Shenango River despite PADEP's"Do Not Eat" advisory. To protect the public health, PADOH will give, the best availableinformation about site hazards, and advise them to stay off the site and follow the fish advisory.


The Sharon Steel site is in three municipalities and borders the state of Ohio. PADOH determinedcommunity health concerns in discussions with representatives from each municipality, the localschool district, and the surrounding neighborhood. The community agreed that periodic trespassersdrive, walk, and bike onto the site to park, hunt, fish, and use the site for recreation. We observedevidence of these activities such as hunting (shotgun shells and cardboard target), illegal dumping(garbage), fishing (the type of container used for worms and found along the river), boating (trailertracks on the river bank to the water's edge) and drinking (beverage cans) during our visits to thesite. A local police officer mentioned that the department receives occasional calls reportingtrespassers on the property. Neighbors identified a dirt road and trail entering the property wherethey have seen children on bikes. The main access road is unrestricted and enters the property fromOhio Street.

We asked nearby neighbors, the local health officer, the school nurse, a school administrator, acommunity health nurse, and representatives from each local municipality if they were aware of anycomplaints of adverse health effects related to the site. No one was aware of adverse health effectsassociated with the site. A local health officer felt that people may occasionally eat fish, includingcarp, caught in this area of the Shenango River.

At a meeting with the local school district, we discussed how to be sure that parents know to keep their children away from the site. The attached fact sheet has been developed to increase awareness and provide information on the hazards associated with the site. The school district agreed to distribute the fact sheet to its students through the quarterly publication of the school's newsletter, which is received by all the students' parents. Representatives from the municipalities and the Mercer County State Health Center said that they would also make a fact sheet available to the families they serve. A representative from the Ohio Department of Health reviewed the fact sheet and that department will be provided with copies.


The Sharon Steel slag disposal area is a public health hazard because of alkaline surface waterbodies on the site and the slumping or sliding potential of parts of the slag piles. The site alsoprovides easy access for fishing the Shenango River. These hazards may be avoided if localresidents stay off the site and obey "Do Not Eat" fish advisories issued by PADEP.


  1. Post additional signs on the perimeter of the site and use other available methods to reduceaccessibility and the chance of trespassing. The attached fact sheet has been made availableby PADOH to nearby residents. The local school district, local municipalities, and MercerCounty State Health Center are supportive of efforts to advise parents and, along withPADEP, have commented on the fact sheet and helped with its distribution.

  2. Place warning signs along the perimeter of the ponds stating that the water presents a health hazard due to the high alkalinity.

  3. Post "No Dumping" signs along the river where garbage is accumulating.

  4. Eliminate human health threats posed by the removing the slag pile or by taking otherappropriate remedial steps to eliminate debris slide potential and reduce alkalinity in theponds. These concerns will be addressed when the EPA chooses the final remedial actionsfor the site.


The EPA is beginning the formal Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study required for NPL sites. It will be at least two years before site remedies or public health action plans will be known. ThePADOH has already distributed a public health fact sheet to the community, including the localschool administrators. A copy of that fact sheet is included in the appendix of this report. PADOHwill evaluate new data for the site as soon as it becomes available.


  1. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, open files, Meadville RegionalOffice.

  2. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 1993 and 1994. GroundwaterSampling Results, Acid Slag Area, Sharon Steel Corporation, Farrell, Pennsylvania.

  3. Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, 1981. Atlas of PreliminaryGeologic Quadrangle Maps of Pennsylvania.

  4. Material Safety Data Sheet, 1991. Genium Publishing Corporation, Schenectady, N.Y.

  5. Toxicology of the Eye, 1986. National Library of Medicine, Hazardous SubstancesDatabase, quoted from Grant.

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1996. Site Review and Update, Westinghouse Electric (Sharon Plant) Sharon, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. CERCLIS No. PAD 005000575.

Document Reviewed but not Referenced

  1. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 1996. Letter of July 25 fromGovernor Tom Ridge to Carol Browner, EPA Administrator.


J.E. Godfrey, M. Ed, M.S., P.G.
Division of Environmental Health Assessment
Pennsylvania Department of Health

Mark A. Lavin, B.S.
Division of Environmental Health Assessment
Pennsylvania Department of Health


This Public Health Assessment for the Sharon Steel site was prepared by the PennsylvaniaDepartment of Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances andDisease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the health consultation was initiated.

Roberta Erlwein
Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC, ATSDR

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC), ATSDR, has reviewed this health assessment and concurs with its findings.

Richard Gillig
Section Chief, SPS, SSAB, DHAC, ATSDR



Site Location Map
Figure 1. Site Location Map

Area Map
Figure 2. Area Map

Site Features and Sampling Locations
Figure 3. Site Features and Sampling Locations

Fish Consumption Advisory #811
Figure 4. Fish Consumption Advisory #811

Sharon Steel (Acid Slag Waste Area)
Figure 5. Sharon Steel (Acid Slag Waste Area)


Table 1. PADEP Sampling Results 1980-1986 for original monitoring wells at Sharon Steel Slag Area (1).

3,200 µg/l
Specific conductance
100 µg/l
95,000 mg/l
1,600 µg/l
39 mg/l
4,500,00 µg/l
41 mg/l
3,375 µg/l
43,000 mg/l
140,000 µg/l
2,000 mg/l
3,300 µg/l
6,400 µg/l
108 µg/l
160 µg/l

TDS - Total Dissolved Solids
TOC - Total Organic Carbon
TOX - Total Halogens

Table 2. Concentrations of Selected Parameters (parts per billion) in New Monitoring Wells, August 24-25, 1992 (2).

Well Number*

* S - Shallow
ND - Not detected at laboratory detection limits
* D - Deep


Community Fact Sheet (page 1)

Community Fact Sheet (page 2)

Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

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