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Public Health Assessment
CERCLIS NO. VA3170024605

Community Health Concerns

During our discussions with Navy, EPA, and VDEQ personnel during the site visit and subsequently, as well as our review of site-related documents (including the Community Relations Plan), ATSDR inquired about community concerns associated with CAX. We identified a community concern about consuming locally-caught seafood, which we address below. During our work on other Navy facilities in the Hampton Roads area, ATSDR became familiar with regional concerns about childhood lead poisoning, which we also address in this section.

Is it safe to eat locally-caught seafood?

A common community concern questions the safety of eating locally-caught seafood (from water bodies outside of CAX). Because of the variety of military installations, industrial facilities, and other potential sources of contamination in the area, some people are concerned that local finfish and shellfish may have measurable levels of contaminants in their tissues. ATSDR reviewed the available information to address this concern. Because the condition of the waterway may change over time, ATSDR recommends that people review relevant fishing advisories for the areas where they intend to fish.

There are no fishing advisories for the York River or its tributaries to prohibit or restrict fishing. VDH and EPA offer general fishing advisories to inform people about how to select and prepare fish they catch in a manner that reduces potential exposures to some types of contaminants. ATSDR recommends that people review these advisories, which can be found on the EPA and VDH Internet sites or obtained by contacting the agencies directly. (EPA recommendations:, includes a link to A Guide to Healthy Eating of the Fish You Catch, []; VDH recommendations:

ATSDR evaluated fish sampling data from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) (Appendix E). The sampling area predominately consisted of waterways associated with the James and York rivers, from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and upstream to approximately Williamsburg, VA. Waterways between Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA, and the inland portion of Cape Charles were also represented. The sampling data were gathered between 1997 and 2001. The samples primarily consisted of skin-off fillets of finfish. Results of the evaluation indicate that there are no health concerns for people who consistently consume one to two 8-oz fish fillets per week from the sampled area. Eating more fish will increase a person's potential exposure to PCBs. All fish consumers, and especially people who routinely consume two or more 8-oz fish fillets per day may want to consider reducing their potential PCB exposure by: 1) selecting the younger, smaller fish of a species (within legal limits), 2) removing the skin, belly fat, and internal organs prior to cooking, 3) baking or broiling the fish fillets, and 4) not eating the fatty juices or drippings.

Are children who live at Cheatham Annex exposed to potentially dangerous levels of lead?

The Navy has made a concerted effort to assess and address any damaged lead-based paint in Navy family housing areas and provide Navy families with information about lead exposures. It is Navy policy to screen young children who are at risk for childhood lead poisoning, consistent with CDC recommendations. ATSDR has requested the lead management plan for Cheatham Annex and will discuss its findings in this section upon receipt of that document and any associated information the Navy can provide.

Child Health Considerations

ATSDR recognizes that infants and children may be more sensitive to exposures than adults in communities with contamination in water, soil, air, or food. This sensitivity results from a number of factors. Children are more likely to be exposed because they play outdoors and often bring food into contaminated areas. Children are shorter than adults, and may breathe dust, soil, and heavy vapors close to the ground. Children are also smaller, potentially resulting in higher doses of chemical exposure per unit body weight. The developing body systems of children can sustain permanent damage if toxic exposures occur during critical growth stages. Most importantly, children depend completely on adults for risk identification and management decisions, housing decisions, and access to medical care. Therefore, ATSDR is committed to evaluating their special interests at sites such as Cheatham Annex as part of the ATSDR Child Health Initiative.

Approximately 172 children aged 6 years or younger live within 1 mile of Cheatham Annex. There are no on-base child care facilities or schools. Children living at CAX would be likely to play in areas near the family housing units. Children would also be expected to visit the picnic area near the bachelors' quarters, the campground east of the Penniman Lake, and on-site cabins.

Children may contact soil, surface water, or sediment contaminants. To evaluate whether children may experience adverse health effects through past, current, or future exposures to site contaminants, ATSDR estimated the potential doses for children. To estimate these doses, ATSDR used assumptions that are considered to be protective for children, based on our understanding of actual exposure conditions. ATSDR concluded that current and future exposure to site contamination at Cheatham Annex does not pose unique health hazards for children. Due to a lack of historical data, it is not possible to evaluate potential past exposures. However it is likely that these exposures were infrequent and occurred only for a short period of time and did not pose a health concern.


Based on the evaluation of available exposure and health effects information, ATSDR drew the following conclusions:

  1. Current sources of air emissions were not identified at CAX. Past air emission sources include an incinerator which apparently operated between 1942 and 1951. Little information is available about the actual time period it operated or how it was used. As a result it is not possible to evaluate whether people could have been affected by past releases. Past exposure to incinerator emissions were classified as an indeterminate public health hazard. Current exposure to on-base emissions were classified as no public health hazard.
  2. Drinking water at Cheatham Annex, currently and in the future, poses no public health hazard. Since 2002, drinking water has been supplied by the Newport News Waterworks, which draws water from sources outside of Williamsburg, treats it, and samples it regularly. Current and future used of on-base drinking water was classified as no public health hazard.
  3. Past exposure to drinking water at CAX, which came from Jones Pond and was treated at Cheatham Annex's water treatment plant before being distributed, can not be conclusively evaluated. Nitroaromatics were detected at trace levels in 1999 and 2000 samples from Jones Pond. No samples had been analyzed for nitroaromatics in preceding years, when levels of nitroaromatics may have been higher. EPA indicates that some waste at nearby AOC 1 dated back to the Penniman era. Nitroaromatics were also measured in sediment in a tributary to Jones Pond that receives drainage from AOC 1. Without information about the levels of nitroaromatics to which people were exposed in the past, ATSDR cannot draw conclusions about past exposure to drinking water. Past use of on-base drinking water was classified as an indeterminate public health hazard.
  4. Past, current, and future exposures to surface water and sediment at the four on-site water bodies at CAX pose no apparent public health hazard. Because swimming is prohibited, the only exposures would be contact with small amounts of sediment or surface water during other recreational activities. Contaminant levels measured in the ponds have been relatively low, and the detected concentrations would not cause adverse health effects recreational users of the on-base ponds and lakes. Past, current and future exposure to on-base surface water and sediment was classified as no apparent public health hazard.
  5. Past, current and future exposures to fish caught from Cheatham Pond and Jones Pond pose no apparent public health hazard. While no fish tissue samples are available, contaminant concentrations measured in surface water and sediment in those ponds have been fairly low. No PCBs were detected in sediment from both water bodies. These data suggest that contaminant levels in fish would likely be lower than those that could cause adverse health effects. Eating fish caught from Cheatham Pond and Jones Pond was classified as no apparent public health hazard.
  6. Past exposure to fish caught from Penniman Lake or Youth Pond poses an indeterminate public health hazard. Until 2000, Navy families were allowed to eat fish from not only Cheatham Pond and Jones Pond, but also Penniman Lake and Youth Pond. Levels of PCBs in sediment samples collected from Penniman Lake and Youth Pond in 2000 were elevated, which is why the Navy advised residents and visitors not to eat fish from those two ponds. Because no fish tissue samples are available, ATSDR cannot draw conclusions about past exposure to fish from Penniman Lake and Youth Pond. Recreationally-caught fish typically make up only a very small portion of people's diets, therefore, it is likely that people did not eat enough fish from Penniman Lake or Youth Pond to result in a PCB exposure that could cause health concerns. However because there is no fish tissue sampling data to verify this expectation, eating fish caught from Penniman Lake or Youth Pond was classified as an indeterminate public health hazard.
  7. Current exposures to soil contamination identified on-base pose no apparent public health hazard. Any exposure to affected areas would likely be incidental and infrequent. Sampling conducted by EPA in 1999 did not reveal contaminants present in soil at sufficiently high concentrations that adverse health effects would result, given current exposure scenarios. Additional environmental investigations or remedial actions may be necessary if land use changes occur which allow greater public contact with the area containing the TNT graining house sump and catch box ruins. Current exposure to soil was classified as a no apparent public health hazard.
  8. No soil sampling data was collected prior to the 1990s. As a result ATSDR cannot draw definite conclusions about the past exposure to soil contaminants. However, it is expected that past exposures to soil contaminants for on-base residents and visitors was similar to the exposures identified for current on-base residents and visitors; that they had only minimal and infrequent contact with soil contaminants. As a result it is expected that the potential exposure for past on-base residents and visitors would not be expected to cause health concerns. Past exposure on on-base residents and visitors to soil was classified as a no apparent public health hazard.
  9. Information about decommissioning and disposal of shells and explosives after the Penniman Shell Loading Plant closed is incomplete. Some of the ammunition expected to have been present when World War I ended has not been accounted for. While not all of the areas used during the Penniman-era have been thoroughly investigated, none of the environmental investigations that have been conducted have identified ordnance at CAX, on National Park Service land that was previously part of the Penniman plant, or at the Fuel Farm. Because no evidence of shells or explosives has been identified during environmental investigations to date, ATSDR classified the past exposure to Penniman-related explosive materials as a no apparent public health hazard.
  10. Because there is some uncertainty associated with how ordnance was disposed of and if ordnance or explosive materials could be found in the future, ATSDR classified the current and future potential exposure to shells and explosives as an indeterminate public health hazard. ATSDR acknowledges that future investigations may identify new information. If requested, we will review additional data after it becomes available, if it is likely to modify this health evaluation.
  11. In the past, medical supplies originally buried at Site 4, including syringes, were washed into Youth Pond via an upgradient pond adjacent to Site 4. Youth Pond and the surrounding area are used by families with children visiting or residing at CAX, and the waste is a potential safety hazard. A removal action was conducted in 1998. In 2001 the Navy investigated the remaining waste to evaluate how to prevent additional transport into the ponds or off site. The remaining waste still represents a potential physical hazard. ATSDR recommends that the Navy complete the remedial actions necessary to prevent additional waste transport from the burial site.
  12. Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Isabel (in September 2003) caused extensive erosion of the cliff along the York River, near Sites 7 and 13. Due to this soil erosion, the fence installed by the Navy to prevent cabin visitors from moving too close to the cliff now dangles over the drop-off in some places. The concern is that children may be tempted to play near the fence and possibly slip under the dangling fence and exposed to potential safety hazards associated with the waste and the cliff. The Navy plans to repair the fence, but had not done so as of May 2004. ATSDR recommends that the fence be repaired as soon as possible or that other measures be taken promptly to reduce this hazard.
  13. Contaminated soil and groundwater at the former Virginia Fuel Farm pose no apparent public health hazard because no one is exposed to groundwater and secure fencing has kept trespassers from coming into contact with contaminated soil. A remediation plan is in place to address the contamination from the previous Fuel Farm activities. ATSDR expects that if evidence of previously buried Penniman-era materials are discovered during the re-development, EPA and VDEQ approved remedial actions will prevent exposures that could result in adverse health effects for the future users of this area. If requested, ATSDR will review any additional data after it becomes available, if it is likely to modify this health evaluation. ATSDR classified the past and current exposure to soil and groundwater at the Fuel Farm as a no apparent public health hazard.

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