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Palmerton Zinc

Current Site Information

EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic)

Pennsylvania
Carbon County
Palmerton

EPA ID# PAD002395887

11th Congressional District

Last Update: March 2014

Other Names


New Jersey Zinc (Gulf & Western)

Current Site Status

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the cleanup of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Site, which is being carried out by CBS Corporation, the party potentially responsible for the contamination, or PRPs. The site is divided into four separate cleanups, known as operable units. The revegetation of over 3,000 acres and the planting of over 13,000 trees on Blue Mountain (OU#1) was completed in September 2013. Operation and maintenance of the remedy for the Cinderbank (OU#2) is ongoing. The residential soil clean-ups under OU#3 were completed in 2005. EPA is currently reviewing a draft Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study for Operable Unit #4 (OU#4) at the Site. OU#4 addresses ground water, surface water, site wide ecological risk and institutional controls. A proposed plan for a remedy for OU#4 is currently planned for 2015.

At Operable Unit #1 the EPA required that the PRPs revegetate over 3,000 acres of Blue Mountain. The vegetation on the mountain was killed by air and soil contamination resulting from the historic smelting operations. Horsehead Industries revegetated approximately 800 acres in the 1990's. In April 2006 EPA approved a second preliminary design for revegetation of over 450 acres of privately owned land. Work to apply amendments, fertilizer, lime and warm season grasses to over 200 acres via agricultural tractor and spreader and an additional approx. 200 acres via fixed wing crop-duster type aircraft was completed in September 2006. Aerial Application of lime fertilizer and seed occurred in March 2011 via fixed wing crop-duster type aircraft on approx. 1500 acres of PA Game Commission and National Park Service . Aerial application was completed on an additional 128 acres in March 2012. In 2013 the installation of over 70 acres of resources islands was completed by contractors for CBS Corporation. The five resource islands are fence enclosed areas where tree seeds and seedlings have been planted and will be intensively maintained in an attempt to foster the growth of the trees to provide an ongoing seed source for the rest of the mountain. A total of over 13,000 trees of various variety including hybrid American Chestnut were planted in the resource islands. The revegetation, resource island construction and tree planting was completed in September 2013. Monitoring of the success of the revegetation and tree plant will continue along with management of invasive species.

At Operable Unit #2 which is the clean-up of the Cinder Bank, Horsehead built a system to divert surface water around the Cinder Bank, treat contaminated leachate before it is discharged to the nearby Aquaschicola Creek and revegetate all but a portion of the Cinder Bank. This work was completed in the Fall of 2002. Monitoring of the treated discharge and revegetation is ongoing.

At Operable Unit #3, which is the cleanup of residential soils throughout the Borough of Palmerton, and surrounding areas, the EPA on October 9, 2001 issued a final Record of Decision, or final clean up plan for the contaminated residential soils. EPA worked with Viacom to develop plans to begin the solicitation for sampling and actual exterior soil sampling to determine if clean-up were necessary. The first phase of the solicitation and sampling began in the Fall 2002. Approximately 800 properties were sampled before winter conditions set in. Of the properties sampled in Fall 2002 approximately 13% were found to have levels of lead above EPA's clean-up standards. The second phase of solicitation began in June 2003. A total of 2,400 property owners have been contacted for permission to be sampled. Over 1500 properties were sampled. Approximately, 180 properties were eligible for soil cleanup. Soil cleanups were completed in the Fall 2004 with minimal follow-up work on some properties in 2005. Interior Dust sampling began in 2004 on properties where soil cleanup was completed. Initial clean-ups of eligible properties began in late September 2004. A total of 20 interiors which required clean-up were completed by Summer 2005. Work for this Operable Unit is essentially complete.

At Operable Unit #4 which is comprised of Groundwater/Surface Water and Ecological Risks, EPA is currently overseeing finalization of a Remedial Investigation (RI)/Feasibility Study (FS) which will utilize ground water data from existing deep wells and additional data from soils, surface water and groundwater to try to determine the extent of contamination. EPA's ecological risk assessment which will be incorporated with the remedial investigation. The draft RI/FS was submitted by contractors for the PRPs in September, 2013. After EPA, PADEP and other stakeholder review and comment the draft RI/FS will completed, After the RI/FS studies and reports are completed, EPA expects to issue a proposed clean up plan for public comment, followed by a final Record of Decision after consideration of any substantial comments received sometime in 2015.

Also, during the Summer and Fall of 2012, EPA along with PADEP oversaw the installation of an interim remedial measure at the east end of the Cinderbank in an attempt to remove zinc and other metals from shallow ground water in this area prior to entering Aquashicola Creek. The interim measure consisted of dewatering, excavation and placement of an IRM treatment cell into the ground down to bedrock just north of the east end of the Cinderbank to intercept and treat the ground water. Construction of the treatment cell was completed in November 2012 and sampling is ongoing to assess the effectiveness treatment. Additionally wetland restoration work in the area disturbed by the interim remedy is planned in Summer 2014.

Site Description

The Palmerton Zinc Pile Site is the area of a former primary zinc smelting operation. The site encompasses the Bourough of Palmerton and surrounding areas, Blue Mountain, a large smelting residue pile called the Cinder Bank and much of the valley. For nearly 70 years, the New Jersey Zinc Company depositied 33 million tons of slag at the site, creating a cinder bank that extends for 2 ½ miles and measures over 100 feet high and 500 to 1,000 feet wide. The smelting operations emitted huge quantities of heavy metals throughout the valley. As a result, approximately 2,000 acres on Blue Mountain, which is adjacent to the former smelters, have been defoliated, leaving a barren mountain side. Soil on the defoliated area of the mountain has contaminated the rain water flowing across it. The runoff and erosion have carried contaminants into Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River. Approximately 850 people live within one mile of the site; the population of the town of Palmerton is approximately 5,000. The Palmerton Water Company has four production wells at the foot of Blue Mountain that supply water to the towns of Palmerton and Aquashicola, these wells have not been effected by contaminants from the site to date.

Site Responsibility

This site is being addressed through federal and potentially responsible parties' actions.

NPL Listing History

Our country's most serious, uncontrolled, or abandoned hazardous waste sites can be cleaned using federal money. To be eligible for federal cleanup money, a site must be put on the National Priorities List. This site was proposed to the list on December 30, 1982 and formally added to the list on September 8, 1983.

Threats and Contaminants

Dust and soil still contains heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and zinc from former processes in the Borough of Palmerton and surrounding area. Blue Mountain, the Cinder Bank and the shallow groundwater and surface water adjacent to the Site are affected by elevated levels of heavy metals as a result of historic operations. Aquashicola Creek is contaminated with zinc, copper and cadmium from Cinder Bank leachate and surface runoff. People who come in direct contact with or accidentally ingest contaminated ground water or surface water may be at risk. Contaminants have been found in residential soil and may pose an elevated health risk. In past years, children in Palmerton have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Fish in Aquashicola Creek contain bioaccumulated contaminants, and eating them may pose a health threat. Horses and cattle that graze in the area have shown high concentrations of lead and cadmium, which has caused substantiated cases of illness and fatigue.

Contaminant descriptions and risk factors are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC.

Cleanup Progress

Blue Mountain, Operable Unit #1

In 1987, the EPA selected an interim remedy to clean up approximately 2,000 acres of Blue Mountain, which included installing a concrete pad with berms to mix sewage sludge and fly ash, spreading lime and potash on the areas to be revegetated, and planting grass seed and tree seed on the area. Horsehead Resource Development, Company/Zinc Corporation of America has conducted plantings/seedings on approximately 775 acres of the mountain. The first phase of construction was begun in 1991. The final phase of the construction (grading/seeding) was completed in 1995. In 1994, reclamation experts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the progress of the remedy and found that while grass had largely been established on Blue Mountain, tree growth from seeds was well below target.

At Operable Unit #1 the EPA required that the PRPs revegetate over 3,000 acres of Blue Mountain. The vegetation on the mountain was killed by air and soil contamination resulting from the historic smelting operations. Horsehead Industries revegetated approximately 800 acres in the 1990's. In April 2006 EPA approved a second preliminary design for revegetation of over 450 acres of privately owned land. Work to apply amendments, fertilizer, lime and warm season grasses to over 200 acres via agricultural tractor and spreader and an additional approx. 200 acres via fixed wing crop-duster type aircraft was completed in September 2006. Aerial Application of lime fertilizer and seed occurred in March 2011 via fixed wing crop-duster type aircraft on approx. 1500 acres of PA Game Commission and National Park Service . Aerial application was completed on an additional 128 acres in March 2012. In 2013 the installation of over 70 acres of resources islands was completed by contractors for CBS Corporation. The five resource islands are fence enclosed areas where tree seeds and seedlings have been planted and will be intensively maintained in an attempt to foster the growth of the trees to provide an ongoing seed source for the rest of the mountain. A total of over 13,000 trees of various variety including hybrid American Chestnut were planted in the resource islands. The revegetation, resource island construction and tree planting was completed in September 2013. Monitoring of the success of the revegetation and tree plant will continue along with management of invasive species.

Cinder Bank, Operable Unit #2

In 1988, the EPA selected a remedy to clean up the cinder bank, which included revegetating the area and extinguishing the subsurface smoldering fire. Engineering and cost analysis of this selected remedy is under review. Review of this analysis may result in selection of an alternative remedy. Horsehead Resource Development, Co. recently completed several additional studies for the cinder bank. One such plan was to provide a vegetative cover to portions of the Cinder Bank to prevent airborne and precipitation-borne release of contaminants. EPA was able to approve a scaled-down version of the original (94 acre) work plan in August 1995. Zinc Corporation of America has graded approximately 13 acres of the cinder bank in preparation for the experimental application of a sludge/fly ash mitigated vegetative cover, originally slated to begin in spring 1996. However, in 1995, the parent company signed a consent decree with the United States to address violations of hazardous waste, clean water and clean air regulations associated with their ongoing industrial operation. Surface water will be diverted around the cinder bank, contaminated leachate will be treated prior to discharge to Aquaschicola Creek and a vegetative cover was to be placed on the cinder bank under this consent decree. The final plan for this agreement was approved by EPA. The plan was implemented in the Spring 2000. This work was completed in the Fall of 2002. Monitoring of the treated discharge and revegetation is ongoing.

Borough of Palmerton, Operable Unit #3

In May 1994, EPA cleaned the residences with the highest contaminant levels and residents most at risk. Through November 1997, almost 350 homes have been sampled for contamination and 200 residences have been cleaned.

Late in 1994, following the rejection of two PRP-funded risk assessments (1991 and 1994), EPA Region III launched a participatory effort on the risk assessment between EPA, the PRPs and the stakeholders in the Palmerton community. This effort is the first of its kind in the Superfund Program and was completed in September 1997. EPA shared the results of their community-based risk assessment with Palmerton-area stakeholders in February 1998 and issued the risk assessment in final form in May 1998. EPA looked at recommended alternatives to remediate the health risks identified in a feasibility study which was completed in the Spring of 2000. EPA then issued a proposed remedial action plan for comment from the general public in June 2000. After carefully evaluating comments received on the Proposed Remedial Action Plan, EPA issued a final Record of Decision (ROD) on October 9, 2001. The final ROD sets forth the final cleanup plan for residential soils in the Palmerton area. EPA worked with Viacom to develop plans to begin the soliciation for sampling and actual exterior soil sampling to determine if clean-up were necessary. The first phase of the soliciation and sampling began in the Fall 2002. Approximately 800 properties were sampled before winter conditions set in. Of the properties sampled in Fall 2002 approximately 13% were found to have levels of lead above EPA's clean-up standards. The second phase of solicitation began in June 2003. A total of 2,400 property owners have been contacted for permission to be sampled. Over 1500 properties were sampled. Approximately, 180 properties were eligible for soil cleanup. Soil cleanups were completed in the Fall 2004 with minimal follow-up work on some properties in 2005. Interior Dust sampling began in 2004 on properties where soil cleanup was completed. Initial clean-ups of eligible properties began in late September 2004. A total of 20 interiors which required clean-up were completed by Summer 2005. Work for this Operable Unit is essentially complete.

Groundwater and Surface Water, Operable Unit #4

At Operable Unit #4 which is comprised of Groundwater/Surface Water and Ecological Risks, EPA is currently overseeing finalization of a Remedial Investigation (RI)/Feasibility Study (FS) which will utilize ground water data from existing deep wells and additional data from soils, surface water and groundwater to try to determine the extent of contamination. EPA's ecological risk assessment which will be incorporated with the remedial investigation. The draft RI/FS was submitted by contractors for the PRPs in September, 2013. After EPA, PADEP and other stakeholder review and comment the draft RI/FS will completed, After the RI/FS studies and reports are completed, EPA expects to issue a proposed clean up plan for public comment, followed by a final Record of Decision after consideration of any substantial comments received sometime in 2015.

Also, during the Summer and Fall of 2012, EPA along with PADEP oversaw the installation of an interim remedial measure at the east end of the Cinderbank in an attempt to remove zinc and other metals from shallow ground water in this area prior to entering Aquashicola Creek. The interim measure consisted of dewatering, excavation and placement of an IRM treatment cell into the ground down to bedrock just north of the east end of the Cinderbank to intercept and treat the ground water. Construction of the treatment cell was completed in November 2012 and sampling is ongoing to assess the effectiveness treatment. Additionally wetland restoration work in the area disturbed by the interim remedy is planned in Summer 2014.

Contacts

Site Contacts

Administrative Record Locations

Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Superfund |EPA Home | EPA Superfund Homepage


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