Should there be concerns about the concentration and distribution of metals in the soil in and around Palmerton?
That was the impetus behind a presentation from a Lehigh University professor who recently completed a study on the topic.
Professor Dork Sahagian of Lehigh University shared the results of the study with members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce earlier this week.
Sahagian, who has extensive experience in geoscience, said the study in which he and his team recently completed was sponsored by the state Environmental Protection Agency.
As part of the study, samples were taken from 52 locations, some of which were up to 20 miles away, Sahagian said. From there, he said the samples were then analyzed and the data was scrutinized and interpretated.
While some of the metals concentrations fall within distance from the West Plant, others do not, which suggests that there may have been other sources for these, Sahagian said.
Regardless of prior history, based on their measurements, he said metals concentrations are currently below the EPA residential standards in the surrounding communities.
Sahagian said the region that surrounds the borough has been affected by emissions from the New Jersey Zinc Co. smelter along the Lehigh River just north of the Kittatinny Ridge.
The airfall deposition of metals included zinc, cadmium, arsenic, and lead, he said. Of those, Sahagian said zinc and cadmium are highest near the west plant, while arsenic and lead were everywhere.
As a result, Sahagian said the forest ecosystem in the immediate vicinity was destroyed, and soils rapidly eroded, exposing a rocky hillslope.
Although the smelter was closed decades ago, concerns linger over whether soils in the surrounding regions are still contaminated with elevated levels of metals, he said.
In addition to his work with the brownfield centered in the borough, Sahagian has conducted research in paleoclimatology, volcanology, stratigraphy, geodynamics and tectonics, global hydrology and sea level.
He has also taught courses in Earth & environmental science, physics and astronomy, volcanology, human-climate interactions, stratigraphy and other areas related to his research and that of his students.
Sahagian was also instrumental in establishing the new section of the Amerian Geophysican Union in "Biogeosciences", and has directed his efforts to organizing and integrating a number of diverse research communities.
At Lehigh, he is now working to integrate disparate disciplines in building the Environmental Initiative into a leading program for environmental science, technology, economics, policy and the many interactions between people and the environment.