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Lead report meeting Tuesday

Published September 29. 2018 07:49AM

Questions have been mounting following a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicating air lead levels near the American Zinc Recycling facility in Palmerton could result in health problems for young children and pregnant women.

Residents will get their opportunity for answers on Tuesday during a public meeting at the Aquashicola Fire Company.

The meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., will include representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, ATSDR, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2017, the United States Environmental Protection Agency requested ATSDR conduct a public health evaluation of the community’s current exposures to lead in the air near the plant, formerly Horsehead, on the east side of town.

“Based on our preliminary spatial analysis of EPA’s air modeling results and available state monitoring data, ATSDR concludes that a public health hazard is likely for young children and/or pregnant women living within 3 miles of the American Zinc Recycling facility,” Dr. Karl Markiewicz, senior toxicologist, wrote in a report released July 31. “Young children and/or pregnant women could experience long-term health problems from exposure to lead in the outdoor air.”

Markiewicz first looked at the National Ambient Air Quality Standard lead monitor in Palmerton, which has been operating since May 2012.

The levels detected at the Palmerton NAAQS monitor exceeded the three-month rolling average of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which is the national standard, one time over the 2013-15 monitoring period.

The EPA, however, conducted air modeling using AERMOD Model 3 and came away with differing, more concerning, results.

The AERMOD shows the highest estimated monthly average lead concentration at 0.268 micrograms per cubic meter of air and the highest estimated rolling three month average lead concentration at 0.244 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

CDC officials, following the release of the report, said actual air monitoring data and data from environmental models work together to help it estimate pollution levels.

“At the American Zinc Recycling site, we used both of these sources of information,” the CDC said in a statement. “The Pennsylvania Dept of Environmental Protection National Ambient Air Quality Standards air monitoring was appropriately placed for regulatory purposes and provides information about ambient lead in air concentrations for that location. This monitor captures lead in air from all emitting sources at that location. The air modeling ATSDR evaluated in our document used the most recent stack testing information available as well as meteorological information from a site adjacent to the facility to give us additional insight about potential community exposures related specifically to a single stack’s emissions from the facility.”

Asked about the next step for AZR, CDC officials said environmental agencies are evaluating enforcement actions for the facility.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley has asked DEP to expand the testing program.

In a letter to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, Heffley requested that DEP “monitor for other particulate matters, as well as conduct additional air monitoring and sampling around the facility.”

“It is my understanding that there are two locations outside of the facility that test for air quality,” wrote Heffley. “Due to the health concerns raised by the (federal) report, I would urge DEP to add additional monitors for data.”

Heffley, who said he will attend Tuesday’s meeting, noted that continued air monitoring has not recorded lead levels above the government standard since 2015, and the public should be reassured that their health is currently not at risk.

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