Pa. releases Palmerton lead results from health screening
An aerial view of the American Zinc Recycling facility. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Twelve out of 267 people screened in Palmerton in February had elevated lead levels equal to or exceeding 5 micrograms per deciliter, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently reported.
The state held the free blood screening for Palmerton residents after a study from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry detected elevated levels of lead in the air enclosing American Zinc Recycling.
The department tested a total of 267 people at the screening, held Feb. 23. Ten males and two females had elevated lead levels equal to or exceeding 5 micrograms per deciliter. Three of the 12 were children aged 0-5, two were aged 16 to 44 and seven were aged 45 to 64.
Of the 267 tested, 40 said to have lived within less than one-half mile of American Zinc Recycling. Sixty-seven live one-half mile to less than 1 mile away, 84 live one to less than 2 miles away, 25 live 2 to less than 3 miles away and 51 live 3 or more than 3 miles away.
Two of those who tested for elevated lead levels live less than one-half mile away from the facility, three live 1 to 2 miles away and seven live 3 or more miles away. Eighteen of the 184 tested aged 16 or older said they held a lead-related occupation; seven of those 18 people tested positive for elevated lead levels.
Across the board, the blood lead levels for all participants ranged between less than 2 micrograms per deciliter to 20 micrograms per deciliter.
In a news release detailing the results, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said there is no safe level for lead in your blood. Even at low levels, the naturally occurring element can affect one’s IQ levels, attention span and educational success.
A Pennsylvania Department of Health representative said the department is letting the results stand on their own.
Reasons for testing
American Zinc Recycling operates at the former east plant of the Palmerton Zinc Company, using the company’s old furnaces to recycle metal containing zinc.
Tuesday night, representatives from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection provided background on how the agency ended up looking for health hazards from the site, and what is being done since the hazard was identified.
An EPA official said an air quality monitor was first installed near the plant in 2012, after the company reported they were releasing more than a half ton per year of lead emissions.
DEP, which operated the air quality monitor, noted that the lead levels exceeded the national standard.
In January 2017, they contacted the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which created a computer model based on air quality readings, and determined there was likely a public health hazard for young children and pregnant women. The meeting was held to explain that process.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s report, released last July, declared a public health hazard within 3 miles of American Zinc Recycling.
Soil samples taken at two locations in Palmerton exceeded the statewide health standards for metals, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Palmerton Borough Park and West End Day Care, a private facility, were locations with the excess levels. Results of samples taken at eight other locations came back below statewide standards.
According to DEP, the sampling was done after a report issued last year by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded a public health hazard is likely for young children and pregnant women living near the American Zinc Recycling facility in Palmerton.
In October 2018, representatives from DEP, ATSDR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted both soil screening and soil sampling at 10 locations in the borough. DEP utilized an X-ray Fluorescence device for the soil screening, which is an X-ray instrument used for nondestructive chemical analyses of rocks, minerals, sediments and fluids. A total of 141 XRF scans for lead, cadmium, chromium, zinc, nickel and copper were completed at the properties. In addition, a total of 18 traditional soil samples were taken at the properties. The samples were sent to DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories in Harrisburg for analysis of lead, cadmium, chromium, zinc, nickel and copper.
The analysis of the XRF screening indicated, aside from the metal levels, a high level of moisture in the soil, which could have impacted those results, DEP officials said.
The report’s results sparked a town hall late last year, as well as an agreement between Palmerton Area School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a permanent air monitoring station and meteorological tower at the junior high/high school complex in Lower Towamensing. The agreement, made in January, spans three years.