Human Health Risk Assessment Perspectives from CCC

Mindy Smith, M.D. M.S.
CCC Board Secretary

In concert with EPA’s release of the draft Upper Columbia RI/FS Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA), I was asked to work with Citizens for a Clean Columbia (CCC) board members to give our sense of public and CCC perceptions about the document and process of sharing information.

These impressions are based on a fairly recent public meeting and discussions with board members and people from the town of Northport (population about 350 people). We will be interested to see how many of our questions the HHRA addresses, or whether a different forum or report will be required.

One question goes back to 2004, which is when soil removal due to lead contamination on properties within Northport was based on a lead threshold of or exceeding 1000 ppm. Residential soil cleanup voluntarily conducted by Teck between from 2015 – 2018, however, used a threshold of 700 ppm. What does this mean to the future of Northport properties with between 700 – 1000 ppm? EPA is working on this issue separately, and we strongly support this effort to extend cleanup to properties with lead levels at 700 ppm or more.

At the meeting, EPA shared how they estimated the probability of adverse human health effects from lead. However, this information does not address questions about specific human health effects, both past and future. While much of this is outside EPA’s purview, the concerns about remediation and provision of adequate surveillance and monitoring, such as air monitoring, to ensure future protection against adverse health effects from contamination seems relevant. Without knowing which lead level will be selected for remediation, these concerns remain. 

There’s on-going interest in soil amendments to reduce lead exposure in areas that do not meet removal action levels and in expanses of undisturbed land. Citizens are asking whether other cutting-edge technologies are being considered as amendments such as hemp or fungus (bioremediation). And what changes in soil contamination occur as areas are burned or otherwise altered. I, along with others, worry that effective amendments will not be found, and that hand washing will provide insufficient protection.

These and other concerns go to the heart of community questions about past and future health effects, influence on property values, availability of legacy funding, additional sampling, and the perceived need for reinstated and expanded air monitoring.

From my perspective, I am also concerned about whether the HHRA will truly reflect risk as it is difficult to know the cumulative effect of contaminants, and there is no clear way to combine lead and non-lead risks into a single risk assessment. Further, the gravity-flow and pumped creek-impoundment water systems used for irrigation and sometimes drinking, like my own water system, have not been evaluated.

While I have confidence in the good will of most of those involved in this process on both sides of the border and the impressive work done over the past 14 years, I do not have confidence in the current administration and whether sufficient clean-up and monitoring will occur now and in the future.

At the state level, the Washington Department of Ecology Air Monitoring Program disappointed us when they

said they had insufficient manpower to apply for an EPA grant for air monitoring in our area. When we suggested citizen volunteers could be trained in data collection, they disagreed.

This is despite DOE’s 2017 report entitled “Preliminary Review and Evaluation of Available Air Quality Monitoring Data and Consideration of Potential Present-Day Health Risks.”  This report recommended updated air monitoring be conducted in our area to analyze heavy metals known to be emitted from the Trail smelter which “may further contribute to potential human health impacts.” On the other hand, Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program has provided invaluable assistance, including current work to consider further cleanup of the Northport Park shoreline area.

It will be interesting to read the draft HHRA. We’re eager and hopeful to see how many community-based questions will be successfully or fully addressed. EPA’s RI/FS Remedial Project Manager has thus far been very responsive to our comments. Further, to ensure that the public is well informed about the HHRA and able to provide input, EPA has agreed to a 60-day public comment period and will be providing two webinars. In that positive vein, CCC remains very committed to supporting the outreach process and, as necessary, helping collate public input with EPA.

The draft Human Health Risk Assessment is available on EPA’s website: Click here to view

EPA 2020 Soil Cleanup of Northport, Washington

During the next couple of months, the EPA will clean up the soil on 16 properties located within Northport town limits. EPA has determined that this cleanup is warranted to address a threat to
people’s health from exposure to lead in their soil. EPA is working with property owners, the Mayor of Northport, and the Northport Town Council to schedule and conduct soil cleanup activities.

CLEANUP PLANS


In August, EPA will begin the soil cleanup in the town of Northport. With the consent of property owners, cleanup will begin at residential properties and common use areas. Common use areas include the Lyn Kaste Gould Memorial Park, the lawn at the Northport Community Library, the play area at the Northport Community Garden, the lawn at the Northport American Legion vacant lot, and the lawn at the Northport Welcome Center. EPA estimates the entire cleanup to take 8 to 10 weeks. Work will be done during the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through
Saturday. While the cleanup is taking place, you will see construction equipment such as dump trucks, excavators, graders, and water trucks working in town. EPA and its contractors will make every effort to be a good neighbor while the project is underway

CONTROLLING DUST


EPA and its contractors will control dust where cleanup activities are taking place. They will apply water to surfaces and air monitoring instruments will be placed at the properties being cleaned up to ensure dust is controlled effectively.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION


Areas for soil removal were identified based on an October 2019 review of 2004 data reports of properties within Northport town limits with lead levels near or above 700 ppm (parts per million). When these areas were first evaluated in 2004, cleanup was not conducted because EPA’s removal action level at the time was 1,000 ppm. The threshold of 700 ppm is the same level EPA used when working with Teck American to clean up 18 residential properties outside of Northport town limits from 2015 – 2018. The use of this lower threshold represents advances in scientific understanding of the adverse developmental effects of lead to young children and babies. EPA’s October 2019 reevaluation documented the condition and layout of each of the properties identified in 2004. This included interviews with each property owner about changes to property use since the 2003/2004 soil sampling. Cleanup actions will focus on lawns, gardens, and play areas with a high likelihood of exposure to contaminated soil. Based on possible use changes, EPA collected and analyzed additional soil samples to better delineate the contaminated area. The results of the October 2019 removal site evaluation provide the information that supports the planned time-critical removal action.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the following people:

Technical Information

  • Monica Tonel, EPA On-Scene Coordinator
  • Call: 206-348-2692 (mobile)
  • Email: tonel.monica@epa.gov

General Information

  • Kay Morrison, Community Involvement Coordinator
  • Call: 800-424-4372, ext. 8321
  • Email: morrison.kay@epa.gov

Upper Columbia River Site Study

Teck Trail Smelter, a canadian lead and zinc smelter located 10 miles from the US border in Trail B.C., has contaminated the Upper Columbia River and upland areas near the US border since 1896. Teck released heavy metal toxins including; arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and other hazardous metals through their smokestack emissions into the atmosphere and directly into the Columbia River in the form of slag, a sand like by-product of the smelting process.

1988 image of slag being released from Teck smelter into the Columbia River
(photo: Joel Rogers)

UCR Remedial Investigation Feasibility Study

In 2006, Teck American, Inc., entered into an agreement with the EPA to fund and conduct the Upper Columbia River Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) from the U.S.-Canadian border to Grand Coulee Dam and surrounding areas. The EPA is overseeing Teck’s RI/FS.

During the Remedial Investigation (RI) phase; Teck conducted soil and sediment sampling and analysis studies, multiple fish studies, water sampling and an assessment of past air monitoring data of the area. The purpose of the investigation was to collect environmental samples and analyze the data to identify heavy metal contaminants, contaminated locations, and assess the risk of exposure to human health and the environment.

The Feasibility Study (FS) phase will be developed after the RI phase has been completed. It will offer cleanup options for contaminated areas discovered during the RI.

Sturgeon study along the upper Columbia River

Human Health Risk Assessment

The EPA is responsible for the Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). The data collected during the RI on the contaminants of concern will be used by the EPA to assess if the levels and routes of exposure to the identified contaminants pose a potential risk to public health.


Additional Information & Resources