Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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The U.S. Titanium site located in Nelson County, Virginia is a 50-acre site formerly occupied by an American Cyanamid Company plant which refined titanium ore and manufactured titanium dioxide for paint pigments from 1931 until 1971. Following plant closure, the processing plant, settling ponds, tailings ponds, wastewater lagoons and a waste disposal area remained on site. Ferrous sulfate, a highly acidic by-product of titanium dioxide manufacturing, and heavy metals (aluminum, iron, copper, nickel and zinc) are the primary site contaminants. Acidic storm water runoff from the waste piles and ponds and acidic ground water seeps/springs contributed to six major fish kills in the Piney and Tye Rivers from 1977 to 1981. As a result of these releases, more than 200,000 fish died.

The site is located in the town of Piney River. The closest residence is 1/4 mile from the site. As a result of past waste disposal practices, the on-site groundwater is highly acidic. Local residents use groundwater for their drinking water supply, but no residential well contamination has been detected.

This site was proposed to the National Priorities List (NPL) of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites requiring long term remedial action on December 30, 1982. The site was formally added to the NPL on September 8, 1983, making it eligible for federal cleanup funds.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

Cytec Industries, Inc., formerly American Cyanamid Co., entered into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1991 to perform the cleanup. Seven areas of the site were determined to require cleanup and a description of each is provided as follows:

  • Cleanup for Areas 1 and 3 was initiated in the summer of 1994 and completed in the fall of 1995. It involved the excavation and treatment with lime (neutralization) of approximately 67,000 cubic yards of ferrous sulfate containing soil in Area 1 with disposal of the treated material in a constructed waste containment cell in Area 3.
  • Area 4 consisted of deposited spent ore and other waste products. The selected remedy involved slope stabilization, regrading, placement of soil cover and establishing vegetation. This work was completed in Fall 1996.
  • Area 5 includes former plant sedimentation basins. The cleanup included flood protection, regrading, placement of soil cover and establishing vegetation.
  • Areas 2 and 7 include regions of distressed vegetation due to acidic surface water and groundwater discharges adjacent to wetlands. Actions include the neutralization of acidic stream bed sediments and adjacent bare soil with lime followed by regrading and revegetation.
  • Acidic groundwater is collected in Areas 2, 3 and 4 by a gravity collection system consisting of shallow perforated collection pipes. The groundwater is pumped to an on-site treatment plant and the treated effluent is discharged to the Piney River. The treatment plant and collection system has been in continuous operation since spring 1996.

Because hazardous substances and materials are left in place at the site, EPA will conduct a review at least every five years to make sure the site remains protective of human health and the environment.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

The March 2015 Five Year Review found the remedy for the site is protective of human health and the environment in the short term.  Acidic soils have been neutralized and capped. Future fish kills are prevented by having most of the sources of acidic discharge into the river eliminated.

The report identifies a few issues to be addressed in order to ensure that the remedy will remain protective in the long term.  EPA will direct Cytec, the Potentially Responsible Party (PRP), to:

  • perform an analysis to determine why low pH is still occurring in monitoring wells located beyond the ground water collection system;
  • perform an optimization of the long-term ground water monitoring program;
  • investigate the source of the low pH discovered in the surface drainage ways at the site and to propose a plan to address this situation;
  • determine whether the low pH is impacting the Piney River and if the addition of lime into the drainage ways is preventing leaching of metals and degradation of the Piney River;
  • re-evaluate the monitoring program to ensure it addresses current site needs.

These activities are ongoing and expected to continue into 2018.

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

While walking on the portion of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail that is located near the site, hikers may have noticed discolored water in the nearby drainage ditch. The cause of the color change is ferrous iron from historical mining. Current monitoring of this water indicates that pH levels are around 3.5, making it moderately acidic. As cleanup efforts contiue, EPA recommnmends that hikers and their pets stay on the trail in this area, and do not come in contact with the water at this time.

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