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PALMERTON ZINC PILE
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Are there risks at the site now?
Dust and soil still contains heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and zinc from former processes in the Borough of Palmerton and surrounding area. Blue Mountain, the Cinder Bank and the shallow groundwater and surface water adjacent to the Site are affected by elevated levels of heavy metals as a result of historic operations. Aquashicola Creek is contaminated with zinc, copper and cadmium from Cinder Bank leachate and surface runoff.
People who come in direct contact with or accidentally ingest contaminated groundwater or surface water may be at risk.
EPA has tested approx. 2400 properties and remediated approx. 180 of those properties. However, property owners who declined EPA performing testing and remedial activities could still have contaminants in residential soil which may pose an elevated health risk.
Fish in Aquashicola Creek contain bioaccumulated contaminants, and eating them may pose a health threat. Horses and cattle that graze in the area have shown high concentrations of lead and cadmium, which has caused substantiated cases of illness and fatigue.
Contaminant descriptions and risk factors are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC.
Community involvement is the process of engaging in dialogue and collaboration with community members. The goal of Superfund community involvement is to advocate and strengthen early and meaningful community participation during Superfund cleanups. Read about ways you can participate in EPA’s Community Involvement Program.
EPA celebrates 35 years of the Superfund Program: Read about sites in your states where Superfund has made a difference in protecting human health and the environment.
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Monthly Status Report
The Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site is located in the Borough of Palmerton, Pennsylvania. Former primary zinc smelting operations from two plants in Palmerton (east and west plants) resulted in area-wide contamination. The several-thousand-acre site includes Blue Mountain, a large smelting residue pile called the Cinder Bank, and much of the surrounding valley north of Blue Mountain. For nearly 80 years, the New Jersey Zinc Company disposed of 33 million tons of smelting waste at the site. Former smelting operations released heavy metals into the valley, causing the wide-spread loss of trees on about 4,000 acres of Blue Mountain. This barren area allowed for surface water contamination from erosion of contaminated soils into Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River. Heavy metals contaminated dust, soil, shallow groundwater and surface water. The presence of lead in children’s blood samples triggered public health and environmental investigations. EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. The site’s cleanup includes revegetation of Blue Mountain, surface water diversion and treatment, and soil cleanup on private properties. EPA is currently developing a cleanup plan for shallow groundwater and surface water. Horsehead Industries purchased one of the smelters and continues operations at the site today. In 2002, the Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) purchased over 750 acres of property along Blue Mountain. The responsible parties, in cooperation with LGNC began erosion stabilization and revegetation of the property with native grasses in 2003. In the same year, the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge officially opened to the public. Today, over 13,000 trees, including the American chestnut, and native grasses cover 3,000 acres of Blue Mountain. The refuge provides valuable habitat for local wildlife and migratory species, while also stabilizing soils, minimizing erosion and improving water quality. The refuge has a vast trail system for hikers, birders and outdoors enthusiasts. It also offers programs in environmental education, wildlife viewing and native habitat restoration research. In 2010, a new visitor and education center opened at the site. The center includes a lobby, research library and classroom/laboratory space. In September 2014, EPA Region 3 awarded the LGNC with an “Excellence in Site Reuse” award. The award highlights the organization’s efforts to reuse a large portion of the site as a wildlife preserve that promotes ecological conservation and education. Residential use also continues in the town of Palmerton.