Effects of zinc smelter emissions on farms and gardens at Palmerton, PA

Trace Substances in Environmental Health

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In 1979, before the primary Zn smelter at Palmerton was closed due to excessive Zn and Cd emissions and change in the price of Zn, we were contacted by a local veterinarian regarding death of foals (young horses) on farms near the smelter. To examine whether Zn or Cd contamination of forage or soils could be providing potentially toxic levels of Zn or other elements in the diets of foals, we measured metals in forages, soils, and feces of grazing livestock on two farms near Palmerton. The farms were about 2.5 and about 10 km northeast of the East stack. Soils, forages, and feces were greatly increased in Zn and Cd. Soil, forage, and fecal Zn were near 1000 mg/kg and Cd, 10-20 mg/kg at farm A (2.5 km) compared to normal background levels of 43 mg Zn and 0.2 mg Cd/kg, respectively. Liver and kidney of cattle raised on Farm A were increased in Zn and Cd, indicating that at least part of the Zn and Cd in smelter contaminated forages was bioavailable. During the farm sampling, we obtained soil from one garden in Palmerton within 200 m of the primary (West) smelter. The Borough surrounds the smelter facility in a valley. Because soil Cd was near 100 mg/kg, we sampled garden soils and vegetables from over 40 gardens in 6 randomly selected blocks and in rural areas at different distances from the smelter during September, 1980. All homes were contacted on each sampled block. Nearly all homes had some garden, while at least 2 appeared to grow over 50% of their annual vegetable and potato consumption. Palmerton garden soils averaged 76 mg Cd/kg and 5830 mg Zn/kg. Gardeners had been taught to add limestone and organic fertilizers to counteract yield reduction and chlorosis due to the excessive soil Zn. Gardens with over 5000 mg Zn/kg were nearly allover pH 7, and many were calcareous. Because the smelter had not yet ceased operations in 1980, crops could have been polluted by aerosol Zn and Cd emitted by the smelter. Crop Zn and Cd were extremely high, about 100 times normal Cd levels. In more distant gardens, soil metals were not so high, and gardeners had not added as much limestone. Bean rotated with the potatoes and leafy vegetables often suffered chlorosis and visible yield reduction. Potatoes contained up to 6 mg Cd/kg dry wt. compared to backgrournd 0.20 mg/kg DW. An estimate of potential Zn and Cd intakes due to the contaminated crops was made using the teen-aged male diet model, and average Cd intakes would be 250 ug/day if diets contained 100% locally grown leafy and root vegetables and potatoes. Gardeners were warned to restrict consumption of garden grown leafy and root vegetables and potatoes, and to apply 22 T/A of limestone to restrict Cd uptake. Use of improved adult diet models, and increased understanding of the effect of Zn on Cd bioavailability indicate that little Cd risk may result from consuming garden vegetables grown at Palmerton. Individuals appear to be protected because Zn accompanied crop Cd, they grew only small amounts of vegetables in most cases, and aerosol pollution of crops has ceased. Reduced Zn emissions, and Cu supplementation have prevented further health effects on foals or cattle. Detailed examination of these risks is needed to develop remedial measures for both farms and gardens in the Zn + Cd polluted soils near Zn smelters at many locations in the United States and other countries. Remedial actions are necessarary to prevent chronic Zn toxicity to crops and livestock, and minimize the risk of chronic Cd toxicity to humans who consume locally grown garden crops.

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Effects of zinc smelter emissions on farms and gardens at Palmerton, PA
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Trace Substances in Environmental Health
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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
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Trace Substances in Environmental Health
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