Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA-2001-0316-2865, Independent Leather, US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site, Gloversville, New York.
On May 21, 2001, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request for technical assistance (TA) from the United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning a Superfund Site at a former tannery, Independent Leather, in Gloversville, New York. The EPA asked NIOSH to determine the health hazards to remediation workers from exposure to biological contaminants at the site. Sources of biological contaminants at this site included animal hides, fleshings, and hair, which were abandoned when Independent Leather declared bankruptcy in 1994. EPA employees were concerned about the potential for exposure to anthrax and other microorganisms during planned remediation activities. NIOSH was specifically asked to evaluate potential employee exposures during remediation and to recommend proper remediation guidelines and personal protective equipment (PPE). No health effects were reported. NIOSH investigators conducted a site visit on June 26-27, 2001. The purpose of the site visit was to review the scope of the project, evaluate work practices and PPE, and discuss strategies to minimize exposures to biological contaminants. The site visit consisted of an opening conference, a walkthrough of the EPA hazardous waste site, and informal interviews with the EPA site coordinator and remediation contractor regarding their work activities and the superfund site. Based on our review of this site and proposed scope of work, the potential for zoonotic disease from remediation activities at this tannery is minimal. Most zoonotic diseases can only be spread while the animal is still alive and would not survive outside a living host for extended periods. While Bacillus anthracis (B. anthracis) can sporulate and survive for many decades, the potential exposure to remediation workers is minimal due to the characteristics of the bacteria (low secondary aerosolization potential and high infectious dose concentration). The likelihood of environmental transmission of anthrax, while theoretically possible, is considered to be remote. Visible microbial contamination, consistent with mold growth that would occur in unmaintained facilities, was present throughout the site. Remediation of the site will result in the disruption of these microbiological reservoirs. Precautions to prevent dissemination and reduce the potential for exposure to these bioaerosols is warranted. The remediation protocols established by the EPA and the contractor were found to be prudent, and the precautions and PPE requirements are likely sufficient in protecting workers during remediation activities. Additional suggestions to further ensure the potential exposures to biological contaminants are minimized include training workers on the hazards of biological contaminants and appropriate work practices. The potential for remediation worker exposure to anthrax spores at the former tannery appears to be minimal. However, conditions within the abandoned buildings were conducive for promoting mold growth. Prudent precautions, including PPE and work practices, should be taken to reduce potential bioaerosol exposures. Recommendations are provided on PPE, training, and work practices.