The California Department of Public Health–formerly California Department of Health Services (CDHS)–conducted health assessment investigations related to exposure from contamination by the former chrome-plating facility Abex/Remco Hydraulics in Willits, provided outreach to the surrounding community and trainings to health professionals, and issued recommendations for medical monitoring to be considered for impacted residents.
The Abex/Remco Hydraulics Corporation in Willits, Mendocino County, operated as an industrial machine shop between 1940 and 1995, and in 1959 began manufacturing hydraulic cylinders. In 1963, operations were expanded to include electroplating of hydraulic cylinders and continued until the facility closed in 1995. Various chemicals used during these operations were released to the environment. Those chemicals include solvents for cleaning machines and parts, metal and acids for plating operations, coolants and lubricants for milling and lathing machines, petroleum hydrocarbons for fuel, and paints for finishing parts.
CDHS’s involvement at the site
In June 2000, due to ongoing community health concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requested assistance from CDHS to help respond to community concerns and assess the health impact posed by the site. CDHS conducted public health activities at the Abex/Remco site, under a cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). As part of the process, CDHS organized a site team or group of stakeholders including community members, the county health department, a former worker, and others, to ensure multiple viewpoints would contribute to the health assessment process.
CDHS conducted two public health assessments at the Abex/Remco site, and a health consultation considering health studies options for the Willits community. In addition, CDHS worked with the University of California, San Francisco, to convene a panel of experts who considered the feasibility of medical monitoring for the Willits community who had been exposed to chromium.
Timeline of work by CDHS/CDPH at the Abex/Remco site
Public health assessments
Public Health Assessment: Air Releases of Hexavalent Chromium [7/04]
In July 2004, CDHS released the final draft of the public health assessment on air releases of hexavalent chromium from the Abex/Remco facility. In the report, CDHS concludes that releases of hexavalent chromium in the air from the facility posed a public health hazard during the period chromium-plating operations were conducted (1963–1995). A draft report was released for public comment in July 2003. Any comments received were addressed in the final version.
Click to view a fact sheet summarizing the findings of the public health assessment on air releases of hexavalent chromium. En Español Boletín Informativo resumiendo la evaluación de salud pública.
Comprehensive Public Health Assessment [8/2/06]
In August 2006, CDHS released the final draft of the comprehensive public health assessment, which includes an evaluation of all the possible routes of exposure (exposure pathways) relating to water, soil, air, and plants. In the report, CDHS concludes that most of these exposure pathways pose no apparent public health hazard. Each pathway was evaluated on the basis of available data, and two past exposure pathways had insufficient information for a thorough evaluation: breathing air emissions of volatile organic compounds and swimming or wading in Baechtel Creek. Therefore, the report concludes that those two exposure pathways posed an indeterminate public health hazard in the past. Click to view only the summary of the report. En Español Resumen de la Evaluación de Exposiciones a Contaminantes de la Plata Antigua Abex/Remco.
Note: ATSDR used computer modeling to estimate the levels of airborne 1,1,1-trichloroethane from activities at the Remco plant during 1988 and 1990 (Abex/Remco Health Consultation 1,1,1-Trichloroethane Modeling Report [6/8/06]). This information was included in the comprehensive public health assessment released in August 2006.
Recommendations made in the public health assessments
- CDHS and ATSDR recommend remediation of the groundwater to prevent future impacts to private irrigation wells and prevent exposure from breathing volatile organic compounds in indoor air from soil gas migration/vapor intrusion.
- CDHS and ATSDR recommend Mendocino County Department of Environmental Health work with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to provide education to the citizens of Willits, notifying people of areas where contamination sources have been identified.
- CDHS and ATSDR recommend that the feasibility of medical monitoring/clinical evaluation be considered for Willits residents and people who worked in Willits, who may have been exposed to air releases of hexavalent chromium from Remco between 1963 and 1995. If medical monitoring is undertaken, CDHS recommends that an expert work group with community representation be established to develop a protocol for medical monitoring/clinical services, including criteria for participation and an overall implementation plan.
- CDHS and ATSDR recommend counseling and stress support services be considered for impacted residents and workers, as needed. These activities could fall under the medical monitoring provision of the Consent Decree.
- CDHS and ATSDR recommend that the Willits Trust implement adequate measures to mitigate resuspension of hexavalent chromium-contaminated dusts or soil that could be generated during remedial activities at the site. This should be conducted in conjunction with air monitoring, using detection limits adequate to protect public health.
Evaluation of Health Studies Possibilities and Limitations at the Abex/Remco Hydraulics Facility [9/19/06]
In 2006, CDHS released a health consultation outlining options for health studies or other research activities that might be considered in the Willits community. Some health study options were not recommended. Some research activities could be considered. Carrying them out would depend on a funding source and strong community interest.
Medical monitoring expert panel workshop
Expert Panel Report: Recommendations for Conducting Medical Monitoring for Residents of Willits, California and Workers Exposed to Hexavalent Chromium and Volatile Organic Compounds from the Abex/Remco Hydraulics Facility [11/30/06]
In 2006, CDHS worked with the University of California, San Francisco, to convene a panel of experts from across the country who considered the feasibility of conducting medical monitoring among the Willits residents who had been exposed to chromium. Panelists included persons with experience in medical monitoring of communities exposed to hazardous waste, physicians with environmental and/or occupational medicine expertise, toxicologists and researchers with experience in environmental exposures, a physician with pulmonary medicine expertise, physicians and health officials from the community, and a physician requested by the City of Willits.
Recommendations made by the expert panel
- Notification of exposed residents.
- Access to registered nurse trained in environmental health.
- Health education and counseling.
- Access to medical care by qualified local medical practitioners.
- Referral to an occupational and medical medicine expert.
- No extra charge for access to healthcare.