The Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site is located in the Ridge and Valley Province of Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton Counties, Pennsylvania. The Palmerton valley is bordered by Blue Mountain to the south and Stony Ridge to the north, and is cut through by the Lehigh River to the west of the Borough of Palmerton. Aquashicola Creek drains the majority of the site, flowing in a southwest direction adjacent to the Borough of Palmerton and joining the Lehigh River at the Lehigh Gap.
The National Park Service owns and maintains approximately 800 acres of land that has been acquired to protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which winds along the Blue Mountain ridge and
through the associated gaps of the area. The Pennsylvania Game Commission also owns several thousand acres of potentially affected State Game Lands on Blue Mountain. The natural resources in this area
have traditionally provided habitat for numerous plant and animal species and opportunities for economic and recreational uses, including timber production, wildlife food plot production, fishing, hunting,
hiking, boating, and wildlife viewing.
For 90 years, a zinc smelting plant emitted large quantities of metals that were wind carried and deposited over surrounding areas. Because the high concentrations of metals are toxic to plants, thousands of acres of forestland around the plant were killed. In addition, 32 million tons of smelting waste were placed in a 2.5-mile long “cinder bank” adjacent to Aquashicola Creek. Rain and shallow groundwater leach metals from the cinder bank into Aquashicola Creek. Surface runoff washes contaminated soils into Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River. The contaminants of greatest concern are arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc. These contaminants are harmful or toxic to aquatic life, plants, and wildlife, and can accumulate in the tissue of plants and animals.
The Palmerton Zinc Pile has been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site. Superfund clean up will not be sufficient to restore all injuries to natural resources nor compensate for losses of the services that these resources provide to the public.
Before: Palmerton Zinc Piles, Palmerton, Pa., Credit: USEPA