Garfield Cancer Risk From Chromium in Basements is Highest in US
[Update 2: 3/8/11 - EPA proposes to add Garfield to Superfund NPL - see EPA press release . Click this link for EPA Federal Register Notice - the site is being proposed based on ATSDR Health Advisory criteria, a rare event.]
Update 1 – 10/9/10: Bergen Record editorial traces the ugly history and asks “what took so long”. Stop the kid gloves and hold DEP accountable. Read editorial: Garfield’s chromium problem – end updates]
Last week, the little known federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) took the “very rare” step of issuing a public health advisory in Garfield, NJ due to extremely high levels of toxic hexavalent chromium (VI) found in basements of homes.
The ATSDR advisory was the subject of a standing room only public meeting on Tuesday night at Garfield’s Roosevelt School #7, which is located less than 300 feet from EC Electroplating, the source of the chromium pollution.
ATSDR found that the high levels found in residential basement samples create an “immediate and significant risk to human health”. The risk level translates into an individual excess cancer risk of 3 in 10 (see Table 5), which is 300,000 times HIGHER than NJ’s legal cancer risk standard of one in a million.
ATSDR was created by the 1980 Superfund law to provide scientific advice to EPA and inform the public about health risk of hazardous chemicals. They do health assessments in 300-400 communities per year across the country. Since their creation in 1980, ATSDR has issued only 27 advisories in the entire country, and none since 1999.
I asked the head of ATSDR’s Division of Health Assessment Bill Cibulas point blank whether he had ever seen cancer risks like Garfield chromium (3 in 10) anywhere in the US – including notorious Superfund sites like Love Canal, NY; Times Beach Missouri; and Libby Montana – and he said “no”.
That makes Garfield perhaps the highest cancer risk site in the US.
The ATSDR “immediate and significant risk to human health” findings validate the concerns I expressed at the May 20 public meeting, when I accused NJ state officials of downplaying the risks, misleading the community, and dragging their feet in responding to an urgent problem.
At tonite’s hearing, when I pressed EPA scientists to quantify what EPA described as a “very harmful” cancer risk is, they indicated that the risk in sampled homes was 2 in 1,000, or 2,000 TIMES higher than the acceptable risk under NJ laws, which is 1 in a million.
The more recent ATSDR findings also validate our prior work on chromium risks. We have been involved since 2005.
This is important, because EPA, to provide an excuse for delay, is claiming that the science on chromium risk is very recent. While the science supporting chromium toxicity and risk assessments is evolving, concerns about migration into basements and homes is not new. Click on and see:
Trenton – New Jersey state officials are deliberately ignoring mounting evidence of serious health threats to populations surrounding scores of contaminated sites, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). State sampling data show that individual cancer risks from continued presence of airborne chromium exposure to chromium may be as high as 1 in 10 at some sites the state has declared to be clean. (link to fulll report)
In fact, in a November 5, 2005 letter to EPA, we released a DEP chemical engineer’s whistleblower report that documented malfeasance by the NJ DEP. One key finding that is directly relevant to Garfield was this:
The 1998 criteria do not protect groundwater and surface water from chromium contamination. The leaching of chromium from soils into groundwater is a natural resource injury in and of itself. But it can also create a public health hazard; groundwater is a vector for the transport of hexavalent chromium and the contamination of additional soils and structures. Leachate evaporation at interfaces results in localized accumulations of highly enriched solid-phase hexavalent chromium on soil, building or other surfaces. The final report of the workgroup ignores the issue altogether; it proposes no soil standard to protect against leaching to groundwater.
Based on that report, we petitioned US EPA to intervene:
Dear Administrator Johnson:
The enclosed Report and formal requests are submitted by Zoe Kelman, an employee of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (NJ PEER) joins Ms. Kelman in making this request for federal intervention in New Jersey.
Enclosed for your review and action please find: REPORT TO THE NJDEP COMMISIONER ON NJDEP’s CHROMIUM CLEANUP CRITERIA” (Kelman, October 2005. hereafter “Report”).
The Report demonstrates that documented releases of hazardous substances are causing direct exposure of thousands of residents in densely populated urban areas. These exposures constitute an unacceptable risk, an imminent and substantial threat to human health and environment, and a public health emergency. The Report finds that:
1) NJDEP conducted sampling that shows actual individual cancer risks as high as one in ten (1×10(-1)) at sites that have been certified by NJDEP as clean pursuant to State remedial laws;
More recently, on April 22, 2009, we disclosed a DEP risk assessment:
Washington, DC – A new risk assessment concludes that even a miniscule amount of chromium in the soil is associated with carcinogenicity, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Current New Jersey standards are more than 200 times laxer than these new findings indicate are needed to protect public health.
The “Risk Assessment for Hexavalent Chromium” performed for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) was finalized on April 8, 2009. Its key conclusion is:
“Based on exposure assumptions for the oral exposure pathway in the NJDEP Soil Remediation Standards, this potency factor corresponds to a soil remediation criterion for Cr+6 of 1 ppm.” (link to full report)
Since then, in May 2009 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Jersey City based Interfaith Community Organization (ICO) petitioned the NJ DEP to adopt chromium cleanup standards based on their own science. DEP denied this petition and still has failed to act to adopt protective cleanup standards.
But let’s get back to current developments in Garfield.
The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services will release a cancer incidence report in November. In December 2009, DHSS found elevated cancer risks in Pompton Lakes.
EPA has mapped the contaminated groundwater plume. About 700 homes are in the area of concern. EPA issued a survey and about 490 property owners responded. Of those responding, EPA inspected and sampled about 255 of these homes, and found unacceptably high levels 13-16 homes. We assume that additional problems will be found as more homes are sampled.
I don’t want to repeat the Bergen Record’s coverage, but do want to make a few points that are not gettting adequate attention:
1. The history of the site illustrates another DEP disgrace.
DEP discovered a large spill at EC Electroplating back in 1983. DEP relied on the polluter, EC Electroplating to voluntarily clean up the site and protect the adjacent densely developed residential community.
That didn’t happen, yet DEP failed to enforce cleanup laws, conduct a cleanup themselves, or warn residents of risks so that they could protect themselves.
DEP requested that EPA take over the site in 2002. For 8 years, very little was done by US EPA.
EPA still has not taken enforcement action or even initiated the first step of cost recovery action against the polluter (RP) EC Electroplating.
2. There are widespread chromium problems in scores of NJ communities that are not getting the proper attention by DEP or EPA.
3. DEP continues to fail to move forward with adopting protective soil and groundwater cleanup standards for chromium, based on the most recent science.
4. Homeowners may be eligible to file Spill FundÂ claims to DEP for reimbursement of property values that have been reduced by the discharge of the hazardous substance chromium.
Here are DEP’s Spill Fund claim regulations which define eligible recoverable damage as (among many others):
“Damages” means all cleanup and removal costs and all direct and indirect damages actually incurred, no matter by whom sustained, arising in connection with a discharge of a hazardous substance, or in connection with a threatened discharge, which costs and damages include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. The cost of restoring, repairing or replacing any real or personal property damaged or destroyed by a discharge, any income lost from the time such property is damaged to the time such property is restored, repaired or replaced, and any reduction in value of such property caused by such discharge in comparison with its value absent the discharge; [2-7 omitted]
[clarification - at least 16 homes are so contaminated that they meet this standard (as ATSDR Report found):
7:1J-4.7 Settlement when emergency relocation is necessary
"If the administrator determines, in his or her discretion, that environmental conditions at the subject property which result from a discharge occurring after April 1, 1977 create a substantial risk of imminent harm to the health and safety of the occupants of the subject property, the administrator may suspend any or all of the requirements of N.J.A.C. 7:1J-4.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5 and may immediately award compensation to enable the occupants of the property to relocate temporarily or permanently. Such an award may include all or part of the purchase price, relocation costs, and assumption of the costs of property encumbrances."]
5. The Garfield community needs to organize and demand immediate sampling and cleanups of all potentially impacted homes.
6. EPA, ATSDR, and/or NJ DHSSS should conduct (and pay for) medical assessments, bio-monitoring and health tracking of residents in homes found to have high levels of contamiantion in order to establish a baseline, guage exposures, and monitor potential health effects of chromium exposure.
Here are photos of the passion and concerns expressed by residents at Tuesday's meeting in Garfield.