Thursday, April 1, 2010

DuPont/Pompton Lakes Controversy: The Cancer Cluster

By Stephanie Noda

DuPont, one of America’s largest chemical companies, proclaims itself to be a leader in “the miracles of science.” Although they may try to make the world a better place with their research, they are actually causing harm to the very ones they want to help. The pollution from their factories is not only causing major harm to the environment, but causing dangerous health effect to the people living in the surroundings areas.

The most prominent example of DuPont’s effect on people, and the environment as a whole, is the pollution of the town of Pompton Lakes in Passaic County, New Jersey. According to an article in The Record called “Pompton Lakes residents begin suing DuPont over pollution” by James M. O’Neill and Elaine D’Aurizio, DuPont operated their factory in Pompton Lakes from 1902 until 1994. O’Neil and D’Aurizio go on to say that during the 1980s, there was determined to be groundwater contamination under the town. This factory produced explosives, which caused “elevated levels of chemicals or ‘intrusive vapors’ in the groundwater under as many as 400 buildings in the plume,” according to an article by Elaine D’Aurizio. The groundwater was “contaminated with several solvents used to degrease machinery, including PCE and TCE.”

One of the major health hazards associated with the chemical contamination of groundwater is the risk of cancer. In March 2009, according to another article by D’Aurizio, Mayor Katie Cole put in a request to see if citizens that live near the groundwater pollution in the northeastern part of the town had high cancer cluster. The study would include about 427 homes, but would also specifically research the citizens of two streets: Barbara Drive and Orchard Street. The residents who live on these streets have come to Cole at numerous meetings saying that they were experiencing many cases of cancer.

DuPont has announced that it will install vapor mitigation systems, which would involve a basement venting system that would be put in the affected homes. In addition to the venting system, O’Neil and D’Aurizio reports that DuPont removed soil from “dozens of homes bordering Acid Brook, a waterway that runs through DuPont’s site and into the adjoining neighborhood.” Along the backyard of this brook, toxic substances such as mercury and lead were discovered, which could potentially have led to these health effects.

Although DuPont had made these efforts to clean up the toxic waste from their former explosive factory, the damage is already done. Filtering the houses now will not cause the cancer to go away; these families must forever deal with the issues involved with cancer treatments. The citizens of this area had sued DuPont over the damage they had done to all of their lives. In 1997, “DuPont offered a $38.5-million settlement to hundreds of residents who claimed in a 1993 complaint that their health had been jeopardized by the surface contamination. Most settled for $70,000 to $80,000,” said reporters O’Neil and D’Aurizio. The biggest settlement was $271,000 for a child that was suffering from lead poisoning. The monetary compensation, however, will not be able to help the mental distress the citizens of Pompton Lakes were forced to live through.

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