|EPA map of chromium pollution site|
By Larissa Ledo
Residents in Garfield, New Jersey, live in fear hexavalent chromium is infiltrating their basements, putting themselves and their family in danger, and that their house could have lost its property value.
About 30 years ago, three tons of cancer causing chromium leaked from a tank at the E.C. Electroplating plant on Clark Street. At the time, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection stopped the cleanup after only 30 percent of it had been recovered, despite de evidence that is was traveling throughout the neighborhood. The state officials came to the conclusion that since there were no wells for drinking water in the area then there was no threat to the public health.
This story was revealed by The Record, according to archives at northjersey.com, after reporters spent months investigating the spill and related documents. It was found that engineers had reported that the chromium was migrating from the E.C. plant towards the Passaic River. They did some investigation but not well enough, as the test wells were dug far too shallow to reach the bulk of chromium. Four months later chromium was found in E.C.’s basement after heavy rain and a decade later in a firehouse a mile away. The city closed the firehouse as a health danger to firefighters. Yet no testing was ever done. And lastly, the DEP went years without checking on the site when the company, which had closed, was supposed to file regular reports with the DEP.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, which took over the case, has now spent millions to clean up basements, demolish the plant, and remove 5,700 tons of chromium-contaminated oil, 1,150 tons of concrete and 6,100 gallons of polluted water.
E.C. Electroplating was opened by Edward Calderio in 1935. Workers did a very dangerous task of chemically plating copper and chromium onto machine parts. The company, which was to be passed down through generations, became a successful small business. The type of chromium chosen at E.C was hexavalent chromium which is cheaper but more toxic.
At 4:30 pm on Dec. 14, 1983, a tank was closed outside of the factory with capacity for about 7,280 gallons of chromium. Around 2 am, it was discovered that the tank had leaked half of its content. An inspection found that a flange had broken causing it to leak into the ground for hours. E.C. did the right thing and alerted the city officials and the DEP.
The DEP failed to gauge the extent of contamination, approve a cleanup plan, and make sure the work was done, according to The Record.
The US Environmental Protection Agency then took over the site –several city blocks stretching from by Van Winkle Avenue to the north, Monroe Street to the south, Sherman Place to the east, and the Passaic Rive to the west – and declared it a Superfund site in 2011. Since then is was discovered that the contamination had traveled under the Passaic River into the city of Passaic, but deep enough, EPA said, to keep its residents out of risk.
A pilot study using vegetable oil to remove the cancer causing chromium was made however, it produced mixed results and scientists were unsure of how to clean up the contaminated groundwater. The study plan was to pump vegetable oil into he contaminated plume with the idea that it would generate enough bacteria to break down hexavalent chromium to less toxic trivalent chromium. Another solution would be to pump the contaminated groundwater to the surface and treat it there.
However, once the EPA selects a plan Garfield will most likely go on a national waiting list for money to do the work, The Record reported. Garfield is an “orphan site” which means the company is bankrupt and the government had to pay for the cleanup. The EPA panel determines which orphan sites receives money based on risk to human health and the environment.
Larissa Ledo, a junior at Ramapo College of New Jersey, is studying for a BA in Communications Arts: Journalism. After graduation, she hopes to be working for a newspaper.