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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
May 19, 2010

Poonam Alaigh, MD, MSHCPM, FACP
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications, DHSS
(609) 984-7160
Elizabeth Totman, EPA
(212) 637-3662


 
Report Finds Hexavalent Chromium Poses a Public Health Risk to a Garfield Neighborhood


 

Hexavalent chromium-contaminated dust in the basements of 16 of 160 homes that were initially sampled near the E.C. Electroplating Company in Garfield poses a public health risk because residents living in the homes can be exposed to harmful levels of the toxic metal found in area groundwater, according to a health consultation report that will be presented at a community meeting tomorrow evening.

 

The community meeting begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 20 at Garfield City Hall, 111 Outwater Lane, Garfield.

 

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) prepared the health consultation report based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing in more than 160 homes with water issues such as basement flooding, leaks through cracks or seepage through basement walls. EPA has identified nearly 290 homes—including the 160—for investigation because of groundwater infiltration. To date, EPA has inspected more than 250 homes, and that work continues.

 

The EPA has been investigating the extent of hexavalent chromium contamination in Garfield homes and in the environment, and has had several meetings with residents, including going door-to-door to answer questions. The EPA requested the health consultation.

 

The report encourages residents of homes with hexavalent chromium—the toxic form of chromium--to limit their exposure by taking the following steps recommended by the EPA:

 

  • Limit your basement use as much as possible
  • If you do use the basement, remove your shoes before re-entering the rest of the house and clean the bottom of the shoes with a wet wipe or paper towel
  • After using the basement, wash your hands
  • If you are cleaning in the basement, use wet cleaning techniques such as mopping
  • Frequently wash toys and items that come in contact with a child's mouth.

 

“We are committed to working with the community, answering their questions and providing additional health information, and we will support EPA’s and ATSDR’s efforts to address the chromium contamination in Garfield,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh.

 

Hexavalent chromium can contaminate a basement after impacted groundwater enters the basement and then evaporates, leaving contaminated residue behind.  According to the report, residents can be exposed after touching contaminated surfaces, and then swallowing dust on their hands or food. 

 

Exposure to hexavalent chromium may be associated with lung and other cancers as well as health conditions such as irritation to the lining of the nose, asthma and other respiratory problems, skin rashes, anemia, and irritation and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.

 

“If anyone has health concerns, they should be evaluated by their family physician,” said Dr. Christina Tan, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner of the Division of Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health.  “The department environmental health staff is available to consult with medical providers if needed.”

 

E.C. Electroplating company, 125 Clark St., used a chromium plating solution, containing hexavalent chromium, as part of their electroplating operations.  In 1983, more than 3,600 gallons of this chromium plating solution was discharged from a company storage tank, contaminating the groundwater that flows under the impacted neighborhood. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the lead agency with respect to the actual E.C. Electroplating site. In late 2002, DEP requested EPA’s involvement in the investigation of contaminated ground water associated with EC Electroplating. In addition to currently being the lead agency in that investigation, EPA is also the lead in trying to identify other potential sources of chromium in the area. EPA is also focusing on the inspection and sampling of homes.

 

            Last year, EPA conducted more extensive testing of dust, sump water and sump floor sediment from the basements of homes. DHSS began data analysis last September and that analysis continues.

           

The report warns this health hazard could become even more urgent if conditions in the home change.  For example, if basements become newly or repeatedly contaminated through water infiltration, or if residents start using their basements more frequently, exposure to hexavalent chromium could further increase.

 

As a follow-up to the health consultation, DHSS will analyze cancer incidence in the area, focusing on cancers that may be associated with hexavalent chromium exposure, including lung, stomach, oral and esophageal cancer.  That report should be completed by the fall.

 

EPA recently completed a study of additional properties with water infiltration issues and is currently awaiting sample results. Once data results are finalized, the EPA will share the results with Garfield residents. The Agency has also begun to clean impacted basements and has completed a preliminary investigation to understand the extent of contamination in the groundwater.

 

The following are some of the report’s additional findings and recommendations:

 

  • The low level of hexavalent chromium found in one of five dust samples collected at Roosevelt Elementary School #7 is not expected to pose a health risk.  The low level was detected in a dust wipe sample from the floor underneath a book case.
  • The report concurs with EPA's plan to further investigate whether the groundwater beneath the school is contaminated.
  • Residents have not been exposed to hexavalent chromium through drinking water; there is no evidence of drinking water wells in the area. 
  • Skin contact with contaminated sump water does not appear to pose a health risk, but residents should take steps to limit their exposure by minimizing contact with contaminated water.

 

DHSS completed an initial health consultation in September 2007.  Because the environmental data at the time was limited, DHSS recommended EPA conduct additional testing so DHSS could better assess the potential public health threat to the community.  EPA began additional testing in February 2009.  In September 2009, DHSS received the results of sampling in more than 160 residences and prepared the latest health consultation, which was reviewed by ATSDR, EPA and the DEP.

 

The full report and Citizen’s Guide are available on the DHSS web site at: http://www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/garfield_chromium.shtml

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What can residents do to protect themselves and reduce their risks of exposure?

You can take the following steps to limit your exposure to chromium:

·         Limit your basement use as much as possible

·         If you do use the basement, remove your shoes before re-entering the rest of the house and clean the bottom of the shoes with a wet wipe or paper towel

·         After using the basement, wash your hands

·         If you are cleaning in the basement, use wet cleaning techniques such as mopping

·         Frequently wash toys and items that come in contact with a child's mouth

 

If I'm concerned about my health, what can I do?

If you have health concerns, you should be evaluated by your physician.  The Department's experts are available to consult with physicians if needed.

 

Is there a test I can get to find out if I've been exposed to chromium?

Your physician may discuss with you the blood and urine tests that are available.  However, these tests are used in cases where someone has had a short-term, but high-level toxic exposure to chromium in the workplace. Testing is not recommended in cases of low-level chromium exposures in a community setting.  If you have further questions, talk to your doctor about your plan of care.

 

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