In mid-2009, several environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit
in Newark Federal District Court regarding "the largest remaining Jersey City site riddled with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium." The lawsuit calls for Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries, the main entity responsible for the contamination, to clean up and decontaminate the approximately 17-acre site and surrounding contaminated areas "located in a densely populated area along Garfield Avenue."
The chromium contamination is a byproduct of the chromate chemical production facility which operated on the site from 1924-1963. "Although Cr is an essential element
for humans, the hexavalent form is toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic." A 2008 federal study
"found that city residents living closer to chromium-contaminated sites have significantly higher incidents of lung cancer than those living farther away." The contaminant has been shown to not only cause cancer but also respiratory, liver and kidney damage. The hexavalent chromium is also toxic to animals.
The real problem is that hexavalent chromium "has a high solubility in soils and groundwater and, as a consequence, tends to be mobile in the environment." The possibility of the contaminant seeping into the water supply of a densely populated area (such as Jersey City) could prove disastrous. Already, "tests also reveal that chromium contamination has migrated off the site to surrounding areas, including inside homes, and schools in the densely populated African American and Latino community." Experts anticipate the contamination spreading "until the site is cleaned up."
However, the lawsuit and any following clean-up "had been on hold since last summer when the responsible party for cleaning up the 16.6-acre site along Garfield Avenue, PPG Industries, argued that a cleanup agreement it negotiated with the state and city barred the case." Fortunately, on March 29 a federal judge ruled that the lawsuit will be allowed to proceed.
The lawsuit claims that PPG has known of the contamination for over 25 years and is guilty of negligence. If that is true, the fact that PPG watched quietly as the surrounding area grew more and more populated can only be described as atrocious. One must also ask if the developers of the land surrounding the area are also guilty of negligence, especially if they knew about the contamination.
Now that the contamination is common, public knowledge, the city and the state should take action to make sure no new residents come in and are exposed until serious action has been taken regarding the clean-up. So, when I found out the site itself "is slated for 4,000 housing units and a new Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station," I was naturally disappointed.