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”.
This 1 part-per-million finding raises serious questions about the current New Jersey soil clean-up remediation standard for residential areas of 240 ppm (6100 ppm non-residential). That means that families living in areas meeting state remediation standards may still be at significant risk.
New Jersey has many chromium-contaminated sites from old industrial operations. Hexavalent chromium is the same substance against which Erin Brockovich campaigned in California.
The new risk assessment came to light because of a state public records request filed by Zoe Kelman, a former NJDEP chemical engineer, who resigned in disgust after her warnings about chromium migrating off completed sites and likely coming into direct contact with residents and workers were ignored.
Last week, NJDEP closed public comment on a controversial chromium cleanup settlement for Jersey City sites owned by PPG Industries. This new risk assessment was completed on April 8th but was not given to the community and was released to Ms. Kelman after the April 15th comment deadline passed.
“Withholding this critical public health information shows stunning official insensitivity to the residents of Jersey City and other affected communities,” said Kelman, who was removed from chromium-related issues and denied meaningful work by then-DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson after she voiced concerns. “NJDEP has repeatedly shown that it is incapable of addressing needed remedies for chromium contamination in an honest and straightforward manner.”
This latest assessment only looked at the ingestion danger from chromium from dust or soil. A study released last fall looked at the inhalation danger and found greatly heightened risks of lung cancer from exposure to airborne chromium in the Jersey suburbs of the New York metropolitan area.
“Contrary to state standards, these studies show there is virtually no safe exposure level for chromium,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that California is now preparing to adopt its own chromium standards. “This assessment validates the alarms sounded by Zoe Kelman. Yet, despite repeated wake-up calls on chromium dangers, New Jersey continues on snooze control.”