Washington, DC — Lisa Jackson and other New Jersey officials knew about dramatically higher danger levels for chromium in the soil back in 2007, according to e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite this knowledge, Jackson who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, decided to ignore those findings in taking a series of actions which left the public exposed to dangerous chromium levels.
The “Risk Assessment for Hexavalent Chromium” performed for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was finalized on April 8, 2009 but was first made available for agency review in early 2007. In a May 17, 2007 e-mail Jackson writes:
“The impt question is what the [new data] mean for soils? What would 220 ppm [parts-per-million] be in light of these results? Please advise. Lisa”
Jackson was informed that the result would be a much “more stringent soil clean-up number” estimated to be “between 2 and 20 ppm” – vastly tighter than the current standard espoused by Jackson. In fact, the final recommended carcinogenicity level in the risk assessment was 1 ppm.
Zoe Kelman, a DEP scientist who had served on the agency’s Chromium Working Group, warned Jackson a month earlier, on April 13, 2007, that –
“…the study showed toxic effects in every organ throughout the body. Tissue distribution sample showed the chromium concentrations increased with increased exposure concentration and duration of exposure. What I find most disturbing is that the scientific literature already contained most of this information…NJDEP chose to ignore [these] studies to the detriment of the public. The decades of delay and equivocation have unnecessarily increased the body burden of toxic chromium in Hudson County residents.”
Rather than act, Jackson continued to equivocate:
“I’ve been thinking about the chrome issue. I’d like a briefing…There are too many things going on that I don’t feel on top of.”
Jackson and DEP then proceeded to act as if the new data were non-existent:
- In February of that year, Jackson had lifted the DEP moratorium on chromium clean-ups claiming that “sound science” supported clean-up criteria which the new data found would be dangerous. When presented with the new data, Jackson did not re-impose the moratorium;
- In September 2008, Jackson re-affirmed the 240 ppm clean-up standard even though state officials knew this standards was more than 200 times laxer than needed to protect public health; and
- In late 2008, DEP approved a settlement with PPG Industries for clean-up levels at the old, unsafe levels.
“For years, public safety assurances on chromium clean-ups issued by state officials, starting with Ms. Jackson, have been knowingly false,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that DEP has still yet to post the new chromium risk assessment on its website. “New Jersey can no longer bury its head in the sand. For the sake of its citizens, it must finally conduct complete clean-ups of deadly chromium.”