Zoe Kelman was a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection chemical engineer who served as a member of the state’s official Chromium Workgroup. NJ has a serious problem with chromium (the Erin Brockovich chemical). For example, sampling data show that individual cancer risks from continued presence of airborne chromium exposure to chromium may be as high as 1 in 10 at some sites the state has declared to be clean.
Zoe filed a report with the DEP Commissioner showing that harmful chromium is migrating off completed (“remediated”) sites and likely coming into direct contact with residents and workers. But the Workgroup failed to consider the work of scientific experts or to examine whether state chromium cleanup standards and “caps” are adequately protective.
She came to PEER to blow the whistle on the state’s inaction. She told us:
“In one of the many workgroup meetings in which I participated, a question was asked of staff members that unexpectedly touched a nerve: ‘Would you live beside one of the chromium sites that has been cleaned up using current DEP standards?’ This co-worker, who had approved many of the cleanups using these criteria, gave what seemed to be a reluctant but honest answer: ‘Probably not.’ Based on the extensive studies and data that I reviewed as part of this workgroup and afterwards, I would have emphatically answered ‘NO’ to that question. I would not expose my family to avoidable and serious health risks by living or working on or near a chromium waste site that was remediated under DEP’s current criteria.”
The basic problem with DEP’s approach is that it relies on the polluter to decide what type of incomplete “cap” “clean-up” is appropriate, without allowing the community to be made aware of or consider whether more protective alternatives, including permanent remedies, are appropriate. Legislation has stripped NJDEP of the power to order a responsible company to conduct a “feasibility study” to examine cleanup options; to conduct public hearings on those options; or to order permanent remedies that provide reliable health protections.
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