Jersey Journal (Jersey City, N.J.)
December 22, 2004


By Alexander Lane, Newhouse News Service

The state Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged
yesterday it may have allowed three corporations to leave behind
unsafe levels of deadly chromium at scores of sites in Hudson and
Essex counties.

A committee of 24 DEP scientists conducting an internal review found
that for years the department had let the companies use tests that
undercounted chromium waste, according to the scientists' draft report
released yesterday.

Furthermore, DEP site managers approved loose cleanup standards for
many sites -- saving the companies millions of dollars -- for which the
review committee could find no good scientific basis.

"Each case manager had his way of doing it, and it was very informal,"
said Eileen Murphy, director of the DEP's Division of Science,
Research & Technology and supervisor of the review. "That was a major
flaw on the department's part."

DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell said complaints by Jersey City
activists prompted the review.

The DEP will not likely force the companies to redo completed
cleanups, Murphy said. And the committee recommended that despite
lingering questions about chromium's toxicity, the basic cleanup
standards should not be changed for now.

Activists attacked both of those decisions. The Interfaith Community
Organization, a Jersey City group that has pushed for better chromium
cleanups for years, said its initial reaction was that DEP's
conclusions were "carefully crafted to preserve the status quo."

"Even where it recognizes gaps in the science or legitimate concerns,"
said Joe Morris of Interfaith, "it recommends punting and maintaining
the status quo instead of protecting the public health."

Hudson County's 189 chromium dump sites constitute one of the nation's
most vexing toxic-waste problems. They were left behind by three large
corporations that refined chromium ore in the region for decades to
make paint pigments, bumper plating, and other products.

Millions of tons of waste laced with deadly hexavalent chromium sit in
Kearny, Newark, Secaucus and especially Jersey City, near schools,
under "Gold Coast" condo developments, alongside rivers, and on ultra-
valuable real estate such as the site of the future Liberty National
championship golf course.

Campbell stressed that the report by the committee -- called the New
Jersey Chromium Workgroup -- would be sent out to eight external peer
reviewers. Their input, expected as early as mid-January, could change
the department's approach, Campbell said.

Murphy said scientists had found problems with much of the research
funded by the three companies -- Honeywell, Tierra Solutions and PPG

Copyright 2004