Newark Star-Ledger
December 22, 2004


But agency is unlikely to order new cleanups in Hudson, Essex

By Alexander Lane

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

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 and 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, which came after a Star-Ledger report
in March detailed many of the same problems the scientific committee

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.

Hexavalent chromium, one of several forms, causes cancer and numerous
respiratory problems if inhaled and skin rashes on direct contact.
Workers in the chromium plants were left with rotting nostrils and
yellowed bones from breathing in the substance; the concentrations at
which it is toxic in the wider environment are disputed.

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 suggestions, expected as early as mid-January, could
change the department's approach, Campbell said.

"We're by no means done with respect to chrome," Campbell said. "This
is just the first stage of the process."

The reviewers found DEP case managers approved site-specific cleanup
standards -- the sort used at most cleanups -- that were not based on
consistent scientific models. From now on, Murphy said, teams of three
case managers will approve site-specific standards.

The state also was allowing the companies to use a method of testing
for chromium that was not certified by the EPA, the committee found.

"It was underestimating the amount of hexavalent chromium in the
sample," Murphy said. From now on, the companies will be required to
use an EPA-certified method, she said.

Important questions about chromium's toxicity remain unanswered, the
scientists found. Some literature suggests it may cause cancer by
ingestion, and invade the air in homes by seeping through basement
walls in deadly, invisible concentrations, for example. But there were
not enough data to strengthen regulations based on such suspicions,
Campbell said.

Interfaith argued that when in doubt, the DEP should opt for the most
precautionary, protective measures possible.

The department will track future research carefully, and may even fund
it, Murphy said. She said the scientists had found problems with much
of the research funded by the three companies -- Honeywell, Tierra
Solutions and PPG Industries.

"They would do some statistical analyses and report part of the
statistics," Murphy said. "They would only report the part that was
favorable to them, and they would leave out the rest."

The Star-Ledger report in March detailed a lavishly funded, multi-
decade effort by the companies and others around the world -- which
worked together, calling themselves the Chrome Coalition -- to seed
the scientific literature on chromium with information downplaying its

The DEP is making certain that the eight peer reviewers chosen to
review the scientists' report do not have conflicts of interest,
Murphy said. Mark Robson, associate professor and director of the
Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of
Medicine and Dentistry, will oversee the peer review, Murphy said.

Spokesmen for Honeywell, Tierra Solutions and PPG Industries said the
companies were still reviewing the report and had no immediate comment
on it.

Alexander Lane covers the environment. He can be reached at or (973) 392-1790.

Copyright 2004 Newark Star-Ledger