The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that 16 homes in Garfield, N.J. have unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, a dangerous carcinogen.
"I thought it was copper," said homeowner Jimmy Campistrous, 78, who saw the green splotches years ago on the wall of his basement workshop.
But what it is, according to the EPA, is a deadly cancer-causing toxin left over from a spill at a nearby electroplating firm back in 1983.
About 3600 gallons of solvent laced with the chromium got into the groundwater, and has been moving under a neighborhood of some 700 homes ever since.
Robert Laiosa saw his sister in law die at age 56 of ovarian cancer, then her husband, also of cancer.
"And then the girl upstairs had breast cancer. She was 41 years old," Laiosa worried.
He added, "Next door, the guy was in his 70's, he died of cancer too."
The EPA is not linking any of those deaths to the hexavalent chromium, but it is fully aware it is dealing with a dangerous substance that leaches through basement walls during heavy rains, crystallizes, and then, if disturbed, can enter the body through the air.
And that worries Campistrous.
"Sometimes I couldn't breathe, and the guy [doctor] at the hospital says 'I can't find nothing wrong with you,'" Campistrous lamented.
"I feel a lot better about it now that I did a year and a half ago," said Garfield City Manager Tom Duch.
He was relieved that of 160 homes tested by the EPA, just 16 were found with unsafe levels of the chromium.
The EPA has determined that90 more homes are not vulnerable to this infiltration problem, but says it will check hundreds of other homes as well to see if they need testing.