29 Years After Toxic Spill, NJ Families Worried About Health

Chromium still in Garfield's underground water 29 years later

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In Garfield, N.J. residents are facing the reality of dangerous chemicals seeping into the ground from 30 years of toxic trouble, caused by a chemical spill at a plant in 1983. Now the federal government has stepped in. Andrew Siff reports. (Published Wednesday, Aug 1, 2012)

    When Jeannelly Rodriguez gets lunch ready for her six children, there is one guarantee each day: they'll be drinking bottled water.

    Her town of Garfield, N.J., spends millions of dollars purifying the tap water, but Rodriguez doesn't trust it. The community's underground water has been contaminated with a known carcinogen since a 1983 chemical spill that was never fully cleaned up. And although officials maintain the tap water is clean and safe, Rodriguez remains worried.

    "My concern is the kids are gonna get sick," she said.

    The city manager, Thomas Duch, said the tap water is clean and pure, but he understands her concern.

    The chemical that tumbled out of a storage container at E.C. Electroplating contained hexavalent chromium -- the kind the EPA has said causes cancer. No cancer cases in Garfield have been linked to the spill at this point, but health officials say more research is required.

    "The company immediately undertook steps to clean it up," said Dennis Krumholz, an attorney for the now-defunct E.C. Electroplating. But the scope of the spill was too large for the small manufacturer to contain. "They did the best they could," Krumholz said.

    Duch said the federal government eventually stepped in to properly help Garfield clean up the chromium spill. Cleanup is still ongoing, and is not expected to be done for years.

    Officials at New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection did not return calls seeking comment.

    Mariettina Picherri, who lives about a mile from the spill site, one of 600 homes and businesses in the path of the plume, said the situation is frightening in part because of its unpredictability.

    Picherri said her basement floods every time there's a heavy rain. And when that happens, "You don't know if anything underneath is coming up," she said.

    But some longtime neighbors say the chromium doesn't worry them.

    "I don't see why it should," said Julia Doci, who's lived on Willard Street, near the plant, for more than 70 years. "At my age? I'm 92."

    Dolci added that she does drink the tap water.

    "I'm thirsty," she said. "It tastes like water."

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