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They Call It ‘Garbagefield’: New Jersey Residents Fear Proposed Fed Budget Cuts Would Hinder Superfund Cleanup

What to Know

  • The community's underground water has been contaminated with a known carcinogen since a 1983 chemical spill
  • The EPA has inspected and cleared about 600 homes in the path of the chemical plume, but more than 100 have never been checked
  • While the city manager says there's been no known measurable health impact, he and residents say it's a constant concern

A toxic wasteland in New Jersey that has caused contaminated groundwater to seep into nearby residents' basements for years may not be cleaned up as quickly as anticipated.

The proposed federal budget slashes money set aside for so-called Superfund sites like the neighborhood around the former E.C. electroplating plant in Garfield, a small city of about 30,000. Back in 1983, a spill dumped thousands of gallons of Hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, into the soil. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has demolished the factory as part a near $40 million plan to clean the area up, but the full clean-up could take years, and residents say they're concerned proposed budget cuts could leave them vulnerable for even longer. 

"We are in trouble here," said Don Calderio, who has owned a home across the street from the site for decades. 

Calderio's home is one of about 600 in the path of the chemical plume. While his house and hundreds of others have been inspected and deemed safe by the EPA, more than 100 homes have never been checked. 

A spokesman for the EPA's regional office, Elias Rodriguez, estimates $37 million would be needed to complete the investigation as well as remediate the soil that's been capped and paved over for about five years. 

In 2012, NBC 4 New York spoke with a then-25-year-old woman who lived in Garfield and blamed her recently diagnosed brain tumor on after-effects of the chromium spill. She said her sister Alicia was also 25 when she died of a brain tumor in 2011. 

No one at the time definitively linked the sisters' illnesses to the spill, though, and city manager Thomas Duch says, "As far as we can tell right now, there has not been a measurable health impact."

"But," he added, "I worry about that all the time."

Some families say they're also tired of living in a town with a bad reputation. 

"It has the nickname Garbagefield," Natalie Wellington said as she played in a park with her younger siblings. "I think it's not safe for children to be living in that kind of environment." 

A spokesperson for the EPA's Washington office said the agency was evaluating different approaches should a more austere federal budget be approved. 

"While many in Washington insist on greater spending, EPA is focused on greater value and results," the spokesperson said. "The EPA will partner with the states to ensure a thoughtful approach is used to maximize every dollar to protect our air, land and water."

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