March 26, 2013
Toenail Clippings To Be Tested For Hexavalent Chromium
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Three decades after thousands of pounds of a cancer-causing agent accidentally leaked from a tank in a Garfield, New Jersey factory, researchers plan to measure the impact of the incident on the city´s residents in a most unusual way — by analyzing their toenail clippings.
According to Sheila M. Eldred of Discovery News, scientists from New York University (NYU) are planning to gather toenail clippings from the Bergen County city´s populace in order to test for accumulation of the toxic carcinogen.
The NYU researchers will be able to tell how much of the substance has been built up over the past 18 months due to the slow-growing nature of the protein-based covering.
“The risk of contamination comes from a 1983 leak where thousands of pounds of hexavalent chromium seeped out of a tank at a factory surrounded by houses and apartment buildings,” explained ABC News reporter Christina Ng. “Scientists say only 30 percent of the leak was cleaned up, and 10 years later chromium was found in area basements and a firehouse.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Ng that the underground plume of the substance (a metal typically used for industrial production purposes) is approximately three-fourths of a mile wide and slightly less than one mile long.
NYU School of Medicine professor and research scientist Judith Zelikoff added that the region they are concerned about involves 600 homes and businesses, and that more than 3,700 people could be affected.
“Residents of the area are being given kits that include a stainless steel nail clipper (cheap nail clippers may contain traces of chromium), a plastic bag for the clippings, nail polish remover, alcohol swabs, instructions and an envelope for the clippings. The results will take about five weeks,” the ABC News reporter said.
“Samples are being collected from people ages 18 to 65 who are non-smokers and do not take chromium supplements. The people must have been residents of Garfield for at least two years,” she added.
The three-decade old lead originated at a tank at the EC Electroplating Company, a factory which Katie Zezima of the Associated Press (AP) reports was “surrounded on all sides by houses and apartments.”
New Jersey officials started cleaning up the spill, but stopped after two years of work, the wire service reporter explained. Then, in 1993, chromium was detected at a now defunct firehouse, and then later in people´s homes.
The EPA dubbed the location a “Superfund” site — essentially declaring it one of the most toxic uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country — back in 2011. They also warned residents to remain out of their basements in order to prevent possible exposure to the carcinogen.
Chromium was removed from the building and then demolished last year, Zezima said, but EPA officials discovered the presence of tanks that had holes in them. That could have caused the metal to leak into the groundwater, though officials report that the city´s drinking water supply has not yet been affected.
There are, however, concerns that “people could inhale chromium dust that has been found in basements where groundwater has leached in,” Zezima said. “High quantities of the metal have been found in 14 homes that have since been cleaned up. Trace amounts were found in 30 to 40 homes. Testing continues, and a nearby school did not show elevated chromium levels.”