September 19, 2008

EPA Starting Chromium Survey


GARFIELD - The federal government will begin a door-to-door survey Saturday of 614 homes and businesses that are potentially contaminated with chromium, a cancer-causing chemical they fear could be seeping into basements from polluted groundwater.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency will visit nearly every basement from Sherman Place between Monroe Street and Van Winkle Avenue to the Passaic River over the next few months. They will begin Saturday and continue every weekday from 3 to 7 p.m., officials said Wednesday during two informational sessions at Garfield Middle School.

The EPA will ask residents and business owners a variety of questions, including whether their basements have ever flooded. The survey will help the EPA determine which properties need to be tested, said Melissa Dimas, an EPA spokeswoman.

Once the EPA reviews all the surveys, which could take up to three months, they will begin testing.

"You can actually see chromium in crystallized form, so we'll set up a time to come in, take the samples and get them to a lab immediately," Dimas said.

Basements that haven't had leaks will not be tested, said Michael Sivak, a risk assessor for the EPA.

"If water isn't getting into your basement, there's no way for chromium to get in, so you don't have to worry," Sivak told residents. He added that chromium forms into a "yellowish-orange or a greenish crystallized residue" after a leak.

Tests conducted last month at Roosevelt School 7 on Lincoln Place - in the boiler room and the lunchroom - came in below the EPA's acceptable levels, Sivak said.

Chromium contamination in the groundwater has long been a problem in Garfield, where industries that use harsh chemicals sit near residential zones. In 1983, 5,460 pounds of the substance leaked from a storage tank at E.C. Electroplating Inc. About 4,000 pounds were never recovered.

Residents who crowded into the middle school gymnasium Wednesday had concerns about health risks and property values. But their main frustration was that they were notified so long after the spill.

"Why has it taken 25 years?" said Jack Johannemann, who said his Grand Street home has a leaky basement. He lives diagonally across from Fire Company 3, which was closed in the 1990s after firefighters noticed greenish water seeping from the basement walls and tests revealed high levels of chromium.

Chromium, used for chrome plating, dyes, leather tanning and other applications, is considered a carcinogen. Ingested over a long period of time, it can cause upset stomachs, ulcers, kidney and liver damage and increase the risk of lung cancer.

"It's going to take months before they even start testing and that's ridiculous," said Alea Sanchez, of Maple Street. "I have three kids, two dogs and a husband, so of course I'm concerned."


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