Chromium Litigation Win in NJ Means "More Jobs and Less Cancer"

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Sometimes you simply need to go to court to protect the health and vitality of your community.

Case in point: citizens now have a stricter, enforceable agreement for the clean up of chromium contamination in a densely populated area of Jersey City – only 2.5 miles as the crow flies from downtown Manhattan.

Last year, NRDC and two community groups – Interfaith Community Organization  (ICO) and GRACO – filed a federal lawsuit to compel PPG Industries (a Pittsburgh-based corporation) – to clean up massive quantities of hexavalent chromium that continues to threaten public health and the environment in this New Jersey neighborhood.   Hexavalent chromium is a potent carcinogen and was the toxic villain in the film Erin Brockovich.

For more than two decades, officials in New Jersey failed to enforce their orders for PPG to clean up the toxic mess.  In short, from the community’s viewpoint, the politics failed.

But the good news is that this week, the citizen plaintiffs and PPG filed a settlement agreement in federal court in New Jersey that will set a new five-year schedule to remove the chromium contamination. We are hopeful that the judge will approve the settlement, which the groups reached after federal courts twice rejected efforts by PPG to throw out the case.

These past court rulings also allowed the plaintiffs to secure a more stringent cleanup level than state officials had previously ordered for this site and others, including another Jersey City site owned by the Honeywell International.   The complex litigation was spearheaded by my talented NRDC colleague Nancy Marks and Richard Webster, an attorney with Public Justice.

Yesterday, I attended a very moving celebratory event on a warehouse rooftop overlooking the former production site. The gathering was organized by Joe Morris, an inspiring grassroots organizer with ICO and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and a catalyst for the chromium litigation.  Representatives of ICO and GRACO, clergy leaders (including Bishop Mark Beckwith from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark),  long-time neighborhood residents, and other supporters gathered to give thanks for what this federal environmental lawsuit and settlement – and not the State of New Jersey – was able to ultimately secure for this community.


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One of the highlights of the event were remarks by the Reverend Dr. Willard Ashley, Pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church and a Co-Chair of ICO.

He asked the multi-denomination crowd to be a little Baptist for a few minutes and say “Amen” after each sentence he read. 

A few outakes:

 “We will have gotten more than 1.5 million tons of carcinogens removed from the environment in the most densely populated county of the most densely populated state in America.”


“Smart growth means urban growth. It means people coming back to the cities and building homes and apartments on some of the thousands of sites in New Jersey that were left behind by the PPGs and the Honeywells.”


“But smart growth without cleanup is toxic growth.”

Rev. Ashley ended with a line he repeated throughout his homily:

“Our victory is about more jobs and less cancer in Jersey City.”

To this, I can only say…Amen.

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