NEWARK (February 3, 2009) – After 25 years of negligence, the largest remaining Jersey City site riddled with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium is the focus of a citizen’s lawsuit filed today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Interfaith Community Organization (ICO). The suit calls for PPG Industries, a Pittsburgh-based corporation responsible for the toxic contamination, to clean up the 16.6-acre site and surrounding contaminated areas located in a densely populated area along Garfield Avenue.
NRDC and ICO filed the lawsuit today in federal district court in Newark under the citizens’ suit provisions of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent ICO win that forced Honeywell International Corporation to commit $400 million to clean up a 34-acre Jersey City site, where the company’s predecessors dumped the same toxic chromium waste.
“After 25 years of stalling, it’s time for PPG to take responsibility and clean up this toxic mess,” said Nancy Marks, NRDC senior attorney. “For a quarter of a century, PPG has knowingly endangered the health of countless residents, commuters and school children, who pass by this contaminated site every day. The Garfield Avenue community has been poisoned by indifference. This willful negligence must end.”
PPG first began investigating the chromium contamination in 1982. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began enforcement efforts at the PPG complex soon thereafter, and in 1990 reached an agreement requiring PPG to clean up dozens of sites the DEP believed they had contaminated. Those clean-up efforts should have been completed by the late 1990s, but PPG has yet to engage in the chromium removal project and the DEP has failed to enforce a clean-up.
“We’ve tried everything else,” said Ellen Wright, a leader of ICO who has lived in the area of the former PPG complex for 43 years. “We’ve asked every governor and every Department of Environmental Protection commissioner since 1989 to get this site cleaned up. We’ve asked PPG Industries directly to clean up the wasteland they created and protect the health of the people who live and work in this community. But so far none of the people with the power to clean up this site have been able to feel the same sense of urgency that I feel living blocks away from it. So ICO and NRDC are asking the federal court to get the job done.”
A byproduct of the chromate chemical production facility housed on the site 50 years ago, hexavalent chromium is toxic to humans and animals. PPG itself sampled soil and groundwater and reported elevated levels – some more than 2,500 times the state clean-up standard – of the toxic chemical throughout the site. Tests also reveal that chromium contamination has migrated off the site to surrounding areas, including inside homes, and schools in the densely populated African American and Latino community. It will continue to spread until the site is cleaned up.
“This is a community like any other, where people live, work and raise families,” Al Huang, NRDC environmental justice director. “Polluters should not be allowed to treat it like a toxic waste dump. Instead PPG should begin an immediate clean-up, which will not only protect people’s health, but also create jobs in this burdened neighborhood.”
Exposure to this type of chromium has been found, in human and animal studies, to cause cancer, respiratory problems, kidney and liver damage, chromium ulcers, and nasal septum perforations, as well as pregnancy and delivery complications for women. A study found that Jersey City residents living closer to contaminated sites have significantly higher incidence of lung cancer than those who live further away.
“Hexavalent chromium is an extremely dangerous chemical and should not be allowed anywhere near a residential neighborhood,” said Jennifer Sass, NRDC senior scientist. “The fact that many people in this community have been exposed to it for their entire lives is reckless and unnecessary. PPG must do the right thing and completely, promptly and permanently remove this toxic chemical from the community.”