Officials in a northern New Jersey town are collecting toenail clippings of residents to measure toxicity levels
, as they suspect thousands of residents could have been exposed to a poisonous metal known for its carcinogens.
Hexavalent chromium has spread underneath Garfield for the past three decades. About 3,600 individuals in 600 homes and condominiums in the town of about 30,000 could be at risk due to exposure to the metal used in industrial production, The Washington Post reported.
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To assess the extent of the leak, the Environmental Protection Agency will soon drill near the contaminated site, where thousands of pounds of the metal leaked from an EC Electroplating Co. tank in the early 1980s. The factory is surrounded by homes and apartments.
The EPA has also installed 40 monitoring wells to measure how far the metal has spread.
Concurrently, a group of scientists from New York University is working to assess how much chromium residents may have been exposed to.
The toenails of at least 250 non-smoking residents, aged 18 to 65, who have lived in a 3-mile radius of the spill for two or more years will be examined for traces of chromium, according to The Post.
Considering the slow rate at which toenails grow, researchers hope to determine how much metal has accumulated in residents' bodies over the past 18 months, said Judith Zelikoff, a researcher who is involved in the study.
"Our major goal is to try to relieve their fears," Zelikoff said. "With the economy, they can’t sell their homes. They don’t know if they got exposed."
City officials say the leak has not affected the city's drinking water, which is drawn from an external source. However, the EPA designated the immediate area around the spill a Superfund site in 2011, one of the nation’s most uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, The Post reported.
That year, officials advised residents to stay out of their basements to prevent potential chromium exposure. EPA officials removed chromium from EC Electroplating Co. and demolished the site last year, finding that some tanks had holes in them, potentially releasing even more chromium into the groundwater
, according to The Associated Press.
Large quantities of the harmful metal have been found in 14 homes in the town that have been cleaned up, while trace amounts were found in 30 to 40 homes. Testing continues, and a nearby school did not show elevated chromium levels.
Garfield City Manager Tom Duch said there is no higher incidence of cancer in the neighborhood than anywhere else in the city, though he feels there should be further scientific testing.
"I have some concerns," Duch told the Post. "There are residents who have come to meetings and said, 'This one died, that one died,' and I think it warrants further investigation."
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