Huge Chromium Spill 30 Years Ago Could Still Be Impacting Thousands Today

GARFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — In one New Jersey town, there is a call for toenails. And it’s no laughing matter.

Scientists want nail clippings to test the exposure of residents to a carcinogen dumped decades ago, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported Monday.

For the last three years, Antionette Marocco has lived across the street from a Superfund clean-up site.

When asked what she will say if asked for her toenail clippings, Marocco said, “Sure, go ahead. Go for it.”

In one section of Garfield near an empty lot, residents will be asked to help researchers who want toenail clippings to see how much hexavalent chromium residue they’ve been exposed to. There’s a school a block away where Maria Cosentino teaches.

Cosentino said she, too, would fork over her toenail clippings.

Several thousand residents could be at risk, including those who live near an old electroplating factory that had a huge chromium spill 30 years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency found the toxin in ground water and basements.

It’s the same chromium depicted in the Julia Roberts movie “Erin Brockovich,” about a spill in California. It can cause breathing problems and cancer.

“I didn’t know about this when I moved here,” said Marjorie Torres, a young mother who lives across the street.

Several years ago some soil was removed, but the job was never completed. Residents were recently notified that test drilling will begin to see if, and how much, of the toxin remains.

Health officials said drinking water is not contaminated because it comes from an outside source, but chromium dust is still a concern and scientists believe that testing nails is essential.

Why toenails? They are slow-growing, and that’s where metals like chromium can be concentrated in the body, officials said.

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