The meeting was conducted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Mayor Jerramiah Healy's office.
Chromium ore was used in factories for more than 100 years to make paint pigments and other metal products. But a form of chromium known as hexavalent causes cancer and numerous respiratory problems if inhaled, as well as skin rashes on direct contact.
When Monday's nearly five-hour meeting was finished, some members of the public still had more questions than answers. The scientific presentations and discussions from state health officials failed to convince activists that strong enough measures are being taken to clean up and cap cancer-causing chromium at New Jersey's 200 polluted sites.
Additional controversy occurred when the Jersey City-based activist group Interfaith Community Organization (ICO) called their own press conference a half hour earlier to criticize the DEP's response to the pollution.
The group will hold its own public presentations on the issue next month, and the DEP will also hold another information session (see sidebar).
Among the 75 Jersey City contaminated sites being cleaned or in the process of being cleaned of chromium are the 34-acre Honeywell site on Route 440 (a cleanup that is the result of a lawsuit by ICO against Honeywell), and three sites - a 1.5-acre site on Aetna Street behind the new Jersey City Medical Center, a 6.2-acre site between Marin Boulevard and Aetna Street near the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County, and a 14-acre site in Liberty State Park.
The DEP is currently cleaning up or testing those sites for chromium levels.
Jersey City is also in the process of filing lawsuits against the Honeywell corporation, based in Morristown, and PPG Industries in Pittsburgh, Pa. to recoup tax revenues lost as the result of contaminated properties across Jersey City not being developed due to their condition.Questions, questions, questions
DEP Chairman Bradley Campbell and his agency had been mired some controversy even before the meeting began, as days earlier, DEP scientist and Hudson County resident Zoe Kelman had issued a 53-page report criticizing DEP management for interfering with an earlier report done by Kelman and other scientists in the state's 24-member Chromium Workgroup.
The Chromium Workgroup was a contingent of 24 state and federal scientists, including Kelman, studying the chromium problem in New Jersey. Their resulting report criticized the DEP's standards for capping contaminated sites (which means putting topsoil and other ingredients on top) and cleaning them up.
After the DEP got ahold of the report, Kelman claimed that the DEP was trying to water down the report and maintain the status quo, putting residents in jeopardy.
Kelman's report was then cited by the ICO and the Sierra Club as an example of Campbell not being proactive enough in chromium cleanup and in protecting the public's health.
Campbell did not comment at length on Kelman's comments, saying only that he understood the scientists' concerns but did not agree with them.
He gave an update of the DEP cleanup efforts in Jersey City, reiterating that the agency was testing and/or cleaning up the three main sites: Aetna Street behind the new Jersey City Medical Center, the site between Marin Boulevard and Aetna Street near the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County, and a 14-acre site in Liberty State Park.
Campbell also announced a health study of Jersey City that would take place next year with the assistance of Rutgers University. Questions from the public
Then members of the public asked questions. Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson questioned DEP policy in allowing owners of contaminated sites to choose what kind of cleanup method they would prefer.
Leaving the meeting, Richardson said that she believed the DEP officials "didn't know what they were taking about."
Kearny firefighter Capt. Jack Pettigrew wanted to know about the long-term health effects on first responders fighting brush fires on contaminated sites, and if native plants on the site were holders of the chromium.
As the meeting grew longer, many grew restless with frustration over what they believed was the DEP's inability to address a serious health hazard.
Kabili Tayari, city employee and president of the Jersey City branch of the NAACP, implored the DEP to do a better of informing the public of future public meetings and also to hurry its health study and make it as comprehensive as possible, especially in terms of Jersey City. They were not impressed
The Interfaith Community Organization has fought to get contaminated sites in Jersey City and in Hudson County cleaned up for the past 15 years. In that time, they forced Honeywell International to start the cleanup of its Route 440 site in 2004.
Also during that time, they also lost some members of their organization, who died from cancer that they believe to be caused by exposure to chromium.
Members of the ICO such as Joe Morris, Rev. Willard Ashley and Jersey City resident Ellen Wright spoke along with Kelly McNicholas of the Sierra Club and other activists concerned about chromium.
They announced that they will hold their own public meeting on Dec. 1 in Jersey City where they will bring in outside scientific experts when they announce their own health study.
The ICO also proposed their three-pronged plan to address chromium exposure that will go beyond DEP efforts: environmental screening and data analysis, in-depth environmental screening, and in-depth biological screening and follow-up.
Morris, Ashley and McNicholas all debated Campbell and his staff over the DEP not strengthening cleanup standards. The city's intentions
City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis also made a presentation about the city's lawsuit and an update on contaminated sites in Jersey City. In May, DEP officials, state Attorney General Peter Harvey, and Mayor Healy announced the city's lawsuit against the alleged corporate polluters, and also the DEP lawsuit against Honeywell, PPG and California-based Occidental Petroleum to clean up their chromium contaminated sites in Hudson County.
Matsikoudis also outlined the city's goals in addressing the issue of chromium contamination in Jersey City: Protect the health and safety of Jersey City residents, find out the health impact on residents from chromium contamination to figure out treatment and compensation, clean up the contaminated sites, and to obtain revenues lost as the result of contaminated properties.
He also mentioned that legal action is being taken to force polluters to clean up any pollution found on city-owned properties next to Route 440 Honeywell site where the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, the city's Municipal Utilities Authority, and the city's Public Works Department presently operate.
For a related story from Weehawken, click on www.weehawkenreporter.com. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com Sidebar Two more meetings on chromium
* On Dec. 1 at 7 p.m, there will be a public meeting conducted by the Interfaith Community Organization at CME Calvary Church on Oak Street in Jersey City. For more information, call (201) 792 3003.
* On Dec 5, the DEP will hold another meeting or community information session at City Hall, 280 Grove St., from 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, contact Mindy Mumford at (609) 777-1976 or (800) 253-5647.