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Study says no cancer increase near Superfund site

A study has shown that there has been no significant increase in cancer among residents living in a Superfund site that has groundwater contaminated with chromium. The analysis done by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDMSS) showed from the time of 1993 to 2008, the number of cases of cancers associated with exposure to the toxic form of chromium is similar to what would be expected based on statewide rates. "This is reassuring news for the community," said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd. "The department's review found no unusual trends or significant increases in cancer, but we will continue to monitor because it can take decades for cancer to develop." The Health Consultation, requested by the community, looked at the number of lung, stomach, oral and esophageal cancer cases among 3,600 residents between 1993 and 2008 and compared it with the number of cases of those cancers that would have been expected over a 16-year period in the affected neighborhood. Although the department analysis found the incidence of stomach and lung cancers in males was higher than expected, the difference was statistically insignificant. Both cancers in males were also elevated before a 1983 spill of chromium plating solution. The analysis began with 1993 because that was a decade after thousands of gallons of chromium plating solution was discharged from a tank at E. C. Electroplating Co., contaminating the groundwater that flows under 600 homes surrounding the now closed plant. In June 1993, hexavalent chromium-contaminated groundwater and crystals were discovered in Garfield Fire House 3, which was subsequently taken out of service. The E.C. Electroplating site is located in a mixed residential and commercial area of Garfield. In December 1983, approximately 3,640 gallons of chromium plating solution (chromic acid) containing about 5,400 pounds of chromium was discharged from a partially below ground storage tank, contaminating groundwater beneath the site. Wells were installed to monitor groundwater and partially recover some of the discharged product. In June 1993, chromium-contaminated groundwater and crystals were discovered in the nearby Garfield Fire House 3, which was subsequently taken out of service. Groundwater sampling indicated maximum concentrations of hexavalent chromium as high as 1,490,000 micrograms per liter, according to a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection report in 2002. The groundwater results prompted additional investigation, revealing chromium-contaminated groundwater within the basement sumps of several residences and commercial properties in the immediate vicinity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working with the community for several years on testing and remediation. Last month, the EPA added the Garfield Groundwater Contamination Site to its Superfund National Priorities List. In May 2010, the Department and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a health warning to residents near the plant after EPA testing in 16 of 160 homes with basement flooding, leaking or other water issues found dust contaminated with hexavalent chromium. Exposure to hexavalent chromium may be associated with lung and other cancers as well as health conditions such as irritation to the lining of the nose, asthma and other respiratory problems, skin rashes, anemia, and irritation and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine. NJDHSS and ATSDR concluded based on the study that the incidence of cancers potentially related to the exposure of hexavalent chromium in the Garfield contamination area is similar to what would be expected based on state-wide cancer rates. The NJDHSS and the ATSDR plan to continue doing other studies and surveillance of chromium-related cancers in Garfield's contamination area because of the long period that cancers sometimes take to develop. They also plan on working with community representatives to determine the most appropriate health education materials and outreach strategies to inform the public.

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