Officials have recently discovered that chromium from a 1983 electroplating plant spill in Garfield has traveled in the water table and is rising up into some basements. Garfield Mayor Frank Calandriello told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he blames the Department of Environmental Protection for not doing a thorough cleanup when the spill first occurred.
Calandriello said proper procedures were followed by the city in 1983. “Everything was reported to the state by the responsible party and also by the city,” he said. “And you’d think that since then that the state was monitoring it and have a cleanup that was acceptable, especially when it’s affecting people’s lives and properties.”
But the DEP didn’t do a thorough job after about 3,000 gallons of the liquid spilled, according to Calandriello. “The DEP took about 30 percent and had that cleaned up. At a certain point, they just let it go,” he said.
In 2003, Calandriello said it was discovered that one of the city’s firehouses was contaminated with chromium detected in the basement. Chromium is potentially cancer causing, though Calandriello said a study that was conducted “came back as being inconclusive because they didn’t see a high level or spike of cancer cases due to this type of chromium.”
Because of the potential spread, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gotten involved, which Calandriello described as very positive. “We’ve had our congressional leaders help us and we are now a Superfund site,” he said. “From an official and resident’s perspective, it is good news because now we’re finally seeing the start of an effective cleanup, assuming that the money keeps coming to Garfield.”
The original scope of the spill and danger was about 600 homes or 3,700 people, Calandriello said, which represented 10 percent of the city’s population. Now the EPA is exploring areas outside the original footprint to see if more people are affected.
Residents are obviously worried about their health, but there is also a secondary concern, according to Calandriello. “Beyond the health issue, we’re a working class community, a blue collar community. People have put every nickel together to buy their homes,” he said. “Someday they may want to retire or pass it on to their children and being in this area, who knows what the values may be someday.”
While Calandriello said he’s happy the EPA is stepping up, he blames the DEP for the current situation. “The DEP, in my opinion, totally did not do their job responsibly. They should’ve kept the cleanup, kept the pressure on the responsible party,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here today if they would’ve done their job.”