Garfield Superfund site cancer-rate study released

TRENTON – A study of cancer rates at a N.J. Superfund site has concluded there are no statistically higher rates than would be found at other locations in the state.

The study of the groundwater contamination site in Garfield concluded “that the incidence of cancers potentially related to exposure to hexavalent chromium, in the population residing in the neighborhood above the Garfield Chromium Groundwater Contamination Area, is similar to what would be expected based on state-wide cancer rates.”

The study of the Bergen County site covered 16 years, from 1993-2008, and was done by the state Department of Health and Senior Services in cooperation with the Atlanta, Ga.-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Health Assessment and Consultation.

The Environmental Protection Agency added the site to the Superfund list last month.

The state Health department and the Disease Registry “concluded that people could be exposed to harmful levels of hexavalent chromium by accidentally swallowing contaminated dusts in residences where groundwater infiltration had occurred. A Public Health Advisory by ATSDR in September 2010 recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) take short-term and long-term steps to prevent exposure.”

The area in question includes about 600 homes and businesses in the city. A party responsible for the contamination has not been identified, but there was a chromium spill in 1983 at an electroplating plant,  EPA said.

The EPA said chromium has been linked to cancer and nervous system damage. The EPA said groundwater contaminated with chromium has seeped into the basements of homes and businesses.

According to the cancer rate study, the incidences of lung and stomach cancer were slightly higher than expected among males but lower among females.

“Although the incidence of stomach cancer and lung cancer in males during the primary analysis period was elevated, incidence was also elevated in the years before site-related exposure or the effects of that exposure could have occurred,” the study stated.

However, the study also pointed out that given that the latency period of cancer can range from years to decades, the study may have been conducted too recently.

City officials still were reading the just-released study and could not comment immediately.

Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club said such studies can be flawed when they compare cancer rates in one area of New Jersey to the rates statewide since New Jersey has the highest cancer rates in the nation.

“There are two really bad things for the people in Garfield,’’ he said. “Chromium, when wet, turns into its most deadly form: hexavalent. And Garfield is in an area that floods.”

However, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said the study “is reassuring news for the community.”

“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,” she said in a release.

The study 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.

The analysis began with 1993 because that was a decade after thousands of gallons of chromium plating solution was discharged from a tank, the Health Department said.


Garfield Superfund site cancer-rate study released