Disposal Fail: Chromium-Contaminated Barrels Languished on Site Owned by Jersey City

At 824 Garfield Ave., the Jersey City Incinerator Authority stores salt for roads in the winter. But new tests show toxic materials have been stored there for several years as well.

Along the Eastern end of the site, which is at the corner of Carteret Avenue, there sat three barrels until yesterday. Environmental advocates, who had for years seen the containers, stored across the street from PPG Industries’ chromium-contaminated site, recently noticed that one of the barrels was punctured and speculated that it too was contaminated.

“We knew when we saw yellowish crystals around the first hole, which usually indicate pretty high levels of hexavalent chromium,” Joe Morris, director of the chromium cleanup project for the Interfaith Community Organization (ICO), says.

Morris and GRACO president Felicia Collis, accompanied by this reporter, visited the site on June 12 to take samples from the open container (see video below). Morris sent them off to a lab, which used Method 3060/7196, a testing process approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) but which Morris — and many scientists — maintains undercounts contamination.

The results show hexavalent chromium present in the soil sample at a rate of 606 parts per million (ppm). That’s 30 times higher than the DEP’s current standard of 20 ppm, and more than 600 times higher than standards recently recommended by the DEP’s own scientists.

Especially troubling is that it was — until yesterday — sitting on city-owned property, spilling out of a rusty barrel.

“That drum’s in bad shape — it has holes in it,” Morris says. “There’s nothing to stop material from leaking out of the drum.”

Collis expresses bewilderment at Jersey City’s lack of due diligence at the site. She says the “green” image the administration tries so hard to promote stands in stark contrast to it allowing these drums stand with punctures on property it owns.

“Jersey City fails to be deliberate about lessening chromium exposure by refraining from cleaning up and fencing its own JCIA property,” Collis says. “Taking care of the homefront sets a precedent for local and outside polluters to do the same.”

Morris adds that it fits the pattern of neglect that PPG, the city and the state have had for the area.

“It’s a symbol of the city and the DEP’s inattention to this issue, and PPG’s contempt for people in that neighborhood,” Morris says. He adds that he’s unsure about how long the containers have been at the site, but says he has seen them there “for several years.”

Collis and Morris hand-delivered a letter to PPG’s Jersey City office yesterday asking them to expeditiously remove the contaminants. By Thursday evening, PPG’s Jon Holt told Collis that the drums were removed from the JCIA site.

Jersey City spokeperson Jennifer Morrill says the city did not know about the drums until yesterday, when they were informed by PPG. She says they have a hunch about where the drums came from, but aren’t 100 percent sure.

“While we believe these drums are the consequence of soil testing conducted by a prospective developer, the Jersey City Police Department is conducting an investigation into the matter,” Morrill says.

The city’s response leaves Morris with one question: What took them so long to find these drums, which he’s seen on site for years?

“You would think the city would inventory its properties, and at least do the minimum to protect public health,” he says. “It’s telling that it took a group of citizens with very few resources to figure out that there were barrels of chromium-contaminated soil sitting on a city-owned lot.”

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.