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Toxic-Waste Woes in New Jersey

Area officials say chromium waste is a health hazard in homes and in workplaces across state

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NEW Jersey has embarked on a multimillion-dollar cleanup to remove the hazardous remains of chromium manufacturing operations that state officials say threaten the health of thousands of state residents. For 26 years - from the early 1950s to 1976 - more than 3 million tons of chromium slag from three now-closed refineries were dumped in vacant lots, or sold as fill material at building sites in the densely populated communities of Jersey City, Kearny, and Secaucus.

Over the last several years, state officials have found the hexavalent chromium in 120 different sites - in homes, in factories, in parks, in trucking depots, in an elementary school, and on vacant lots. In 1984, the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Cancer Assessment Group rated hexavalent chromium among the 13 most dangerous carcinogens.

Hexavalent chromium is a by-product of chrome processing, used in the manufacture of paints, wood preservatives, stainless steel, and in the tanning of leather.

``The fact that the chromium slag is located at so many scattered sites in such a densely populated area makes it one of the most serious toxic waste situations in the nation today,'' says Thomas Burke, former assistant commissioner in the New Jersey Department of Health. ``Most other toxic waste sites across New Jersey and the rest of the country are isolated in rural dumps and lagoons. We have never seen anything of this magnitude before.''

Details on New Jersey's plan to clean up the chromium sites were revealed on April 17 at a press conference held by New Jersey Gov. James Florio. He said Maxus Energy of Dallas, one of the three companies that operated a chromium processing plant, has agreed to pay $51.5 million for cleanup and a $2.5 million fine. Maxus, Governor Florio said, will clean up some 40 sites it polluted within a five-year period.

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