By David Michaels
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1914)
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Lisa B. Jackson, Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has just issued a tough new standard for removing chromium 6 (a powerful lung carcinogen) from soil.
Three years ago, the same newspaper’s Alexander Lane wrote a series of articles (reprinted here and here) reporting how chromium companies Maxus Energy (formerly Diamond Shamrock), Honeywell (which took over Allied Chemical) and PPG Industries left massive soil contamination in Jersey City and Bayonne and then hired product defense consultants to convince the state government that chromium 6 was simply not so dangerous.
Before the industry’s scientists got involved, the old standard was 10 parts per million (ppm). But, with the product defense intervention, the NJDEP was convinced to set a much weaker clean-up level: 240 ppm. Now, at sites to be developed for housing or schools, the new maximum is 20 ppm.
How did the clean-up level go from 10 to 240 ppm? According to the Star-Ledger articles and NJDEP whistleblower Zoe Kelman:
These increases can be attributed in part to the studies funded primarily by one of the parties legally responsible for chromium waste in New Jersey (Maxus Energy). One of the scientists who conducted these studies, Dr. Dennis Paustenbach (formerly of ChemRisk now with Exponent Inc.), testified in a California lawsuit that his firm had received approximately $7.1 million from Maxus Energy for its work on New Jersey’s chromium criteria.
The previous NJDEP Commissioner issued a moratorium on approving new chromium cleanups in March 2004 after the Star-Ledger “documented how outside scientists hired by companies responsible for chromium pollution influenced state policymakers to drastically weaken pollution rules during the 1990s.” This week’s announcement ends that moratorium.
We have been following the scientific shenanigans around chromium 6 for quite some time (see here and here and here). Needless to say, this improvement in public health protection is unlikely to have occurred without the reporters at the Star-Ledger. We owe them a debt of thanks.
David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.