Toenails to Measure Toxic Exposure of Residents in NJ Town

Residents in a quiet neighborhood in Garfield, N.J., will have to use their toenails to determine if a known carcinogen has contaminated the ground beneath their feet.

Officials have revealed that large quantity of hexavalent chromium, which is listed as a known carcinogen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could have potentially contaminated the ground underneath more 3,000 residents occupying around 600 structures.

To determine the extent of the contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency is readying a team of scientists to collect and analyze soil samples from varying depths in the area.

The agency will also attempt to determine how to remove the harmful substance should the contamination be widespread. Scientist will try to determine how much chromium residents may have been exposed to by collecting the toenails of those residing in the area. This is due to the fact that toenails grow slow, allowing scientists to determine how much chromium has accumulated in the body over the past year and a half.

"Our major goal is to try to relieve their fears," Judith Zelikoff, a professor of environmental medicine at New York University who is involved in the project, told the Associated Press. "With the economy, they can't sell their homes. They don't know if they got exposed."

Health officials have stated that the toxic substance has not made its way into residents' water supply because they get water from an outside source. It is not clear if local groundwater in and around the area has been contaminated.

It has been reported that the extent of the contamination dates back decades. An area nearly a mile wide and quarter mile long has been found to be contaminated with the toxic metal, according to EPA officials.

The origin of the chromium centers on an underground tank once used by an EC Electroplating Co. factory to store the chemical; that tank was compromised, allowing the substance to slowly escape over time. Contamination had been found near the Passaic River, causing the EPA to begin digging nearly fifty monitoring wells around the city to monitor the progression of the toxic plume.

 Scientists are hoping the tests will show which areas are safe and which need to be addressed, but they have added that there is no need for undue panic, as this is only a precaution to see which areas could pose the highest danger.