For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
EPA's Jackson Has Checkered Chromium Record
New Jersey Tenure Marked by Stifling Health Warnings on Deadly Substance
WASHINGTON - Three days before Christmas, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson promised
swift action on the presence of hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6, the
substance made famous by Erin Brockovich in California) in drinking
water after meeting with 10 U.S. Senators. During her tenure as the
top environmental official in New Jersey, however, Jackson stalled or
minimized health warnings on chromium-6, including those from her own
staff, according to materials posted today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Despite being seemingly
taken by surprise by the Environmental Working Group findings of
chromium in drinking water, from her very first until her last days as
Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP) from 2005 to 2008, Jackson wrestled with increasingly dire
scientific findings that raised big questions about how protective her
department's policies were, including -
- A DEP risk
assessment that found current New Jersey standards for chromium 6 in
soil are more than 200 times laxer than needed to protect public health.
While this assessment was about soil, it pointed to risks from
ingestion in water and recommended review of stomach cancer rates near
contaminated sites. That assessment has yet to be translated into
- A DEP scientist-whistleblower who revealed state
sampling data showing that individual cancer risks from continued
presence of airborne chromium may be as high as 1 in 10 at some sites
the state has declared to be clean. Nonetheless, Commissioner Jackson
lifted the moratorium on chromium cleanups, thus allowing more
inadequate site remediations to proceed;
- A 2008 DEP health
assessment that found heightened risks of lung cancer from exposure to
airborne chromium in the Jersey suburbs of the New York metropolitan
- Newspaper exposés documenting that scientific fraud
by consultants and improper industry influence led to relaxed DEP
cleanup standards for chromium, saving corporate polluters hundreds of
millions of dollars in reduced cleanup costs.
these developments were met with substantive reforms, however. "For
years Lisa Jackson has reacted to blaring chromium alarms as if each one
was news to her," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to
cities like Garfield. "Thousands of people in New Jersey remain as
vulnerable to chromium risks as they ever were." Compounding the problem
was that Jackson and her top deputies took actions to cut off the flow
of new scientific information rather than addressing underlying risks,
such as -
- Abolishing the DEP Division of Science &
Research which produced the chromium risk assessments and replacing it
with an advisory body with industry representation;
- Removing the
DEP whistleblower, Zoe Kelman, from chromium-related assignments and
denying her meaningful work. Kelman eventually resigned in disgust; and
"gag" orders prohibiting scientists from disclosing agency data to any
outside parties "until it is ready for public distribution."
in water is a concern but it is also of concern in the air and soil.
We need a comprehensive national response to chromium in all media,"
added Ruch. "Our fear is that we will see the New Jersey pattern of
promises but no follow-through repeated at EPA."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.