The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

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


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
    area; and
  • Newspaper exposes 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.

None of
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
  • Issuing
    "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."


View the 12/22/10 Lisa Jackson statement on chromium

Peruse delayed 2009 DEP chromium risk assessment

Look at Jackson lifting chromium site work moratorium

Examine 2008 airborne chromium risk warning

Revisit DEP chromium whistleblower isolated by Jackson

Read unanswered PEER letter to Jackson on DEP whistleblower

See Jackson chromium-inspired gag order

Review industry influence on chromium limits in New Jersey

Trace New Jersey chromium policy impasse

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.