Environmental Protection Agency scientists are planning to check several hundred toenail clippings of residents in Garfield, New Jersey and environs for signs of exposure to hexavalent chromium (Cr-6). The metal gained notoriety as a result of California environmental activist Erin Brockovich accusing water-borne chromium-6 of causing cancer and a variety of other ailments in Hinkley, CA, in the 1990 s. Her activity was dramatized by the movie starring Julia Roberts. In spite of activists accusations, however, a study released in 2010 by the California Cancer Registrydemonstrated that cancer rates were actually lower than expected, totally undermining the validity of her case.
In 1983, the EC Electroplating Inc. factory was found to have leaked about 3600 gallons of a solution containing chromium-6 into surrounding groundwater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which declared it a Superfund cleanup site. Concentrations in the groundwater were recently found to be very high. However, Judith Zelikoff, a professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine points out that just because chromium was detected in groundwater, does not mean that people were exposed Garfield s drinking water comes from other sources. Instead, she says the purpose of this study is to relieve the anxiety of the residents in Garfield.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross says, This company may have violated regulations by inappropriately dumping this solution and although we are not 100 percent sure of the specifics, we do believe that companies should follow the law in disposing of waste products. However, there is no evidence that environmental exposure to chromium-6 increases the risk of any disease. The only link to cancer risk that has been shown occurs when the substance is inhaled over a long-term, such as among chrome-plate workers, and even that increase in lung cancer risk is very small.