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Toenails Measure Toxic Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium in New Jersey By Researchers

By Staff Writer | March 24, 2013 04:50 PM EDT

The residents in a New Jersey town will be asked for their toenail clippings to researchers that are looking to check if a nearby Superfund site has exposed them to toxins.

ABC reports that hexavalent chromium, a metal used in industrial production described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a "well-established carcinogen" has been spreading under the town of Garfield, New Jersey.

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Scientists and New York University are trying to determine the level of exposure for the residents as the deposits of hexavalent chromium have been sitting under Garfield for the past three decades. There are about 600 structures and 3,600 residents at risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency will begin drilling on the spill site to determine the amount of chromium that has accumulated under the town, and will attempt to remove contaminated soil and other materials.

Researchers are collecting the toenail from the city's residents to measure the traces of chromium.

Judith Zelikoff, a professor of environmental medicine at New York University, said scientists need residents' toenails because of their slow growth, making it feasible to find out how much chromium accumulated inside the human body over the past 18 months.

"Our major goal is to try to relieve their fears," Zelikoff told the news agency. "With the economy, they can't sell their homes. They don't know if they got exposed."

"We're trying to find out the extent of the plume," said Rich Puvogel, a project manager with the EPA.

"A hierarchy of controls, including elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment, should be followed to control workplace exposures," CDC says.

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