Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Chromium

Chromium is a metal element found in rock. A common form is called hexavalent chromium, used in manufacturing settings for textile dyeing, wood preservation, and metal plating. Through release and disposal of waste from these facilities, hexavalent chromium can end up in the surrounding water and soil. People can then be exposed to it through drinking contaminated water, breathing in contaminated particles, or skin contact with contaminated materials.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium is known to have many adverse health effects. When ingested, it can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers. When inhaled, it can cause breathing problems, nose ulcers, and asthma. When absorbed on the skin, it can cause skin ulcers and swelling. Hexavalent chromium exposure causes development defects in animals, but little is known about how it might impact children. The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have also determined that hexavalent chromium is known to cause cancer, in particular stomach and lung cancer.

Hexavalent chromium is one of many heavy metal contaminants found at Lane Plating Works, a metal plating factory turned Superfund site in southern Dallas, Texas. For over 90 years, the factory performed manual chromium and cadmium plating processes that involve dipping metal objects in multiple types of highly toxic chemical baths. After being investigated for worker safety violations and filing for bankruptcy, the owner of Lane Plating shut down the facility in 2015 without properly disposing of the plating chemicals. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA removed large volumes of plating wastes from the site, but found that soils, surface water, and groundwater had become contaminated. EPA tested for five heavy metal contaminants and found levels well above safety guidelines, in some cases four orders of magnitude (10,000 times) higher.

EPA testing also confirmed that the chemicals are spreading from the site, contaminating nearby wetlands, surface water, and neighborhoods. Lane Plating is located next to a bus stop on a busy road and there are daycares, schools, churches, and residential neighborhoods within half a mile of the property. Passersby can easily breathe in toxic dust and pick it up on their shoes and clothing. The wetlands and streams near the site lead to outdoor recreation areas and a high school sports field that floods with contaminated water when it rains.

South Dallas is predominantly Black, low-income, and already overburdened. Residents face food deserts, transit deserts, and housing insecurity on top of living near Superfund sites, toxic dumps and other environmental justice issues. Many have had enough of the government’s apathy around Lane Plating. CHEJ is working with a group of community members to bring residents together and demand a swift remediation for the site.

Learn about more toxics

Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

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