Spring Cleaning: Tips to Remove and Reduce Toxic Dust
Posted by Jessica Meeder on Mar 08, 2012 in Legal Library
We usually think of pollution as something that’s outside our homes. But here’s a startling fact: indoor air pollution can be as much as 100 times greater than outdoor pollution. Those of us who have chosen to live in older homes, or to live in homes in urban or industrial areas, are particularly likely to have indoor pollution resulting from toxic dust inside our homes.
My work on our firm’s Jersey City, New Jersey pollution case has caused me to take a second look at my own cleaning habits. Our firm represents residents and property owners in Jersey City, where Honeywell International, Inc. and PPG industries for decades dumped cancer-causing hexavalent chromium. Even after these companies undertook some efforts to remove and clean up the contamination, a 2009 study found that hexavalent chromium dust was found inside every single house sampled in Jersey City.
As a result of these alarming findings, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) provided the public with general household cleaning guidelines that can help reduce and remove chromium dust from homes. The guidelines are extremely useful for anyone who is concerned that his or her home might contain toxic dust. In my case, I live in a home that was built around 1900 and which, undoubtedly, contained lead paint at some point. While the house has been largely renovated and now contains replacement vinyl windows and casings, I still follow the general dust reduction and removal guidelines listed below so that I can assure my family is exposed to as little toxic dust as possible.
These guidelines include those provided by NJDEP and are useful to anyone who might live near a contaminated area (such as residents of Jersey City), or who might have contaminants (such as lead paint) inside their homes:
- Use doormats at all entrances (to trap and keep out outdoor dust).
- Require everyone to remove their shoes upon entering the house.
- Use a HEPA (high energy particle air) filter vacuum cleaner. Do not use a common household vacuum cleaner as it could spread the toxic dust into the air. Simply sweeping it is not an effective way of reducing toxic dust.
- Make sure to vacuum the tops and undersides of all area rugs.
- Consider steam cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting.
- Wet mop all floor surfaces and wet wipe all windowsills at least once a week.
- Clean one room at a time. Always clean the highest surfaces first and then work your way to the floor.
While we would probably all like to think of our homes as refuges from pollution, the truth is that everything that’s outside – air, soil, dust and allergens – eventually works its way inside and can stay trapped unless we take action to remove it. And for some of us, the materials inside in our homes can themselves be a source of pollution.
A class action lawsuit seeking cancer screening and compensation for Jersey City residents who may have been exposed to cancer-causing hexavalent chromium continues to move forward in U.S. District Court in Newark, NJ.
The lawsuit was filed May 17, 2010, in New Jersey State Court, Hudson County, and claims Honeywell and PPG Industries dumped and failed to clean up hexavalent chromium waste at sites across Jersey City beginning in the early 1900s.
According to the lawsuit, defendants dumped more than one million tons of chromium in Jersey City. The waste, referred to as chrome ore processing residue, or COPR, is a by-product of the defendants’ Jersey City chromium chemical production operations of the last century, and much of it remains today, according to the suit.
Health and environmental regulators previously assured Jersey City residents that the chromium in their neighborhoods did not pose a cancer risk. However, recent government studies have:
- Identified various sites in Jersey City contaminated by hexavalent chromium.
- Shown a 17% increase in lung cancer among certain Jersey City residents living closest to the sites.
- Shown that the chromium dust is still found in homes across selected areas of Jersey City.
“This is a story of large companies putting profits over people in the worst way. It’s a story of two companies that dumped massive quantities of toxic waste in the middle of a city, let it remain there for decades, delayed cleanups and put so many lives at risk.”
The suit demands that defendants pay for periodic medical screenings for the early detection of cancer in exposed populations and pay damages to landowners whose properties have been devalued. The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages for defendants’ knowing and deliberate conduct in disposing and failing to properly remediate hexavalent chromium contamination in Jersey City.