New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

NYU School of Medicine uses toenail clippings for chemical exposure study


For a study of the extent of exposure to a toxic chemical leaked from a tank in a Garfield, N.J. factory 30 years ago, scientists have asked city residents to contribute their toenail clippings for analysis.

The study will be conducted by scientists from the NYU School of Medicine, who explained that the slow growth of toenails allows for analysis of substance buildup over long periods of time.

The chemical in question is hexavalent chromium, a type of metal used in industrial production and identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “well-established carcinogen.”

Judith Zelikoff, the community outreach director for the school’s department of environmental medicine, stated that she took the initiative to establish a partnership between the School of Medicine and the town of Garfield because of her familiarity with the area since growing up in nearby Patterson.

“We would like to help the people affected because many can’t move or sell their houses,” Zelikoff said. “While the Environmental Protection Agency has put efforts into analyzing the contamination in the soil and groundwater, we want to focus on the exposure and health effects on the residents.”

Zelikoff said she hopes NYU’s study will provide residents with anxiety relief and develop suggestions for behavioral modifications on how to avoid any lingering effects of the chemical exposure.

Residents who sign up for the study will be given a kit containing stainless steel toenail clippers, instructions on how to cut the toenails and an envelope for the clippings. Results will be provided several weeks after the clippings are studied.

Zelikoff said that since the approval of the study, numerous residents have shown enthusiasm by calling and volunteering to participate.

Deposits of hexavalent chromium have been present underneath Garfield since 1983, when approximately three tons of the chemical spilled from the local E.C. Electroplating plant. Over the past three decades, the chemical plume has put approximately 600 buildings and 3,600 residents in Garfield at risk by threatening to seep into basements of nearby houses and businesses.

In 2011, the EPA announced its decision to designate the Garfield neighborhood as a Superfund site, thereby declaring it one of the most hazardous locations in the country.

The EPA also announced in a press release last year its efforts to continue to decrease the effects of the exposure by establishing a network of groundwater monitoring wells to determine the extent of chromium contamination in the groundwater. The results would allow the EPA to develop a proposed plan for the cleanup of chromium-contaminated water.

The original E.C. Electroplating plant was recently demolished, which allowed the EPA to remove contaminated soil that was a likely source of water pollution.

Fay Lin is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected].

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  • N

    Nancy GilbertJul 24, 2021 at 4:51 am

    My father , Dr. Arthur Jacob Haller DDS was a participant in a long term research project involving nail clippings. He lived in Brooklyn and East Meadow NY all his life, was a WW2 veteran and had been participating for most of his life (post war war 2). Is there any way for me to find out what kind of study he was involved in? I ask only because I’m interested in knowing. My father has been deceased for over a decade but I remember him clipping his nails, placing them in an envelope and sending it to NYU.

    Thank you.
    Nancy Haller Gilbert

  • M

    Maria SliwaApr 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you for this important article. I live about five blocks from the contaminated site.