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Toenail clippings to measure toxic exposure in NJ

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NEW JERSEY (MYFOXNY.COM) -

So-called toenail kits are being distributed to residents in Garfield, N.J. The hope is that the nail clippings will help scientists determine whether toxins from an EPA Superfund site are making people sick.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium is what scientists from NYU's Department of Environmental Medicine will be looking for when they analyze the toenail samples, according to Professor Judith Zelikoff. Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen linked to lung and intestinal cancers.

The main culprit is the EC electroplating factory, which was the site of a major chemical spill in 1983. The plant was recently demolished by the EPA. But that has done little to quell the concerns of residents like Don Calderio who was born and raised in Garfield and lives across the street from the Superfund site.

A tell-tale sign of the toxin is yellow dust or crystals, which are left behind if a basement floods. They can be extremely harmful if inhaled.

In 2009 the EPA tested hundreds of homes in the plants vicinity and found 13 had elevated chromium levels in their basements, though Calderio's wasn't one of them.

While the latest state data shows no elevated cancer risk for Garfield, City Manager Tom Duch said people are still worried.

"People are concerned about whether or not they've been exposed," he said.

That is where the toenail tests come in. The team hopes to collect 250 samples.

"Toenail clippings are a very non invasive simple way of testing for chromium in the body," Zelikoff said.

The NYU researchers will be distributing e toenail kits for the next few weeks. If you are interested in participating you should contact them, but you must be a no smoker and a non diabetic. The hope is that the overall results will be complete later this year.

Contact Bernadette.Rexford@nyumc.org

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