How a Small New Jersey Town became a Dump Site for Tons of Radioactive Soil

I (Gabriel Weir) grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and lived around and frequently played at a park where tons of radioactive soil were deposited a century ago.

In the early 1900s, the US Radium Company operated a factory in Orange, NJ, that put luminous radium paint on watch and clock faces. This factory is also infamous for the radiation poisoning of the women who worked there, who were told to lick their radium-infused paintbrushes and received large doses of radiation. The refuse from this radium paint was tossed into the soil in the surrounding area (which became a park), and was used in cement for house foundations and sidewalks. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the EPA designated the site a Superfund Site and began the process of digging up the radioactive soil and removing and replacing it. Because of this soil and its presence in the surrounding area, however, there seems to be an increased risk of lung cancer, a side effect of radon gas poisoning. There is a second site, as well, that sits at the border of Montclair and West Orange. I want to discuss why it was that the radium soil wound up in soil and houses despite the litigation action taken by the women who received radium poisoning all the way back in the 1920s, and how the locations of these dump sites (ie. Glen Ridge and Montclair), may correlate with cleanup efforts as compared to other radioactive dump sites across the country (as per gross income levels). Radium and radon gas exposure is very dangerous, and because it can cause cancer (especially of the lungs), it poses a significant health risk to anyone breathing it in continuously. I want to understand why this site was placed where it was, if people knew that it had the propensity to be dangerous well into the future, and whether there are other radium/ radioactive waste sites with different fates given the income level of the areas where sites were remediated by the EPA.

keywords: Glen Ridge, Radium, Carteret Park, Montclair, Radium Girls, US Radium Company

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