Title: How Almost Six Million Cubic Feet of Radium-Enriched Soil Silently Poisoned the Residents of Glen Ridge, New Jersey for over 60 Years
Author Biography: I am a senior mechanical engineering student at NJIT who grew up right near where the cleanup took place. I remember seeing huge dumptrucks hauling tons of soil to and from the park for years and my parents had our house tested for radon gas prior to moving in. This site, as something literally close to home, as well as being a location where I played a lot as a child, gives me a special interest as to what factors were associated with the deposit and removal of this radioactive soil.
Project Site Description: In the 1920s, on the border of Glen Ridge and Orange, NJ, the US Radium Company operated a factory where radium paint was applied to clock dials. Radium byproducts made their way into the soil surrounding the factory, which was then used to fill in the ground, as well as in cement for foundations and sidewalks. This radioactive refuse covered 130 acres, which today is mostly residential properties and a public park. In the 1980s, the state identified dangerous amounts of radon gas in homes, and excessive amounts of gamma radiation both inside and outside. The EPA established the area (along with its sister site in Montclair/West Orange) a superfund site, and cleanup went on from 1990 to 2004. Firstly, why was this radium-enriched soil used for anything? The case of the “Radium Girls” had already faced trial and shown the public the deadly effects that radium exposure can have on the human body. Why was this not acknowledged as dangerous, and does land value represent a possible culpability and acknowledgement of danger? How did this problem get recognized in the 1980s and what were health concerns from it that people in the area were exposed to? The US Radium Company was not the only clock face painter in the United States, and not the only one to run into legal trouble over girls at the factories becoming ill. Likely there are more situations where dangerous levels of radium made their way into soil in areas that could harm people; how did other sites differ and how might have the two sites on the borders of wealthier (white) communities received different treatment?
Keywords: Radium, Radon, Radioactivity, Glen Ridge, Radium Girls, Carteret Park, US Radium Company