Environmental contamination, including high levels of lead and arsenic, have been documented in residential areas in and around South Carteret, New Jersey, where U.S. Metals Refining Company operated a sprawling copper smelter operation until it was forced to close for public health reasons in 1986.
For generations, the smelter’s smokestack on Middlesex Avenue was a landmark and a source of jobs. But alarming reports continue to surface confirming that the company has been placing the pursuit of profits over the health and welfare of Carteret residents. Even after a judge described the company’s contamination controls as “inadequate, defective and often non-functional” in 2009, the company has not done enough to protect residents from unsafe levels of lead, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals.
The dangers associated with lead and arsenic are well-known. Children are particularly at risk for lead exposure, which has been linked to reductions in mental and physical development. Arsenic has been linked to higher rates of skin cancer, bladder cancer and lung cancer, as well as heart disease.
A recent settlement between the Borough of Carteret and U.S. Metals parent company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold was short-sighted and failed to set aside enough money to deal with the contamination, let alone public health concerns. As a result, hundreds of residents in and around South Carteret continue to be at risk.
It’s time for U.S. Metals and Freeport-McMoRan to take responsibility for the public health crisis they have created.
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