Episcopal Church
June 1, 2005


By Marie Panton

"When injustices are practiced on the land, it's evidence that our
faith is practicing injustice." -- The Rev. Geoff Curtiss

When a federal appeals court ruled in February that Honeywell
Industries must move forward with a $400 million cleanup of a
chromium-contaminated site in Hudson County, N.J., it marked a major
victory for local religious leaders.

For more than 16 years, the Interfaith Community Organization has
fought to force Honeywell, PPG Industries and Tierra Solutions to
clean up about 200 sites containing several million tons of chromium
waste in Hudson County. That included filing a 1995 lawsuit demanding
Honeywell clean up its largest chromium site. After the court's
ruling, the cleanup began in March.

"This is about what determined and creative citizens can accomplish
using a whole toolbox of public skills," said Joe Morris, ICO
organizer since 1991. Based in approximately 15 religious
congregations in Jersey City and Hoboken, ICO is the local affiliate
of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a nationwide citizens' organizing

Previously, Morris noted, the ICO successfully had pushed for cleanup
at 35 other sites. The most recent cleanup involves excavating 1.5
million tons of waste including hexavalent chromium, an Environmental
Protection Agency Class A carcinogen, or one known to cause cancer in

For years, ICO members said, major manufacturers in Hudson County
processed chromite ore into chromate chemicals, which are used in
paints, chrome plating, leather tanning and other industrial processes
and products. The production process left millions of tons of
chromate chemical waste, they said. Those mountains of waste later
became fill at schools, homes, playgrounds and other Hudson County
building sites, predominately in densely populated Jersey City, home
mostly to low-income African Americans, they said.

Focus on health and justice

The cleanup efforts began because the ICO needed clean land for
residential development, said the Rev. Geoff Curtiss, rector of All
Saints' Episcopal Church, Hoboken. But the larger issue quickly became
a focus on health.

"It was found that chromium has been put in many different sections of
Hudson County," said Curtiss, "so we believe that there are
significant correlations between chromium and the high cancer rate in
the areas."

It also was a justice issue, he said, noting that "these poorer
neighborhoods are where the contaminations were found... "If the
contaminations were found in Morristown, the corporate headquarters of
Honeywell, also a wealthy city, the chromium would have been cleaned
up immediately," he said.

"Walter Brueggeman has reminded us of the deep connection that land
and the practice of our faith has to each other... when the land is
polluted, it's an expression that our faith is polluted," Curtiss
said. "When injustices are practiced on the land, it's evidence that
our faith is practicing injustice."

"We cannot have segregated communities; we must have balanced
communities," he said. "We cannot have poor people living on poor land
that produces poor health care, while some people can retreat to
suburban communities because they are wealthy enough to get away from
our polluted rivers [and] land that are part of our environment."ICO
is pursuing the cleanups "because no one else will," noted Morris. The
court's judgment in the February ruling said the state Department of
Environmental Protection permitted 20 years of "footdragging" by
Honeywell over the current cleanup.

"We think that government at all levels have forgotten how to hold
polluters accountable," said Morris. "We were doing the job that the
DEP just would not do." "This lawsuit does not say we have finished,"
he added. "We have been pushing for health studies for the last 15
years," and that work will continue, he said.