Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to site content




This Public Health Assessment analyzes the potential for adverse health effects as a result of contamination present at the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge (MWG) radium contamination site. The Montclair site consists of 100 acres in Montclair and West Orange Townships. The West Orange site consists of 20 acres solely in West Orange Township. The Glen Ridge site consists of 90 acres in the Townships of Glen Ridge and East Orange Townships. Two hundred thirty-six out of 747 homes which were screened in the three study areas are contaminated with radioactive material (i.e., radon-222, radium-226) resulting in above background levels of alpha and/or gamma radiation. Some homes in the Montclair site contain building materials contaminated with radium-226/thorium-230. Between 1915 and 1926, the U.S. Radium Corporation extracted and purified radium-226 from carnotite ore and then painted watch and instruments with luminous paint containing radium-226. The company employed women to do the painting on and off-site. The plant processed 1.5 to 2.0 tons of ore daily and large quantities of process wastes and tailings containing high levels of radioisotopes were dumped in rural areas which were subsequently developed. All of the communities use city water supplies.

The first Operable Unit (OU) for the MWG site addresses the removal of contaminated soil containing radium-226 or other uranium-238 decay products. The second OU will address contamination of the groundwater. In April 1985 the USEPA completed the draft RI/FS for the MWG sites. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prepared a Public Health Advisory for Montclair and Glen Ridge in December 1983. A Health Assessment was also conducted by the CDC for the MWG site in November 1986. Community concerns focused upon the public health impacts of radiation exposure, remediation of the site, and the impact to property values. The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) conducted an epidemiological study in 1988 for the MWG sites and found possible elevated lung cancer rates for white males.

The ATSDR and the NJDOH consider the MWG site to be a public health hazard in the past to residents of homes containing elevated radiation levels and to the residents of Glen Ridge who frequented Barrow's Field, and an indeterminate public health hazard in the past and the present for the residents of homes in the study areas that have not yet been screened for elevated radiation levels. Chronic exposure to excessive radon-222 concentrations may have occurred for up to 30 years via the inhalation route of exposure. Chronic exposure to radium-226/thorium-230 may have occurred for up to 30 years by the ingestion and/or dermal absorption pathways. The exposed population risks lung tissue damage and lung cancer via inhalation of excessive radon, and anemia and osteosarcomas via exposure to radium-226/thorium-230. The ATSDR and the NJDOH concur with the USEPA's plans to screen all of the houses in the study areas. ATSDR's Health Activities Recommendation Panel determined that the community health education being conducted by the U.S. EPA is appropriate and that a review of cancer health statistics for the study areas is indicated. The NJDOH conducted a public comment period for the Public Health Assessment for the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge Radium Contamination site from September 23, 1994 to October 28, 1994.



Several areas in Essex County have been found to contain above background levels of radiation resulting from the presence of radon-222, polonium-218, thorium-230, radium-226. These areas are noncontiguous and consequently have been separated into three discrete study areas to facilitate investigations. They comprise the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge (MWG) National Priority List site (Appendix 1), located in Essex County, New Jersey.

The Montclair study area consists of approximately 100 acres located in the Townships of Montclair and West Orange (Appendix 2). There are mainly one family homes in this study area with a few two-family homes. There are no parks and no commercial properties except for two gas stations (8).

The West Orange study area consists of about 20 acres in the Township of West Orange (Appendix 3). In this study area are only one-family homes, a bus company, and a garden condominium complex. There are no parks or other commercial businesses (8).

The Glen Ridge study area consists of approximately 90 acres in the Townships of Glen Ridge and East Orange (Appendix 4). There are only one-family houses and no commercial properties in this study area. Additionally, there is an actively used park used for recreational purposes (7).

Between 1915 and 1926, the U.S. Radium Corporation (previously called the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation) extracted and purified radium-226 from carnotite ore (K2(UO2)2(VO4)23H2O) and then painted watch and instrument dials, gun sights, and survey equipment with luminous paint containing radium-226. The company employed more than 100 workers, the majority of them women who painted the equipment.

The plant was able to process between 1.5 to 2.0 tons of ore daily. Thus, large quantities of process wastes and tailings containing radioisotopes were temporarily stored on-site near the railroad tracks and later on transported to rural areas where they were dumped along with other refuse. These rural areas were eventually developed primarily with residential homes. Increasing awareness of the hazards of radium and the discovery of richer uranium ore in the Belgian Congo (Zaire) caused operations to cease in 1926.

During an investigation of former radium processing facilities in the State, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy (NJDEP) realized that wastes could have been disposed at locations distant from these facilities. The NJDEP then requested that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) conduct an aerial gamma radiation survey in eastern Essex County. This survey was done in 1981. Several areas were detected with elevated levels of gamma radiation. This was confirmed by ground investigations conducted by the NJDEP in 1983. Several houses were identified with high radiation levels.

The residential development of the area has been well documented by compiling historical tax records, atlas maps, old photographs, sewer and road design drawings, and local historical writings. From this information, a "core area" of contamination for each study area was identified. During the development of the residential area, channeling and diversion of surface drainage occurred and earth was moved during the construction of roads and houses. The contaminated soil has, thus, become mixed with uncontaminated soil and fill material.

The sites are above a superficial overburden layer. Beneath this shallow aquifer is a deep fractured bedrock aquifer which supplies water to public wells for several communities. All of the townships cited in this study supply their residents with city water.

The investigation was expanded to include the West Orange Study Area in April 1984. In October, 1984, the Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge Radium sites were proposed for the Superfund National Priorities List. In November 1984 the USEPA began the RI/FS (8).

The USEPA and NJDEP initiated a joint pilot study, in May 1984, to determine the feasibility of excavation and off-site disposal of radium-contaminated soil to Nevada for 12 properties. The USEPA decided to postpone the study because the RI/FS had been initiated. The NJDEP proceeded with the excavation (Phase I Cleanup) in June 1985. After four properties had been remediated the State of Nevada revoked the NJDEP's disposal permit. This forced the NJDEP to leave the contaminated soil in 9500 drums and 51 containers in a facility in Kearny, New Jersey and 4902 drums and 33 containers at the partially excavated properties in Montclair. The containers were removed from the properties in September 1987 and the soil stored in Kearny was transported out-of-state during the summer of 1988.

The MWG site has been divided into two Operable Units (OU's). The Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) addresses the first OU which consists of contaminated soil containing radium-226 or other uranium-238 decay products. The second Operable Unit will address contamination of the groundwater.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Health Advisory on December 6, 1983 quantifying the risks for residents and setting specific time periods to implement remedial actions. The USEPA then began preliminary investigations to determine the extent of contamination and to implement emergency remedial actions. These actions consisted of installing ventilation systems in houses with elevated radon decay product concentrations and placing lead shielding in houses with elevated gamma radiation levels.

In April 1985 the USEPA completed the RI/FS for the Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge Radium sites (8). The RI/FS was made public on September 13, 1985. A public meeting was held on the RI/FS on November 13, 1985. In January 1986, the EPA initiated additional field investigations to fill the data gaps identified during the 1985 RI/FS. These were completed in November 1986.

A Health Assessment for the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge site was prepared by the CDC for the ATSDR in November 1986 (Appendix 5). In addition, ATSDR prepared and released a Site Review and Update (Revised June 2, 1993) that recommended a public health assessment for the site be undertaken. The Record of Decision (ROD) for MWG was originally signed in June of 1989 and was then replaced by a second ROD in June 1990 (9). A Community Action Plan was signed for the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge site in 1984 and was updated in June 1992 (10).


On January 22, 1993, Howard Rubin, of the NJDOH and the Case Manager from the USEPA conducted a site visit at the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge Radium sites. There were no unusual or outstanding features for any of the sites. They all appeared to be normal, well-maintained residential areas that were indistinguishable from surrounding areas.

There is a bus company and a condominium complex in the West Orange study area which the USEPA determined contained only background levels of radioactivity. The Glen Ridge study area contains an active park, Barrow's Field, that contains several ball fields. The USEPA found that the park is highly contaminated with radium-226/thorium-230.


The areas of contamination in the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge site consist of well established residential neighborhoods primarily consisting of one or two-family homes. Table 1 shows the demographic breakdown for the Montclair/West Orange/Glen Ridge study areas.

Table 1 - Demographic Breakdown for the Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge Radium Sites.

Study Site Total Population
Avg Age
Avg Income
Avg Housing Price
Montclair 26.1 41.4 40.5 84.7
West Orange 38.9 41.6 45.8 78.0
Glen Ridge 7.4 38.7 51.3 82.9

Adapted from: Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge, NJ Community Relations Plan, September 1992.

The average age of the residents is about 40 years old. This suggests that current occupants of these dwellings are not original owners. The current residents earn an average annual household income in the mid forty thousand dollar range. The average value of the houses in this area is in the low $80,000.00 range.

All three study areas are densely populated and are in one of the most densely populated parts of the United States. These areas were once highly industrialized, but the industrial base has progressively diminished with time. This has corresponded to an increase in the residential/commercial base. However, a small diverse manufacturing and service base still exists.

Table 2 shows the size of the sites and the number of residences that are affected for each study area. These sites comprise a total of 210 acres containing about 750 residences and approximately 1,800 people. To date, a total of 236 residences and approximately 600 people have been documented to have been exposed to elevated radiation levels from contaminated soil and/or contaminated building debris. However, the USEPA estimates that over 100 additional houses in the study areas need to be screened (10).

Characterization of additional potentially affected areas are continuing, so estimates of potentially affected populations may increase. Contamination has been found in commercial areas, residential areas and a park. No schools or hospitals are located in the study areas.

Table 2 - Number of Screened Homes and Estimated Population in the Study Areas.

Study Area Size (Acres) Total Screened Contaminated
No. of Homes *Estimated Population No. of Homes *Estimated Population
Montclair/ West Orange **100 366 915 133 333
West Orange 20 75 188 24 60
Glen Ridge 90 306 765 79 198
TOTALS: 210 747 1788 236 591

* Based on 2.5 residents per house.
** Actual area is unknown because investigations are ongoing.


There are multiple sources of health outcome data in New Jersey. State and local data for health outcome information include the New Jersey State Cancer Registry, Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes Registry, Vital Statistics Records, Renal Dialysis Network and hospital discharge reports. Federal databases such as those maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services (National Cancer Institute, NIOSH and ATSDR) are not site-specific, but may be used for comparison and evaluation purposes.

An epidemiological health study was conducted for the Montclair, West Orange and Glen Ridge study areas by the N.J. Department of Health in 1988 (5). This was a study that attempted to correlate excess radon exposure with historical cohort mortality rates on 752 former and present residents of the MWG study areas. The study focused on people who lived in 45 homes documented as of December 1983 to have radon-222 concentrations above 4 pCi/L in at least one location. Residency histories, vital status, death certificates, and causes of death were collected for the study. The findings of this investigation are discussed in the Health Outcome Data Evaluation section.


Public meetings have been held in the various communities. The concerns of the communities focused on three major categories: 1) Health concerns; the public health impacts resulting from chronic exposure to excess radiation; 2) Concerns about cleanup and restoration efforts; the length of time needed for remediation of the residences and storage and disposal of the contaminated soil; and 3) Economic concerns; the effects on property values.

Next Section     Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

A-Z Index

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #