"Covered with storage tanks, smoke stacks, and holding pools, the old Chambers Works manufacturing site in southern New Jersey is an eyesore. From the bridge crossing the Delaware River, the industrial zone looks like a burnt patch, a brown splotch in the otherwise green of the river’s eastern shore. But the real problem with Chambers Works isn’t as visible.
Since 1892, when DuPont chose this site to house its smokeless gunpowder operations, Chambers Works has been ground zero for some of the world’s most environmentally devastating commercial enterprises. Now mostly abandoned, the roughly 2-square-mile area could serve as a museum of disastrous chemistry. Leaded gasoline; cancer-causing dyes; Kevlar, a synthetic fiber found to cause cancer in rats; Freon, a refrigerant that ate a hole in the ozone layer; neoprene, the production of which gives off a carcinogenic gas; refined uranium for atomic weapons; and PFOA, which now pollutes drinking water around the plant — and around the planet — are among the 1,200 chemical products DuPont made and stored at what was its largest manufacturing complex.
Martin Cleary remembers the strange smells that used to waft throughout his work site and the wastewater flowing through ditches that ran through the plant on the way out to the river. “It was yellow or sometimes brown,” said Cleary, who worked at Chambers Works for more than 37 years and spent much of that time inspecting the inside of chemical tanks. Even though he developed bladder cancer, which his doctor told him resulted from the work, Cleary has mostly kind words for the company that employed him and many of his friends."