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August 1, 2002
CAMDEN, New Jersey (AP) -- There's something strange underfoot in Camden.
Black blobs polka-dotting the streets and sidewalks of the Waterfront South area have some residents fearful for their health and worried the blobs might signal the end of their neighborhood. The Department of Environmental Protection doesn't know what it is. Neither does the Camden County Health Department.
When lifelong resident Bonnie Sanders gives a tour of the neighborhood, an area more depressed than most in one of the country's poorest cities, she just points down.
The spots morph over a few days, Sanders explained. The fresh ones look like small oil spills -- most of them round, most of them about 6 inches across. Though they look like liquid, they don't feel like it.
As they dry, the blobs get smaller, darker and look waxy. They end up about the size of a half-dollar and they're not easy to get off the sidewalks.
Some neighbors tell Sanders she's paranoid, that there's a simple explanation for the stuff. Perhaps, they say, it was just chewing gum.
"You could give the whole damn city of Camden a piece of chewing gum and it wouldn't be all these spots," said Sanders, 54. The Waterfront South is a neighborhood where factories and homes make uncomfortable neighbors. It is strewn with bits of broken bottles, potato chip wrappers and a few stray pieces of furniture. While sidewalks everywhere have splotches, the concentration in the neighborhood is high -- dozens in most sections of concrete.
Sanders fears the stuff is causing health
maladies. "A lot of people are complaining
about headaches," she said. "New people
are coming down with asthma."
Wanda Johnson is skeptical. The 46-year-old salon worker is less concerned about black goo than she is about whether there are secret plans to raze all the homes in the neighborhood.
She squatted down Wednesday and dug into one of the sidewalk blobs with her car key.
"This is black tar off a roof," she declared as she stared at the speck of stuff at the end of her key.
Maybe. Or maybe not.
State and county inspectors visited the neighborhood site last week.
A quick field test wasn't able to confirm that the substance was petroleum-based, said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Fred Mumford. That seems to rule out tar from roofs or street repairs and leaky cars.
Officials at more than a dozen industrial facilities and two federal Superfund contaminant sites said they haven't had any operational problems that would cause the splotches, Mumford said.
Bob Lentine, assistant commissioner of the county health department, said he thinks the stuff might be industrial pollutants or fuel discharge from the jets that fly directly overhead from nearby Philadelphia. In any case, it's probably nothing to worry about, he said.
Results of more tests were expected to take a few more days.
I was experiencing a brief bout of ....
incontinence that day