Facing a new HBO documentary on a very old controversy, Ford Motor Co. has agreed to clean up tons of toxic paint sludge that the company dumped decades ago on ground near the Ramapo River, reports say.
The airing of Mann v. Ford, scheduled for Monday, July 18, apparently proved the turning point in a 40-year dispute between the car maker and the region’s Ramapough Indians over the toxic 40-acre parcel in Rockland County, NY.
The car maker has announced that it will dig out more than 6,500 cubic yards of sludge - enough to fill 325 of the largest dump trucks – from the site, according to CBS Radio and The Record of New Jersey.
The land is just north of the auto plant that Ford once operated in Mahway, NJ, near the river and a massive aquifer that provides drinking water to parts of North Jersey.
|A new HBO documentary documents Ford Motor’s 40-year-old practice of dumping of tons of paint sludge around Ramapough Indian lands.|
The nation’s largest car assembly plant when it opened in 1955, the facility dumped paint sludge and other industrial wastes on the site, in the Indians’ backyard, between 1967 and 1971.
‘An Ocean of Contaminants’
Ford’s cleanup plan comes six years after The Record detailed and documented the dumping and its effects on the health of the Ramapough community in a five-part series called Toxic Legacy.
“A ridge of waste paint longer than a football field slowly leaches arsenic, lead and other heavy metals into the Ramapo River just upstream from Mahwah,” the newspaper reported.
“It is in countless other places – in landfills, on farms, along hiking trails in the woodlands that sweep across the northern edge of New Jersey and form the region’s most important watersheds.”
Over 25 years, until it closed in 1980, the plant produced six million vehicles and “an ocean of contaminants—including enough paint sludge to fill two of the three tubes of the Lincoln Tunnel,” the newspaper said.
Contractors for the car giant dumped tons of the sludge from the plant in the brush and down the Ramapo River valley, as well as in Upper Ringwood, where the Ramapough say the contamination has caused numerous illnesses. Ford and state environmental officials have contended that the sludge does not present a health hazard.
However, the Record notes, “The Ringwood site is so contaminated and previous cleanups so inept, it is the only site in the country to be put back on the Superfund list.”
Five years ago, Ford signed a consent order with New York to investigate and clean up three areas in the Town of Ramapo and Village of Hillburn, but little has happened since then.
Ford had no comment on the new cleanup reports, but North Jersey’s officials and community activists were cautiously optimistic.
‘Very Nasty Stuff’
“Anything upstream ends up down here,” said Mahwah Mayor John DaPuzzo. “The cleanup in Rockland County can do nothing but good for us. The idea is to stop it before you have a problem.”
There are at least eight sludge piles in the wooded area known as the “North of Ramapo Well Field Site,” including one pile within 50 feet of the river.
Geoff Welch, chair of the non-profit Ramapo River Committee, said the sludge had deteriorated over the years and is becoming more of a threat.
“It’s breaking up,” he told the Record. “We’ve seen ants go through it. Birds can pick at it like gravel. It’s very nasty stuff, and it’s best just to get it out of there.”
Ford said it is still securing the permits for the removal, which will take several months.
A start date has not been determined, but the New York DEC said a fall start may be difficult because of the complexity of the cleanup.
Residents settled with Ford out of court in 2009. The car company admitted no responsibility for any of the illnesses and paid residents $12.5 million. The money was split among 633 residents. After lawyers’ fees and other expenses, the top award came to under $35,000. Many received the sum of $4,368.