Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Toxic Legacy: Incompetence in Ringwood Paint Sludge Cleanup

By Karen Dougherty

In reading about the fiasco that occurred over the so-called “cleanup” of paint sludge dumped in Ringwood by the Ford Motor Company between the years of 1967 and 1971, one can’t help but be dumbstruck by the obvious flaw in the plan that allowed Ford to vouch for itself that the job was adequately completed. That the EPA continued, even after the toxic sludge was again found in areas that had formerly been pronounced sludge-free, to accept Ford’s word in this matter is truly mind-boggling.

Ford contracted with the consulting firm of Arcadis G&M to complete this cleanup and even though as early as 1979 when the job proved to be incompetently handled, the EPA allowed Ford to continue this relationship and rehire the company time and time again. In testing groundwater wells in the area, Arcadis deemed them to be clean while subsequent testing showed elevated levels of several highly toxic chemicals.

In an eerily familiar scenario, the Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia ran a story in 2002 about possible dioxin contamination found in the drainage wells of the Heizer Creek landfill. During the 1950’s, Monsanto used this landfill to dump waste from its Agent Orange production. Wells in the area were deemed to be free from any contamination after being tested by Arcadis G&M. These results appear to contradict an earlier report by the EPA. Residents question the placement of the monitoring wells and the fact that nearly all the samples were taken within twelve inches of ground level. Since the dumping occurred fifty years ago, the speculation is that these chemicals have had adequate time to percolate downward.

Arcadis’ website contains all the appropriate buzzwords and catchphrases, including: “Not only thinking about our clients, but also thinking like our clients.” As Heizer Creek resident Renae Bonnett says, “Who are you supposed to believe? Would you believe the government agencies or a company hired by the polluter?” Unfortunately, in the case of the Ford Company and the EPA in Ringwood, both of those options seem woefully inadequate.

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