Friday, February 4, 2011

Thumbprint of an Industry

By John Clancey

It’s an unfortunate truth, but our society has been marked by environmental pollution. Between the crude oil choking our ocean, and the apocalyptic levels of plastics building up worldwide, pollution on a massive environmental level is no longer a line in the sand waiting to be crossed. Fords “Toxic legacy”, as shocking as it is, is merely a speck of sand in a beach covered with used syringes.

It’s a story that sounds all too familiar. A powerful industrial company creates an unwanted byproduct and disposes of it by questionable means. Sometimes they’ll dump it in the waterways, God forbid you go swimming in the Passaic River; other times they will just buried it. In this case, the Ford Motor Company chose the latter. They buried untold amounts of highly toxic paint sludge deep down in the Ramapo Mountains. This sludge has since worked its way back up to the topsoil, providing residents with more than their fair share of illness and heartbreak.

The residents of the area, The Ramapoughs, are the descendents of Dutch settlers, freed slaves, and the Leni-Lenape Indians. They have a long history in the area, dating back before the founding of New Jersey. The group is as much a part of the environment as is the majestic red tailed hawk that patrols the region’s rocky skylines. In truth, it is the Ramapoughs that make this story so endearing.

However, the Ramapoughs aren’t the only ones at risk. In truth it’s all of Bergen County that has cause to worry. The pollution that chokes the veins of the mountain has more than likely seeped into the countless underground waterways that litter the region and its surroundings areas. These waterways feed directly into the major watersheds that quench the thirst of Northern New Jersey. Not only do these pollutants seep in threw the groundwater, but many local flood zones are covered in the highly toxic Ford sludge. Run off water from storms and melting snow wash over these pollutants, carrying the toxins wherever the currents may take it.

Cleaning up pollution of this magnitude is no easy task. The Ringwood site in which the most dumping was done was declared a superfund site by the EPA and has yet to see the comprehensive cleanup residents are hoping for. In fact, the site has seen many cleanups since 1980, none of which met the standards that any self-respecting populace would be happy with.

The sad truth of the matter is that despite any effort officials take to improve the sites’ condition nothing can be done to compensate the Ramapoughs’ tremendous loses. For them, the mountain is more than home; it is their way of life. The fish they catch, the playgrounds they populate, all of it poisoned by indifference of industrial America. They have lost more than their legacy. They have lost family, friends, children, and now that the sustainability of their ancestral home has come under attack, they may lose their heritage.

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