Friday, February 4, 2011

Toxic Footprints: A Walk of Shame

By Daniel Savino

As individuals, one of the greatest achievements we can strive for is to contribute to society in ways that will echo posthumously. As reported by The Record, “Toxic Legacy” is a stark reminder that leaving a mark is not always a good thing. In 1980, a particular plant operated by Ford was shut down after 25 years of producing cars. They continue to leave destructive footprints all over an otherwise beautiful, forest landscape in northern New Jersey.

The paint that was dumped over the area by Ford serves as much more than an eye sore. The polluting waste is full of cancer-causing heavy metals and hazardous chemicals that threaten water supplies and the health of locals in the surrounding area. According to The Record, millions of gallons of paint sludge were dumped in a remote section of Ringwood where a group of people called the Ramapoughs were living. Tests found hazardous chemicals such as arsenic and lead in the sludge, some at 100 times the level the government considers safe. Kelly Degroat, a longtime resident of the area, watched her son die at 10 years old of a rare bone cancer. Cases such as this suggest that the pollution may very well be to blame.

The Record even found evidence that organized crime played a part in the dumping of Ford’s hazardous waste. The newspaper claims that the mob “bribed, threatened, even murdered to maintain control of Ford’s trash.” In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took its first tour of the damage. However, to this day, a full clean up has yet to be undertaken. Corruption and corporate greed have played a significant role in this injustice. Recently, a fifth clean up has been orchestrated by Ford and the EPA, promising to be the most comprehensive effort to date.

There are iron mines in the polluted area that Ford used to dump “thousands of tons of industrial waste” that have yet to be cleaned up. Ford finally agreed to investigate the caves. However, the agreement made with the EPA has no stipulation for Ford to clean any material they find. Ford has repeatedly dodged as much responsibility as possible and the EPA has done little in the way of forcing Ford’s hand.

Perhaps most daunting is the fact that the sludge in Ringwood may very well impact all of North Jersey. The dumping ground is uphill from the rest of the state and threatens a very important source of drinking water called the Wanaque Reservoir. The longer the pollution goes without being tended to, the greater the risk to peoples’ drinking water. In 1980, a federal Superfund law was enacted to hold companies responsible for “eliminating or abating industrial waste that endangers public health or the environment.” However, this has only done so much. In 1994, it was reported that Ford was removed from the Superfund list because the area was clean. However, residents continued to find more paint sludge in years following and this “toxic legacy” drags on to this day.

Without government involvement, accountability and stricter environmental regulations, there will never be justice. Simply put, if nothing changes, nothing changes. It is an undeniable fact that the ultimate concern and goal of any corporation is profit. Corporate success is gauged strictly on the basis of how much money they make. As long as stocks are up and investors are happy, corporations like Ford are willing to destroy anything and anyone in their path. If we continue to allow these massive entities to have free reign there is no guarantee that our planet will survive. The individual who loses their job is of no concern to a corporation, nor are our natural resources. “Toxic Legacy” is an eye-opening, sobering reinforcement of this fact.

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