By Courtney Leiva
I thought that The Record’s "Toxic Legacy’s" website was phenomenal, but one aspect that really drew me in was the section featured about the Ramapoughs. Growing up in New Jersey, everyone has heard about the legend of the Ramapoughs and what most people know them as the Jackson Whites. The article did a really good job portraying these people for the real people they are despite the myths and tall tales about them in Weird New Jersey articles. I learned more about the Ramapoughs than I have ever known before and how families like the Van Dunks, the Manns, and The Degroats have been living on the mountain since revolutionary times. I also did not know that the Ramapoughs are recognized by the state of New Jersey as a Native American tribe, even though federal government itself does not.
What really drew me into the article is how Ford’s dumping of sludge has taken a toll on the health and living conditions of these people. I thought it was really great to see the faces and hear the voices of people who have been affected by the sludge. It pained me to read that the Ramapoughs once beloved land has now become a superfund cleanup site plagued by such . This same debris and sludge has taken the lives and health of community members as Paul Eugene Van Dunk’s daughter and nephew who died at an early age because of cancer. Many residents believe Ford dumped up in the mountains because of who the Ramapoughs are, and the reputation they have.
However, what shocked me was that although benzene is a cancer causing chemical found in the sludge, only a few community members have shown the Environmental Protection Agency the paint sludge in their yards. Not only that but it made me very angry to read that although the EPA insists that it will clean up all the sludge, officials said the resident’s lawyers won’t allow the EPA onto the land.
Also shocking was how the Ramapoughs survive on the land because of their lack of ability to move. Most of them want to leave but they can’t afford to and some believe that it would cause their ancestors sacrilege. Some residents have to cover sludge paint with cinder blocks to keep their children safe when they play outside. Paul Van Dunk’s wife won’t eat deer meet anymore, his son had to dump mounds of topsoil into raised beds to keep the gardens clear of pollution in their yard, and his grandson wont drink the tap water.
I thought that the article exposed other problems these people face including high voltage power lines that crack in the humidity, uncapped mine holes, as well as methane venting pipes from landfills next to homes. But the sludge still remains a big problem. I liked the descriptiveness about Sludge Hill near Van Dunk Lake where resident Wayne Mann says he smeared purple sludge on his face. I also found it great the reporters reported what’s in the sludge as well. The sludge is laced with lead and chromium which causes nosebleeds. The levels were tested and revealed to have atimony which is a metal that causes heart and lung problems. Resident Angie Van Dunk’s four year old son has lead poisoning. Some children suffer learning disabilities, which the community blames on elevated lead levels.
Overall, I found it great that reporters exposed the environmental injustice facing the Ramapoughs since they are everyday people that have been screwed over by the Ford plant. Excellent reporting such as this really exposes the environmental injustices of the Ford plant and giving the voiceless, which in this case was the Ramapoughs, a voice.