By Richard Fetzer
Picture this. You are at a backyard BBQ with friends and family. People are milling around, chatting and soaking in the vibrant sunshine. Kids are playing tag in the grass, giggling as they avoid being “it.” Suddenly, you notice the family dog is digging at something, but you can’t quite make out what it is. As you take a closer look, you realize that it is paint sludge oozing out of the ground, like a newly discovered oil well. Everyone you love is now at risk of being exposed. Now, imagine that there is nothing you can do; no one that will help or even seems to care. This doesn’t leave you with a good feeling, does it? It probably would fill you with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, rage and despair.
The situation and the feelings that it evokes are all too real for the Ramapough Indians in Upper Ringwood, a former iron mining community in a remote corner of Ringwood, NJ. They have an environmental issue literally in their own backyards that is linked to cancer, skin afflictions, mental disorders, which they feel has caused numerous illnesses and deaths throughout their community. Many of them would like to leave, but financially can’t or are not quite able to leave the land of their forefathers. It would be a tough decision for anyone, but as this issue persists, staying has become less and less of an option.
The Record’s “Toxic Legacy” series is an in depth coverage of this environmental and humane injustice. The website they created, http://toxiclegacy.northjersey.com/, to showcase their findings is full of multimedia and interactive material that brings this important story to life. It includes original documents, pictures, videos, maps and much, much more that adds so much to this compelling story.
So, here is a quick over-view. Ford Motor Co. used to have an assembly plant in plant in Mahwah, one of the largest in the country. Before it closed in 1980, Ford was left with the task of disposing of the paint sludge and other toxins. Rather then doing the responsible thing, they decided, like too many other mega corporations, to save money, time and manpower by simply dumping it where it was least likely to be discovered. Why not the remote area inhabited by the Ramapoughs. That is the obvious decision, right?
Wrong! It is a serious human and environmental issue and needs to be fixed. There have been attempts to right this terrible wrong, but cleanup efforts were less then what was to be expected. The problem still exists and therefore is affecting countless individuals. Families have lost loved ones to cancer, are afflicted with disturbing skin disorders and have become overwhelmed by thousands of other ramifications they feel are linked to this poor decision by Ford.
Please read about this issue on the “Toxic Legacy” website. Immerse yourself in all it has to offer. Hopefully, you will be inspired to help your fellow man or spread awareness. If not, I guess you shouldn’t feel too bad. You surely won't be the last and definitely not the first to turn your back on this damaged community.