By Diana Stanczak
“Toxic Legacy,” the 2005 in-depth investigation of contaminated areas in northern New Jersey, specifically in Upper Ringwood, painted a picture of the devastation carelessly caused to the area’s residents by the Ford Motor Company in the 1960s. The report, published in The Record, opened readers’ eyes to the land’s contamination, and more importantly, the innocent lives that were destroyed by illnesses that the community feels were caused by the contamination.
One of the strongest parts of the “Toxic Legacy” report were the interviews with the locals who live in the Ringwood area – specifically, the Ramapoughs. These first-hand accounts allowed the reader to understand the severity of the situation. The Ramapoughs, which according to the article are recognized as a Native American tribe by the State of New Jersey, celebrate their culture with frequent traditional community gatherings. However, due to the apparent side effects of their land’s contamination many have developed serious illnesses like cancer.
The interviews gave the report a human element, and allowed it to be something that readers could relate to. The interview with Paul Van Dunk was touching – the report explained that Van Dunk, who lost part of his leg to diabetes, and his wife, who suffered a heart attack, do their best to live their lives. The Van Dunks recall when the stream water ran clear – but they also remember when the paint sludge first became a problem. A quote from Van Dunk sums up their living situation: “This used to be a beautiful mountain. I wish the kids could see it the way we did.”
While Toxic Legacy covers every angle of the story, the interviews are the threads that tie the story together, making the report a thorough and descriptive account of the residents’ lifestyles and their living conditions.