By Katie Attinello
The Bergen Record’s coverage of Ford’s toxic paint sludge legacy in the mid-2000s revealed a tremendous, sprawling environmental catastrophe in a portion of New Jersey that, from above and covered in green summer leaves and flowers, barely passes for the nation’s stereotypical vision of (the ironically nicknamed) Garden State. The valley and ridges where the motor giant once carelessly spewed its excess paint is part of the Appalachian Mountains, and home to vast acres of forest, waterways, and wildlife.
The area is also home to the Ramapoughs—residents of the mountain whose ancestors precede Ford (and cars themselves) by generations.
Some Ramapoughs feel that Ford gave little thought to the wellbeing of their parents and grandparents, who lived on the mountain during the Mahwah Ford plant’s 25 years of operation, based upon their socioeconomic status. The company’s discarded waste contained numerous hazardous chemicals that still exist in the streams, soil, and rocky areas of the mountain. There have been many cases of skin, respiratory, and other serious health issues, including rare cancers, among the Ramapough community.
The most striking—and frankly appalling—aspect of these illnesses is the modern-day disregard for the town’s condition. There are only a few hundred in the community, but resident Myrtle Van Dunk told The Record that “there is sickness in house after house.” But groups like the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told The Record that they don’t “do individual health assessments.”
This poses a sad and uncomfortable question—are the Ramapoughs still not a primary concern of those responsible for cleaning up after Ford? Are they being ultimately under-assisted by the state and federal governments simply because they are indeed a very small community? (And not to mention one living atop a dumping ground now deemed as an official superfund site!) The areas contaminated with paint sludge have been “cleaned up” several times since the area lit up as a huge bleep on the environmental protection radar. Yet any hiker can still visit the area today and find plenty of Ford’s leftovers.
Many residents continually deal with its presence right in their own driveways and backyards. Its proximity (in 2013!) to the homes and children of the mountain’s lifelong residents poses the question: regardless of how many they are in numbers, who’s looking out for the Ramapoughs now?