By Nick Bower
The fact that Ford Motor Company and numerous other major companies and corporations illegally dumped toxic chemicals for decades in the New York/New Jersey area in the mid-20th century is compelling enough. But adding the mob into it adds another dimension to “Toxic Legacy” that makes it sound straight out of a Hollywood movie.
“We determined to risk our lives because the alternative was to allow the lives of millions of people to be in danger. We knew who we were dealing with,” a local citizen who spoke out when the dumping was going on said. This was the most compelling quote of this section of the “Toxic Legacy” special report, and may have even been best served as the lead and not buried in the middle of the article. Despite accounts of brake lines being cut and threats made, citizens pleaded to the state and officials to do something about the illegal dumping in their area, even though they suspected that some of the people they were pleading to may have been paid off by the mob.
While Ford was certainly responsible for illegal dumping around this area, they were not alone. They had to pay someone with a truck and knowledge of the area to dump illegal chemicals with no questions asked, something that attracted the mob, according to the “Toxic Legacy” report. This became such an enticing enterprise that dumping jobs soon turned into territorial, where families knew not to cross one another in securing a dumping job that another family had. And when they did try to cross territories, bloodshed ensued.
Illegal dumping soon became an art form, packing the trucks with saw dust and lining it with wood, and then filling it with waste before topping it off with garbage, to make it look natural when it started to dump. “Cocktailing,” or mixing garbage with waste was a common but dangerous practice. However, disguising their dumping was not even necessary, because according to “Toxic Legacy” everyone was in on it.
One lieutenant said, “Everyone was in on it. Everyone was getting paid all over the place.” “Toxic Legacy” reported that police chiefs, judges and landfill owners were all bribed by the mob in order to keep their illegal practices going. So what ended up happening was everyone was getting rich off of Ford’s and other companies’ money for illegal dumping.
Later on, drivers, dump site managers and even some mob figures admitted to being a part of the illegal dumping—although when admitting what they did they placed the blame on someone else, according to statements in “Toxic Legacy.” I think that, although they knew what they were doing was illegal, I don’t think they knew the long-term consequences of their dumping. I’m not saying that that would have kept mobsters from dumping, but I think more than just a handful of people would have tried to stop what was going on, which is what makes this part of “Toxic Legacy” important. Although it is easy to blame major corporations like Ford and the mob for what went wrong, the blame must also be placed on those whose job it was to protect us and keep our best interest, and who failed to do so.