Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ramapo River Update

By Tiffany Liang

The Ramapo River begins in Orange County, New York and flows into New Jersey, where it becomes a tributary of the Passaic River and ultimately flows into Newark Bay. The watershed this river is a part of covers more than three counties and supplies drinking water to over two million people in northern New Jersey; with part of the river diverted into the Wanaque Reservoir.

People have been utilizing this source of surface water for a long, long time. In fact, some of its earliest users are still alive today—namely, the Ramapough Lenape Indians. With three sub-clans in Mahwah, Ringwood, and Hillburn, this tribe has been around since before the colonization of North America. They have historically used the Ramapo River for recreation, fishing, and water supply.

But now, the Ramapo River is showing signs that not all is well below the surface. In 2011, when Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey, parts of the river’s banks eroded severely. The erosion exposed large chunks of lead-based paint sludge, which had been buried in the ground for decades.

In the 1960’s, Ford Motors dumped toxic paint sludge from its plant in Mahwah, New Jersey into the communities of Ringwood, New Jersey and Hillburn, New York. In Hillburn, there are three major dumping sites. One of them, by the banks of the Ramapo River, was remediated in the spring of 2013. In Ringwood, the residents are embroiled in a battle against Ford and the EPA, fighting to have their dumping site completely remediated.

Officials say it is unlikely that large chunks of paint, which contain contaminants such as lead and benzene, have fallen into the Ramapo River and affected the downstream water supply. However, environmentalists have been pushing for a comprehensive study of the river’s health, which Ford is reluctant to carry out.

A public meeting hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss Ford’s proposed cleanup plans for paint sludge dump sites along Torne Brook, a tributary of the Ramapo River, is scheduled for March 12 at 7 pm at the Suffern Free Library, 210 Lafayette Ave., Suffern, NY.

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