Saturday, March 1, 2014

What’s in Our Water?

By Kyle Van Dyke

The Ford Motor Company, an American multinational automaker, has some shallowly buried liabilities hidden in the hills of Northern New Jersey and Rockland County, New York.

The Bergen Record was the first newspaper to document the story of the company's egregious behavior in detail and reveal it to the public in its "Toxic Legacy" series. This reporting describes how Ford Motor Company is responsible for the dumping of millions of gallons of toxic paint sludge into the hills of Ringwood and surrounding areas, thereby endangering public health and the water supply that serves more than 2 million people with arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals.

With some of the paint sludge removed on orders from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, residents may be inclined to sit back and say a “job well done.” However, this is exactly the same tone taken decades ago by political and EPA officials who betrayed the public's trust by leading them to believe all of the toxic material had been removed. In fact, all of the material had not been removed, and the Toxic Legacy series helped force the EPA to reconsider its handling of the toxic site.

The Ringwood Mines Superfund Site is the only site in the history of the Superfund program to have been re-listed back into the pool of toxic sites scheduled to receive monies or orders to companies for cleanup from the federally-funded Superfund program. The lesson learned by the Ramapough people in Mahwah and Ringwood, the native American peoples traumatically affected by Ford's illegal dumping, is that they can't even trust the people whose jobs it is to help them. This is a lesson the rest of the citizens of New Jersey ought to take seriously.

Toxic paint sludge still remains dangerously close to water sources today. In some cases the toxic paint sludge is actually in the streams in Hillburn, NY just upstream of Mahwah, meaning that the water is currently being contaminated. Citizen activists, like Ramapo College adjunct professor Chuck Stead, have been pivotal in the Ramapoughs' negotiations with the EPA and Ford Motor Company as well as documenting paint sludge dump sites with the help of Ramapo students.

Officials maintain that federal and state regulations of drinking water are being met or exceeded, but should we trust them?

Ford submitted a $46.7 million plan to the EPA last year for the dump site in Ringwood that did not give priority to removing the toxic materials and contaminated soils, as it showed its intent to remove soil from one site, possibly remove some of it from another, and to cap the third site. The public resoundingly said “no” to the plan, because “capping the waste in place would not necessarily prevent future contamination in the soil or in the water supply,” according to the Bergen Record. Given the Ramapoughs' previous experience with the EPA, I am not surprised residents will not settle for anything less than total removal of the material.

It seems that the only entities that can be trusted as sharing Northern New Jersey's long-term human interests are ourselves. Citizen activism, as demonstrated by professors like Chuck Stead, and dedicated reporters like Jan Barry, seem to be the only defense the public has against its own destruction at the hands of corporations and governments.

So, how do you feel about our water?

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