Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is the Ramapo River Contaminated with Paint Sludge?

By Daniel Mercurio

There is concern among a group of environmental activists that the Ramapo River upstream of Ramapo College may have trace amounts of toxic paint sludge containing chemicals such as arsenic and benzene, according to a report in The Record of North Jersey. Such chemicals can be traced to the Ford Motor Company which disposed of toxic wastes in various locations of New York and portions of Northern New Jersey.  

One major area of concern is due to a concentration of toxic paint sludge that was found along the banks of the Ramapo River in Rockland County, New York, just above the border with New Jersey. This area of contamination went unnoticed for many years until Hurricane Irene’s rains washed away much of the topsoil used to cover the hidden paint sludge.

 The sludge was discovered by Chuck Stead, a Ramapo College Professor, while hiking in the area with his students, The Record reported in an April 2013 report. The area is near where Torne Brook flows into the Ramapo River in Hillburn, NY. Ford contractors have been excavating contaminated soil in the area at the direction of state environmental officials.  

According to state regulators, a small chunk of this sludge may have broken off from a larger body of contaminated material and fallen into the river. This is problematic because the paint sludge can have adverse health effects for people who are exposed to the toxic substances contained in the paint. For example, those who rely on the Ramapo River as a fresh source of drinking water, such as downstream in Mahwah, are at risk of ingesting the chemicals. To make matters worse, the challenge of cleansing the river of these toxic pollutants becomes even more difficult as the contaminants break apart into finer particles as they travel further down river and mix with the gravel along the river’s bed. This can make the paint sludge even harder to identify and raise the risk of exposure.

“Chunks could get into the river, and then those chunks could break down,” Geoff Welch, chairman of the Ramapo River Committee, told The Record. “We certainly don’t want it washing down and becoming part of the gravel. You have to make sure they get it all out.”

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