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 Post subject: Ringwood: Getting the lead out
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 7:56 pm 
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Getting the lead out

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Jersey's decision last fall to step in and remove toxic paint sludge long-buried in three lawns in Ringwood is paying some very troubling dividends.

While it was good that the sludge was finally removed from those three yards, tests on the sludge confirmed what The Record's "Toxic Legacy" series suggested in October, that it was leaching lead - as it turns out, at 20 times the federal standard.

Inspecting another 45 residential properties for the sludge - dumped by Ford Motor Co. from its Mahwah plant more than three decades ago - is now a top priority for the state Department of Environmental Protection. It had better be.

According to the non-profit Edison Wetlands Association, which conducted the tests for the community, one sludge sample was in a lawn 10 feet from a children's play area. Another chunk was found in the driveway of a home where a 4-year-old boy was diagnosed with lead poisoning last year.

The group says that it has worked on 40 Superfund sites, and this is the worst of the bunch. Making that assessment all the more infuriating is the fact that the 900-acre Ringwood site had been a Superfund site from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, when Ford convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the site had been cleaned up.

Ford has been back to remove more sludge several times since then, causing the community - mostly the insular Ramapough Mountain Indians - to distrust both the car company and the feds. It was only after the "Toxic Legacy" series ran that the state interceded.

Plans are on course to test the entire Upper Ringwood neighborhood for paint sludge and remediate any properties tainted by the toxic glop.

Not including the paint sludge removed near the three Ringwood homes, Ford contractors have removed 13,000 tons - 26 million pounds - of sludge from the 900-acre site in the past 12 months. Until recently, Ford had maintained that the sludge posed no serious health risk because it "hardened in place" over time, trapping the poisons. But cleanup crews have removed tons of still-spongy paint sludge so laced with PCBs and other dangerous compounds that the toxic-waste disposal site where the material was initially taken refused to accept it.

That's why testing the remaining homes and removing all sludge that's found must be the state's paramount concern.

Days after Edison Wetlands announced its results of tests on the leaching of lead from the Ringwood paint sludge, 700 current and former residents of Upper Ringwood filed suit against Ford, claiming personal injury and property damage from the sludge dumping of more than three decades ago.

The residents, mostly Ramapoughs, allege that Ford and its agents dumped all sorts of industrial waste, concealed the health hazards and intentionally did slipshod cleanups.

The lawsuit against Ford, thought to be the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in New Jersey, has been long anticipated and is absolutely appropriate.

Because of the dumping and slipshod cleanups, generations of Ramapoughs have been needlessly exposed to such toxins as chromium and arsenic. The local community has suffered from all sorts of health problems in recent years, including elevated cancer rates.

Proving a direct link between the environmental poisons and the health problems will be a tough task, but Ramapoughs deserve their day in court.


Reproduced with permission of North Jersey Media Group.

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