MAC: Mines and Communities

US UPDATE: Mounting campaigns

Published by MAC on 2006-01-25

US UPDATE: Mounting campaigns

25th January 2006

The world's best-known automobile manufacturer is being accused of a formidable range of acts of environmental and health negligence.

From 1967 until 1974, a company acting on behalf of the Ford Motor Company slung paint and other toxic wastes into an abandoned iron ore mine, located in the Ramapough Mountains - which some geologists say is the oldest rock formation on the planet.

Now, in a thirteen count indictment, Native Americans from the area are seeking damages from the company of no less than US$2 billion (US$3 million for each resident).

For many years, old mine shafts have been used to receive US toxic industrial wastes. It's been proposed elsewhere too (for example, by Waste Management Inc of the US, as a way of "utilising" the Bougainville copper mine pit after its abandonment by Rio Tinto in 1989). Thus, the potentially disastrous consequences of failing to close-down and rehabilitate a metallic mine may be enormously compounded by using it as a toxic dump.

Ironically, three years ago Ford sealed a deal with ALCOA, the world's biggest aluminium producer, to reduce its contributions to negative climate change by manufacturing lightweight cars.

"Taking responsibility for a greener tomorrow" is now Ford's proudly-advertised claim.

But in the view of at least one Ringwood resident, the boast "could only refer to money!"

Ramapough Mountain Indians Sue Ford Over Toxic Contamination

by PASSAIC, New Jersey

21st January 2006

Attorneys representing the Ramapough Mountain Tribe and other residents of Ringwood, New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company and other defendants for property damage and personal injuries allegedly caused by the improper disposal of toxic waste from Ford’s former Mahwah, New Jersey automobile plant.

The lawsuit, Wayne Mann, et al. v. Ford Motor Company, et al. was filed Wednesday in Superior Court, Passaic County. It alleges that the defendants dumped thousands of tons of paint sludge and other toxic material decades ago that is still contaminating the soil, air and groundwater of the community.

The suit accuses Ford and others of negligence, fraud, consumer fraud, conspiracy, trespass, and battery for allegedly failing to tell residents how dangerous the waste was, and then failing to clean it up properly.

Although 12 defendants are listed on the complaint in addition to Ford, Kevin Madonna, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told ENS, "Ford is responsible for the majority of the waste at the site."

“Ford’s choice to perform four inadequate investigations and cleanups has devastated this community,” Madonna said in a statement Wednesday.

Madonna is part of an A-list legal team that includes his partner Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and The Cochran Firm. Madonna says Kennedy will be involved in the lawsuit on an "as needed" basis.

Jon Holt, a Ford spokesman, said the company had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

The plaintiffs are asking for trial by jury. The 13 count complaint seeks medical monitoring and unspecified financial compensation. In a separate filing last month, attorneys put the Borough of Ringwood on notice that it also may be sued. The attorneys said they would seek $3 million per resident, a total that could exceed $2 billion.

Known by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the Ringwood Mines Landfill Site in Ringwood Borough, Passaic County, New Jersey, the site at issue is about 0.5 mile wide and two miles long. It consists of a series of abandoned mine shafts and pits, inactive landfills, and open dumps.

The Wanaque Reservoir is supplied by neighboring streams, two originating in the immediate vicinity of the site. The reservoir provides drinking water to about 2.5 million people.

About 20 water supply wells draw water from the bedrock aquifer, which supplies a few residences and industries in the area, and one spring is less than half a mile from the site.

The Ford Mahwah plant operated from 1955-1980. After an initial investigation, in 1983, the EPA designated Upper Ringwood as one of America’s most toxic sites, placing it on the Superfund list.

The history of the site goes back to the 1700s when iron mines were operated there. Ringwood is located in the Ramapo Mountains at the eastern end of New Jersey. The area, known as the Highlands, contains what geologists consider to be the oldest rock formations in the world.

Mining ended in the early 1900s and the site was bought by the U.S. government before 1940 and then sold to a succession of owners.

From 1967 until 1974, Ringwood Realty, one of the former owners, deposited waste products for Ford Motor Company including car parts, solvents, and paint sludges, on the ground surface and in abandoned mine shafts.

In 1970, Ringwood Realty donated 290 acres in the southern portion of the site to the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority, which began operating a permitted municipal disposal area in 1972. The landfill was closed by the state in 1976.

In 1983, the EPA placed the site on the Superfund list. After Ford removed 7,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, the site was delisted in 1994, an action the plaintiffs claim was premature.

A statement issued by the plaintiffs' legal team says, "Relying upon reports Ford provided, the EPA declared the site clean. Since then, however, additional toxic waste has been discovered in Upper Ringwood. 13,000 tons of this waste has been removed since 2004. As recently as December 2005, contaminated areas not addressed in previous cleanup efforts were disclosed. Investigative and cleanup efforts continue today."

"Waste removed from Upper Ringwood contains levels of toxins so high that hazardous waste facilities have rejected some of it," the plaintiffs claim.

In June 2005, then New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell called for a criminal investigation of Ford due to its “pattern of misconduct” and the “direct link between the false and misleading submissions made to federal and state regulators and the persistence of potential risk to human health and the environment.”

On January 6, 2006, then New Jersey’s Acting Governor, Richard Codey, called for Upper Ringwood’s relisting as a Superfund site due to Ford’s “stunning failure” to complete a proper clean up, requesting that EPA “hold Ford responsible for its
toxic legacy.”

The EPA says, "Paint sludge and other industrial waste at the site has been and continues to be addressed through a series of removal actions."

"Results of surface water sampling indicate that surface water has not been impacted by site-related contaminants," the EPA said. "Groundwater sampling has shown limited and sporadically elevated levels of some contaminants, including arsenic and lead. Additional groundwater sampling will be performed in conjunction with ongoing activities related to the investigation and removal of paint sludge."

Ford’s use of the slogan, “Taking Responsibility for a Greener Tomorrow,” has raised eyebrows among residents of Upper Ringwood. “It could only refer to money,” said plaintiff Wayne Mann.

Mann is a member of the Ramapough Mountain Tribe living near the site, the historical homeland of the tribe, which is recognized by the state of New Jersey, although not by the federal government.

At the press conference, Chief Anthony Van Dunk of the Ramapough Mountain Indian tribe said, "For generations, there hasn't been justice - in education, housing, employment, anything. Maybe this will finally give them the justice they've deserved for so long."

In Defense of Mountains / On the Frontlines Against Destructive Mining

by Rebecca Bowe

25th January 2006

It was early in the morning of July 5 when Ed Wiley arrived at the West Virginia state capitol building and began his hunger strike. Many hours later, he was still sitting on the steps, refusing to move, eat or leave until he could speak with the governor. Set beside him was an aerial photograph of Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia, located 150 feet from a Massey coal processing silo and 400 yards below a 2.8 billion-gallon coal waste dam.

Wiley wanted an explanation for the safety risk posed to students—particularly his 10-year-old granddaughter—who routinely inhale air contaminated with coal dust migrating from the silo. He and other community members also feared that the dam, which was not built according to code, could represent potential disaster.

“A lot of kids there have asthma or other breathing problems, and a few have died from cancer,” Wiley says. “I picked my granddaughter up from school one day because she was sick and I watched a tear slide down her face while she was looking up at the coal mines.

That’s when I vowed I would do something to help those kids.” Days before, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had approved a permit for a second silo to be constructed alongside the first, a mere 220 feet from school property. State and federal laws prohibit any new mining activity within 300 feet of a school, but agency officials argued at a hearing that these silos were exempt from the rule because they were given permits before the federal Surface Mining and Control Act of 1977 (SMCRA) came into effect.

The agency’s position was undermined when a local newspaper reported that both silos were actually outside the original permit area. New boundary lines had been drawn over time on maps that Massey engineers filed periodically with the DEP, but Massey never applied for a permit revision, and the DEP never officially granted one.

“The DEP should have gone back and checked the maps,” said Sarah Holtam of Coal River Mountain Watch, a nonprofit based in Coal River Valley, the region where the school is located. “The silos are completely off the permit boundary, and coal dust is filtering inside the school. When I touched a window sill inside the building, my fingers turned black from the dust.”

Massey Energy, which declined comment, is the same company responsible for the environmental disaster in Martin County, Kentucky, which occurred when 300 million gallons of toxic sludge burst through a coal waste dam and contaminated 75 miles of waterways. Sludge is the liquid waste resulting from the coal washing and contains heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury.

Activists at Coal River Mountain Watch and other organizations connect these past and potential future disasters with the greater issue of mountaintop removal mining, a practice routinely used in Appalachia by Teco Coal, Arch Coal, A&G Coal Corporation, National Coal, Massey Energy and its subsidiaries.

Mountaintop removal mining begins with forest clear-cuts, and utilizes explosives to blast off the tops of mountain peaks. Activists say that the resulting vegetation loss increases the risk of floods and landslides, and waste by products poison streams and waterways. Once the coal has been excavated, millions of tons of “overburden”—the crumpled debris of former mountaintops—are discarded into surrounding valleys, creating valley fills that have permanently buried more than 1,200 miles of headwaters streams, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“One of the biggest problems about mountaintop removal is that it employs so few people,” says Hillary Hosta, an activist with the Coalfield Sustainability Project. “Billions are being made annually in this industry, and yet it operates in some of the poorest counties in the nation. Once the coal companies pack up and leave, the communities are left with boarded-up houses and businesses and a devastated environment.”

According to Paloma Galindo of United Mountain Defense, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based nonprofit, permit violations such as the case at Marsh Fork are the norm rather than the exception. “Coal companies break the rules all the time,” she says. “Often, when a company mines outside a permit area, the Office of Surface Mining just reissues another permit. There’s no fine, just some new paperwork.

Another problem, known as segmentation, occurs when companies apply for permits for smaller areas than they actually plan to mine, which allows them to bypass the burden of an environmental impact study. One of the major mine sites in Tennessee actually spans seven permitted zones, but as anyone can see it’s just one vast, interconnected mine.”

This past summer, activists from all over the country swarmed Appalachia with the mission to interrupt business as usual for coal companies and government agencies involved with mountaintop removal mining. In a nonviolent grassroots effort called Mountain Justice Summer (MJS), organized by a coalition of anti-mountaintop removal mining groups from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, activists used every tactic from street theater to soil testing to call attention to the issue. MJS-led rallies sprung up in the streets of Richmond, Lexington and Knoxville, attracting media attention with stunts like a “mountain takeover,” which consisted of a handful of activists locking themselves to a barricade erected in the middle of a work road on Zeb Mountain, the largest mine site in Tennessee.

“Mountain Justice Summer helped reinvigorate the anti-mountaintop removal movement,” said John Johnson, a Knoxville-based activist with Katuah Earth First!, one of the participating groups. “In all, it was a very successful summer.”

MJS also joined Ed Wiley and the Coal River Valley community in the ongoing battle against the coal preparation plant at Marsh Fork Elementary. Its efforts, along with Wiley’s one-man hunger strike—which eventually landed him an impromptu meeting with Governor Joe Manchin—finally led to success when the DEP revoked the permit for the second silo that was to be built beside the school.

Yet matters at Marsh Fork are far from being settled. State-ordered air quality tests that were conducted before classes began measured particulate count, but it remains unclear what airborne chemicals may be present. “They found there are as many particulates inside the gym as there are outside,” says Hosta. “But since they didn’t use the same scale the EPA uses to set regulations, there is nothing for us to go back and compare the results to in order to find out how dangerous the air is for kids to breathe. And we still have no idea what carcinogens may be present in the dust.”

Hosta, Wiley and other activists responded to the dissatisfying governmental response with another trip to the state capitol. “This time, we brought along a 10-pound roll of bologna,” Wiley says, “and we labeled it ‘Marsh Fork Air Quality Tests.’”

In the meantime, the Boone, North Carolina-based Appalachian Voices is working to pass the Clean Water Protection Act, which would prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams. “It’s the failure to enforce environmental laws that is allowing this to happen," says Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of Appalachian Voices. “It is going to take some national pressure from outside the coalfields to stop this practice.” The group is trying to build grassroots support with a free “mountaintop removal kit” that includes a 15-minute DVD entitled Mountaintop Treasures.

Appalachian Voices:

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