MAC: Mines and Communities

Ramapough Mountain Indians Sue Ford Over Toxic Contamination

Published by MAC on 2006-01-21

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."

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