Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 18, 2011

What Ford did to the Ramapough Mountain Indians

Filed under: Ecology,indigenous,racism — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

(Some idiot just wrote a defense of Ford under my review of “Mann V. Ford” because it was “legal” to dump toxic waste in the 1960s using Mafia haulers. This article that appeared in the Bergen Record is an antidote to such garbage.)

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
October 2, 2005 Sunday

Ford, the feds, the mob: Making a wasteland


A slab of bright blue lies beside a mountain stream above the Wanaque Reservoir. It’s a sporty color, maybe the “Diamond Blue” that Ford sprayed on Galaxies in the late 1960s. It hardened like lava where it was dumped more than a generation ago.

When running high, the stream rinses over the slab and down the mountain, through marshes and past beaver dams, toward the reservoir.

It’s everywhere, this paint.

Chunks of it jut from the driveway of a house in Ringwood where a child got lead poisoning. It is so toxic he and his mom have moved out.

Piles of it, weathered and gray and wrinkled like an elephant’s skin, cling to a hillside. Nearby is the home of a boy who died of a rare tumor.

On the other side of the hill a spring-fed stream once ran clear and fresh. For generations, it quenched the thirst of the mountain’s residents, the Ramapoughs. Now the water is bright orange and laced with cancer-causing benzene.

Just upstream from Mahwah, a ridge of waste paint longer than a football field slowly leaches arsenic, lead and other heavy metals into the Ramapo River.

It is in countless other places – in landfills, on farms, along hiking trails in the woodlands that sweep across the northern edge of New Jersey and form the region’s important watersheds.

The paint sludge is from the Ford Motor Co.’s factory in Mahwah, once the largest auto assembly plant in the nation. Before closing in 1980, the behemoth plant spat out 6 million vehicles and an ocean of contaminants – including enough paint sludge to fill two of the three tubes of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Millions of gallons of paint sludge was dumped in the remote section of Ringwood that is home to the Ramapoughs. Their children played in it. The streams washed over it. Early this summer, state officials announced some cancer rates there are unusually high. The Ramapoughs blame the sludge.

For the past eight months, The Record has been investigating Ford’s toxic legacy. A team of journalists went house to house documenting health complaints among the Ramapoughs. They hiked through the mountains and found paint sludge that had been missed by four government-supervised cleanups in Ringwood. They found sludge near homes, in parks and in the watershed. Not far from the site of Ford’s Mahwah plant, they discovered sludge that had been tossed off the side of the road, even dumped near wells for public water supplies.

Tests commissioned by the newspaper found lead, arsenic and xylenes in the sludge – some at 100 times the levels the government considers safe. The tests indicate the contamination is spreading.

The Record found that Ford repeatedly dumped in poor communities and failed to clean up its mess. Documents reveal that Ford executives knew as early as 34 years ago that its waste had contaminated a stream that feeds the Wanaque Reservoir. They show that the company tried to evade responsibility by presenting tainted land as a “gift” to the state.

Organized crime played a key role in a vast assault on the environment. An analysis of public records and interviews with truckers who hauled Ford’s waste shows mob-controlled contractors dumped anywhere they could get away with it. They bribed, threatened, even murdered to maintain control of Ford’s trash.

Millions of gallons of hazardous waste vanished in their hands. Today, officials say they simply don’t have the staff to search for it all.

Government at all levels shares the blame. For years, it allowed mobsters to turn New Jersey into a toxic dumping ground. Initial attempts at statewide environmental regulation in the late 1970s only made the situation worse.

More recently, federal officials let Ford walk away from tons of industrial waste in Ringwood. The Environmental Protection Agency ignored many reports of widespread contamination when it assured residents that Ford had cleaned up their neighborhood. Only now, in the midst of a fifth cleanup in Ringwood, are federal officials paying attention to all the paint, solvents and other Ford debris buried deep in the mountain’s abandoned iron mines.

The contamination presents a threat to the region’s drinking water, The Record’s investigation found. Although officials responsible for the purity of North Jersey’s water are confident it is safe today, they worry the poisons may eventually work their way into the drinking water of 2.5 million people.

Ford says its dumping in Ringwood was legal. Indeed, from the time the plant opened in 1955 until 1970, industrial dumping was essentially unregulated. A law banning contamination of streams was not enforced.

Ford says others dumped in Ringwood and share responsibility for the pollution. The company also insists it is doing everything required by the EPA to clean up, in Ringwood and elsewhere. Ford declined requests for an interview and would answer questions from The Record only via e-mail.

The Ramapoughs and others scratching out a living in this remote section of Ringwood don’t believe Ford and don’t trust the government. They’ve watched this story unfold over 40 years.

They remember the 18-wheelers leaving brilliant puddles and splashes all the way up Peters Mine Road. They saw workers push the paint sludge, drums and other waste into the old iron mines that riddle the landscape. So many trucks arrived in the dark that residents started calling it the “midnight landfill.”

Later, they watched as men in white suits and masks dug contaminants from hills where children played. They got so frustrated about the contamination that remained after the cleanup crews had left that they took to carrying chunks of sludge to meetings with government officials. Now they’ve hired attorneys.

This summer, New Jersey’s environmental chief asked federal prosecutors to launch a criminal investigation of Ford’s cleanup in Ringwood.

“They can’t tell me that the stuff we’re walking in every day and the air we’re breathing up here isn’t killing people,” said Kelly DeGroat, a longtime resident.

Her son, Collin, died of a rare bone cancer in 2001.

He was 10.

Rolling out cars at top speed

The story of the paint begins 50 years ago this summer, when manufacturing was the lifeblood of North Jersey and Ford was the biggest operation around.

Shortly before noon on July 15, 1955, factory whistles sounded a salute as a caravan of trucks left Ford’s aged assembly plant in Edgewater. The trucks – laden with tools, equipment and assembly plant stock – snaked 26 miles north to Mahwah.

There, a new plant stood on a meadow just beneath the first vaulting slopes of the Ramapo Mountains and beside the Ramapo River.

Hours later, the production line sprang to life at Ford’s new factory. Billed as the largest auto assembly plant in the world, the $70 million factory would eventually roll out a new vehicle every minute, more than triple the rate of Edgewater. It was the cornerstone of an aggressive postwar expansion. Veterans had married, the baby boom had begun and Americans had a voracious appetite for the latest in Detroit horsepower.

“We feel the plant is more than an intent to knock the socks off competition,” Henry Ford II said at the plant’s dedication that September. “We feel this plant is a substantial lasting contribution to the living standards of all Americans.”

Along the factory’s 10 miles of assembly lines, there was one dictum: Keep the line moving.

“You ain’t gonna put a car out just relaxing,” said Frank Dollbaum, a 28-year Ford employee and longtime Mahwah worker.

Rolling out all those LTDs, Galaxies and Fairmonts required careful choreography. Raw materials had to arrive on time. Cardboard, leaky batteries and waste paint had to be cleared away quickly.

Russell Kerestes’ disposal crews struggled to keep up with the waste.

“You have no idea unless you were there what a high-power, stressed-out place that was,” he said. “They had a bottom line and ‘move it out’ was the name of the game.”

In the paint department, men wielding spray guns applied an undercoat, primer and topcoat. They pointed and sprayed, and a lot of paint missed its mark. For each Willow Green truck or Rangoon Red convertible, 5 gallons of paint sludge was produced – 6,000 gallons a day.

The cars went to the parking lot out front. The paint sludge – a combination of paint and the chemicals and water used to aid in its disposal – was dumped out back, where the Leni-Lenape Indians once held powwows.

“Not only sludge, but lacquer, thinners,” said Jakob Unger, who worked in various departments at the plant, including industrial-waste treatment. “Nobody cared. Who knew about the environment?”

As the relentless production continued and dumpsites on its own property filled up, Ford gave more paint sludge to its trash contractors. Paint and solvents ended up in landfills, alongside roads – even buried on farms in upstate New York.

“The haulers would tell the farmers, ‘Listen, man. I’ve got a contract for six months. You have a little valley in your property near the side of the road. I’ll fill it in.’ And they just dumped the stuff off,” said Stanley Greenberg, a retired lieutenant in the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department.

Greenberg, who spent parts of three decades investigating illegal dumping in New York State, said farmers, landfill workers and some Ford employees were paid to remain silent.

“People were getting paid all over the place,” he said. “Ford was known for doing business. They had stuff to get rid of and no place to put it.”

No Ford employee was ever charged in the dumping.

“Everything that Ford Motor Co. did was in accordance with the law,” said Charles Kiorpes, the plant manager in the late 1960s. “Everything was hauled away in accordance with local regulations.”

Still, all the waste worried Richard Mosolgo, the plant’s engineering manager in the mid-1970s. He says he wanted to import a Swiss system that would incinerate the sludge on-site. The incinerator generated steam, which Mosolgo wanted to use for power.

“I remember,” Mosolgo said, “it used to cost more to get rid of the paint sludge than it cost to buy paint.”

He said Ford executives never bought into the idea.

Silenced by fear

Early on, Ford showed its willingness to dump its trash on the poor.

Carol Dennison was just a girl in the late 1950s, when trucks began dropping loads of sludge and industrial junk near a small cluster of ramshackle rental homes in the woods just north of the plant.

She remembers the stench got so bad the residents had to go down to the river to escape it.

“You could smell that paint,” she said. “It was always there.”

Her small community just across the New York border was known as the Meadows. It had been a place where children spent summers building homemade wagons and playing ball while adults gathered on porches to catch up with neighbors.

Then the trucks rolled in.

Ford didn’t own the property and didn’t have permission to dump there, according to Arcadis, a company Ford hired to manage cleanups. But that didn’t stop them from dumping only yards away from the tiny homes. Up to 2 million gallons of sludge was spread over nearly 3 acres. Drums, trash and more than 20 tons of tires littered the neighborhood.

Few if any residents complained. Most were Ramapoughs. The Ramapoughs claim to be descendants of American Indians, Dutch settlers and freed slaves. Most are poor, clan-oriented and wary of outsiders. Those in the Meadows kept quiet for fear of being evicted.

“We all saw the drivers dumping – sludge, barrels, all kinds of stuff, but no one said anything,” said former resident Victoria DeFreese Powell. “It just became a part of our lives.”

The neighborhood was abandoned by the early 1970s, the residents pushed out by flooding after the river was diverted for a highway project. Only the foundations of the houses remain.

But a huge ridge of sludge, 6 feet deep in some places, is still there. All-terrain vehicles have torn rutted paths through the solidified glop. Bulging drums litter Dennison’s old playground. Trees grow through tires dumped decades ago.

Near the ridge of sludge, there is evidence the pollutants are spreading. The Record tested a pool of standing water about 20 feet from a storm culvert and found lead at 14 times government safety standards for groundwater. Levels of chromium and arsenic were also elevated. The culvert drains directly into the Ramapo River, a source of drinking water for southern Passaic County and elsewhere. The area flooded early this year, high enough to cover the paint sludge.

Mobsters vie for Ford’s waste

To mobsters, Ford’s waste was pure gold.

They were the enforcers of a cartel that called the shots in the trash industry. They set the rates and made sure there was no competition, according to a report by the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation.

Not all haulers were mobsters, but those who were had free rein. Even a big company like Ford had little choice but to deal with mob-controlled haulers. In the early years of the Mahwah plant, environmental regulation was minimal, so government officials weren’t asking questions about where waste was dumped.

Ford – with its tons and tons of packing material, paint sludge and other waste – was the biggest prize in the state.

A prize worth killing for, it seems.

Joseph “Joey Surprise” Feola was said to have learned that lesson the hard way.

In conversations taped by authorities, mob figures said the Genovese family gangster was lured to a garage in 1965 and strangled as a favor to the notorious godfather Carlo Gambino.

His offense? Stealing the Mahwah stop from a Gambino-controlled company.

Feola’s disappearance made the newspapers. They reported that the case had prompted a federal investigation into mob control of waste hauling.

Soon after, Ford changed the way it handled its trash. Mahwah’s waste would be going to property that the company owned in Ringwood. To get it there, Ford turned to Charles M. O’Connor, a small-time hauler who had been removing cardboard from Ford’s assembly plant in Metuchen.

The decision was bad news for the Ramapoughs in Ringwood, who had lived for generations on the land that Ford would turn into its dumping ground. But it had a broader impact. It brought thousands of tons of industrial waste to a watershed that serves more than a quarter of the state’s population.

Grocery money from trash

The big rigs barreled past the Wanaque Reservoir as they hauled fresh paint sludge and Ford’s castoffs up the dirt roads in Ringwood.

Gobs of it splattered over the humps in Peters Mine Road. Residents remember how the dust clouds swirled as the rigs rumbled by their homes. The trucks rolled past chicken coops, kids collecting mealworms to sell as bait and hunters working over their kill in skinning sheds.

Folks didn’t seem to mind all that industrial waste being carted to their mountain. In fact, the poor families queued up inside the dump, waiting for the trucks. The residents were eager to scavenge for copper and car parts to sell as scrap. Their children helped sort through the muck.

“That was grocery money for some families,” said Bob DeGroat, like most Ramapoughs a lifelong resident of the mountain.

Good money for people scraping by in the old miner’s shacks built back when the mountain was still giving up iron ore. In many homes, three generations of Van Dunks, DeGroats or Manns – three of a dozen last names that prevail among Ramapoughs – lived together without running water and only wood stoves for heat. Most families survived on vegetables grown in their gardens and game they hunted on the mountain.

Every morning, Charles DeFreese grabbed an old fruit basket and headed down to the mines early enough to beat his neighbors. He climbed down into the paint sludge near St. George Mine and looked for anything that would bring a few bucks. By the time his wife brought his lunch, he was covered in black.

The jackpot was a “snake,” a long copper wire. It was worth $30.

“What else were you going to do – work for the town for 75 cents an hour?” asked DeFreese’s wife, Linda.

Jack Walker, who lived closest to the dump, waved the truckers through the gates at the top of Peters Mine Road, night and day.

“They was in and out of here like bees,” he said.

He said the truck drivers paid him $30 or so every week to make sure only Ford’s waste – and nobody else’s – was dumped on the mountain. But the real money was in the scavenging.

Walker slogged in his work boots through the muck. Carburetors, wiring and tires stuck out of the fresh piles of sludge, like trash bobbing in an angry sea. The vapors from the solvents and paint thinners nearly overwhelmed him. He had to work fast before the bulldozers moved in. Whatever he missed, the giant claw shoveled into the gaping pit of the mine – the sludge, the barrels, the cardboard, every last scrap of it.

The gear-grinding and racket up and down Peters Mine Road got unbearable some nights. The drivers dumped everywhere. The sludge oozed like wet cement. It was pushed deep into old mines. It went into swamps and covered mountain hollows. The paint ended up right next to the neighborhood swimming hole.

Back then, the residents didn’t know the sludge was loaded with lead and chromium, a carcinogen that also causes nosebleeds. Walker never envisioned a Superfund site 150 yards from his front porch.

“We didn’t think at that time that maybe this stuff ain’t too good,” Walker said.

Choked with debris, the mines sometimes caught fire, burning out of control for weeks and spewing a terrible smoke through the yards. By then, the sludge had become just part of life on the mountain.

Susan Mann, then a schoolgirl, remembers racing from her house when she heard the clanging tailgates of the trucks. The piles of pink- and purple-streaked sludge were pretty. All that Candyapple Red paint Ford used in 1968. It squished under her sneakers and smelled like her mama’s nail polish.

As a boy, Mickey Van Dunk chased raccoons at night. He and his cousins would sprint through the woods with flashlights, past weirdly colorful slabs of sludge. He fished for walleye and caught turtles for soup in streams tinted with paint. He molded the sludge into baseballs. Other kids made sludge mud pies. They’d turn over old wrecked car hoods, pile on and slide down a massive mountain of gray paint. They called it Sludge Hill.

Children went home with terrible nosebleeds after playing in the muck.

Years later, many of them would suffer much worse.

A mountain ravaged

Even before O’Connor’s trucks arrived, the area bore the scars of a long history of exploitation. For nearly 200 years, miners – many of them Ramapoughs – labored beneath the earth there, harvesting one of the richest lodes of iron ore ever discovered. Peters Mine alone had 17 levels that reached nearly 2,000 feet underground. By the time the mines closed for good in the 1950s, the hills were a honeycomb of shafts, tunnels and caverns.

The Ringwood Mines area, as it was known to the outside world, was no paradise. The borough had used it as a municipal dump. Old cars and tires were routinely abandoned there. In one notorious episode, town officials allowed a contractor to spread waste oil on the roads to keep dust down. The oil was later determined to be contaminated with PCBs, now-banned industrial chemicals linked to neurological and skin defects in humans and to cancer in animals.

As early as 1965 – two years before the first truckload of sludge made its way to Ringwood – officials were warning Ford that dumping or building on the mountain could have serious consequences for the watershed.

A Ford subsidiary, Ringwood Realty, had come to town with a grandiose proposal to build a $50 million mini-city – complete with housing, schools, a shopping center and an industrial park – on a 900-acre tract it had acquired for $500,000.

The plan was opposed by the protectors of the Wanaque Reservoir. The city was never built.

In 1967, Ford’s subsidiary again ran afoul of local officials. Ringwood health officials chided the company for allowing two garbage haulers to dump in Cannon and Peters mines. The haulers, according to Ford, were dumping tree stumps and grass clippings from Connecticut – not waste from the factory. But health officials said they had not been notified of the dumping as required by law. They ordered the dumping stopped.

Seven days later, Ford signed O’Connor to haul the factory’s sludge the 10 miles from Mahwah to Ringwood. The state and local health departments and the New Jersey Bureau of Mines complained that the mines were a bad place for industrial waste, but they didn’t stop the dumping this time.

No state permits were needed until 1970 – at which point O’Connor got a landfill permit and continued hauling sludge up the mountain.

The land may have been used before as a dump, but O’Connor was bringing in industrial waste, and in quantities that boggle the mind. In 1969 alone – O’Connor hauled to Ringwood for four years – the Mahwah factory generated 84,000 cubic yards of waste, including 1.3 million gallons of paint sludge. That’s enough waste to fill 25 Olympic swimming pools.

“The disposal of Mahwah plant waste at the Ringwood site was approved by the appropriate authorities; it was not illegal,” said a Ford spokesman, Tony Bianchini of Holt, Mulroy & Germann.

Much of the sludge remains where it was dumped. The federal government listed the tract as a Superfund cleanup site nearly 20 years ago, but declared the mountain clean after Ford removed sludge from just a portion of its old dumping ground. Since then, Ford’s contractors have been called back four times to finish the job. In May, a federal official said only half the sludge has been removed.

Alarming ingredients

How dangerous is paint sludge?

In June, a consultant hired by The Record tested a chunk of sludge dug from Angie Van Dunk’s driveway at Peters Mine Road and Margaret King Avenue. It contained lead at 100 times the state safety standard for soil. Antimony, a silvery-white metal that can cause heart and lung problems, was also 100 times the level considered safe. Arsenic was nearly nine times the safety standard. Chromium was double the safety level.

Volatile organic compounds like xylenes and ethylbenzene were also present in hazardous concentrations, according to the analysis of the testing company, Aqua Pro-Tech Laboratories of Fairfield.

Long-term exposure to any of these chemicals is dangerous: Arsenic can cause lung cancer and skin disorders. Chromium increases the risk of lung cancer. Xylenes can wreak havoc on liver and kidneys and damage fetuses. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause permanent damage, especially to a child’s developing brain.

Some of those elements served as thinners or resins; others gave the paint its color.

How much sludge did the plant produce in its 25 years? Thirty million gallons, according to an estimate based on Ford’s documents.

Some cleanup work in Ringwood has been temporarily halted. The sludge is just too contaminated to be accepted by the toxic landfill in Michigan where it was being carted, EPA officials say.

Sickness up and down the lane

On a humid night in June, government scientists came to Ringwood to confirm what the Ramapoughs have believed for a generation: Some cancer rates are elevated in the neighborhood.

For residents, this was a moment of mixed emotions. For years, nobody had believed them. Not when thyroid cancer struck Bob DeGroat’s boy or when Fayelynn Van Dunk’s little girl nearly bled to death from a rare platelet disorder. And not when young Collin Milligan died of a tumor.

In fact, in the years since residents stormed an EPA hearing in 1988 to complain about all the sickness on the mountain, federal officials had issued two reports saying the contamination posed no health risks. They did so without ever talking to residents or their doctors.

Now, the Ph.D. stood in front with his PowerPoint presentation at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, a hub in the Ramapough community, where they’ve mourned their dead and plotted lawsuits against Ford. He stated that six male residents had developed lung cancer over the years – three times what epidemiologists expected to find.

The lung cancer cases are “statistically significant,” said Jerald Fagliano, program manager for the state Department of Health’s hazardous site health evaluation program.

Charles DeFreese – the man who got up early all those years to pick through Ford’s castoffs – was most likely one of those statistics. He died four years ago at age 55.

Other cancers were also elevated: bladder cancer in men and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in both sexes. But scientists can’t be sure whether the statistics show a real cancer cluster, with an environmental cause, or just a terrible coincidence. There just aren’t enough numbers – or large enough numbers – to know. Was the cancer caused by the arsenic and chromium in the soil or by all the cigarette smoking? What about all the unexplained skin rashes, the asthma and rare blood disorders?

The answers may never come, experts say.

“It’s incredibly difficult to untangle,” said Daniel Wartenberg, director of environmental epidemiology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway.

The Ramapoughs have retained attorneys – with the Alabama branch of the Johnnie Cochran law firm and the firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – but they have not filed any lawsuits.

“No one ever told us that stuff was dangerous, and they never asked anyone up here if we want all the things that have been put in our neighborhood – recycling center, power lines, and all that stuff they dumped,” said Linda DeFreese, Charles’ widow. “They just did whatever they wanted to us, and now we’re all sick from it.”

The Ramapoughs are convinced the government doesn’t really want to know the truth. Even the latest report on cancers was based on disease and death records. Health officials still refuse to go door to door to document the tales of suffering.

“That’s not how we operate,” said Arthur Block, senior regional representative of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “We don’t do individual health assessments.”

If only they would come, says Myrtle Van Dunk, they would see there is sickness in house after house, sickness far out of proportion to a community of 400 or so.

“How can they tell us how sick we are when they haven’t even sat down to talk to us?” she asked. “Their numbers are wrong. We have a lot more sick people than they say we do.”

Indeed, on tiny Van Dunk Lane, folks tell story after story of misery.

A while back, the EPA hauled away a huge swath of the lava-like sludge – the size of two minivans – from Bob DeGroat’s back yard. Small patches still pock the front yard. He wonders if this is what gave his son Robert thyroid cancer when he was 10. He wonders if it caused his granddaughter’s nosebleed this winter, so severe she had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

Down the road is the house where Collin Milligan used to live. The boy had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. His mother, Kelly DeGroat, said the chemotherapy and radiation couldn’t stop the tumors. They attacked first his spine, then his pelvis.

He died at home on Oct. 26, 2001, blind and paralyzed.

Three weeks after they lost Collin, his older cousin next door died. Pauline Wright was a young mother and pretty preschool aide aching to be a real teacher.

That was cancer, too. Now Pauline’s parents are raising her two kids.

The suffering on Van Dunk Lane doesn’t stop. Five-year-old Donovan Van Dunk was born with a kidney defect as well as a rare autoimmune disease, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, said his mother, Fayelynn Van Dunk. Recently, she said, his backside and legs were covered in a rash, his testicles swollen and his leg joints aching. Experts aren’t sure what causes the disease, but they say exposure to chemicals may be one of the triggers.

Donovan’s sister Brianne, a beautiful girl with dark eyes and a mane of curls, was diagnosed with a similarly rare blood disorder when she was 3, Fayelynn said.

“She started throwing up blood,” Fayelynn said. “She was almost bleeding to death and we didn’t know it.”

A nurse told The Record that the girl has outgrown the illness, immune thrombocytopenic purpura. But Fayelynn fears it could return.

And that’s not the end of the family’s troubles. All four children have asthma. One afternoon, 13-year-old Oceania puffed on her inhaler. Asthma caught Fayelynn’s breath, too, as she trudged up the sharp incline to her faded blue house. As her breathing returned to normal, she pulled a lighter out of her tight top and smoked.

“I shouldn’t,” she acknowledged. “But I get bitchy if I don’t.”

Betrayed by the land they love

Kelly DeGroat knows what outsiders say: “Those mine people.”

Poor folks who don’t take care of themselves.

Making up stories so they can sue Ford and get rich.

Poor folks, they say, whose genes have been weakened by marrying for generations within their own little community of Van Dunks and Manns and DeGroats, related every which way.

Whatever the cause of the Ramapoughs’ health problems, the fact is their environment is contaminated. Because their very existence depends on the vegetables they grow, the fish they catch and the animals they hunt, the contamination is inescapable.

“I’m not just worried about my children, but my children’s children,” Kelly DeGroat said. “What will this place be like for them? Will our children even be around to have their own children?”

The Record tested a stream in the neighborhood and found it tainted with benzene, a chemical known to cause leukemia and other blood disorders. Residents say paint sludge was dumped near the stream’s source. The stream flows DayGlo orange – colored by iron – beside a spot where children used to wait for their school bus. The iron could come from the indigenous ore in the area or from ferric chloride, a chemical found in paint sludge.

Francine Van Dunk remembers when the stream ran clear and she collected it in jugs for drinking water.

In 2001, her husband, Arthur, got the terrible news. He had a tumor so rare it bewildered even the experts. “It’s in God’s hands,” they told Francine.

Arthur, a deliveryman who’d spent much of his life hiking and hunting on the mountain, had pancreatic cancer. Dr. Audrey Hamilton, his oncologist at the Denville offices of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, called the tumor “a very rare bird. We were perplexed.”

He died two years ago at age 54.

A toxicologist who once worked for the EPA has surveyed the area for the Ramapoughs. He says there’s an added health threat from what scientists call “toxic synergism” – the hazard that can occur when chemicals interact.

“People are living cheek to jowl in this stuff,” said Bruce Moholt, the toxicologist.

Angie Van Dunk is convinced the sludge in her driveway – sludge tested by The Record – gave her 4-year-old son lead poisoning. The Record’s test found even the dirt alongside the sludge exceeded safety standards for lead and arsenic.

“He keeps putting his hands in his mouth while he plays in the dirt,” Angie said, as her son chased his cousins across the yard, fingers to lips.

Scientists recently concluded that there is no safe threshold for lead exposure in children.

Doctors told Angie to keep her little boy away from the dirt when tests on file at Chilton Memorial Hospital in Pompton Plains found the lead in his blood was at 16 micrograms per deciliter – well over the 10 per deciliter the CDC considers unsafe. Angie and her kids moved out of her house in August and now shuttle between a cousin in West Milford and a sister in Paterson.

Angie doesn’t know if they’ll ever be able to return home. Sludge removal around houses has been delayed, EPA officials said, because the residents’ lawyers won’t allow them onto the properties. So the sludge just sits there in Angie’s driveway.

“This place is just dangerous,” Kelly DeGroat said.

Her son’s birthday is coming up. Time once again for Kelly and her surviving boys to hold hands in a circle around the pear tree in the yard that has become Collin’s memorial. They’ll say a prayer and release balloons with messages to Collin from his brothers.

Nearly four years after Collin’s death, there’s still sickness in the tidy ranch house adorned with pictures of Native Americans. Kelly’s 18-year-old, Devin, and 10-year-old, Deion, have asthma. At 35, Kelly underwent a hysterectomy because of painful fibroids.

Now, Devin has joint pain and swelling that keep him from playing sports. The doctors say it’s nothing.

That’s what they used to say about Collin.

Early warnings ignored

Even those who dumped the paint were anxious about its impact.

O’Connor didn’t like hauling sludge from the plant, but did so under pressure from Ford, according to Russell Kerestes, who ran the Ford operation for O’Connor.

“There was a great deal of concern on O’Connor’s part about the sludge. But it was our feeling that when it dried it became inert,” he said. “The paint sludge was a very small part of the whole operation. Wood and cardboard overwhelmed everything else.”

There were few environmental regulations at the time, Kerestes said. “The environment didn’t have the priority it has now,” he said. “The only real test for a landfill back then was if it was flammable or not.”

Shareholders in O’Connor’s Ford venture included Kerestes, a former banker who would go on to lead a trash-industry lobbying group, and attorney Joseph Letcher, a Bergen County undersheriff and later a municipal judge in Ho-Ho-Kus. The business was financed by a bank run by Garfield Mayor Gotthold Rose, a prominent Republican who once led the Bergen County detective squad.

Even so, O’Connor Trucking and Haulage was soon in deep financial trouble.

The company fell behind in removing Ford’s waste. Equipment kept breaking. Vandals set so many fires in Ringwood they had to hire a local man to guard the site with a pistol, Kerestes said.

“It was a 24-hour-a-day operation and all kinds of things happen in that type of operation,” Kerestes said.

Worse, organized crime wanted the Ford contract. Letcher said O’Connor talked to him about the mob in the late 1960s.

“He said they were putting pressure on him to turn over his business to them,” said Letcher, who maintains that he merely incorporated O’Connor’s Ford venture and had no role in the business beyond that.

O’Connor died in 1983. Attempts to reach a son in Pennsylvania were unsuccessful.

The company also ran afoul of Dean Noll, the vigilant and persistent protector of the Highlands watershed. Now deceased, Noll was chief engineer of the Wanaque Reservoir. He urged state agencies to close dumps and opposed development that might taint the reservoir.

Noll was farsighted. In a letter written to state environmental officials in the late 1960s, he warned that a generation could pass before the full impact of pollution became obvious.

In 1967, the year Ford began trucking plant waste to Ringwood, Noll fired off a protest. He kept up a steady drumbeat of objection. By 1971, he was taking dead aim at Ford’s dumping:

“Drainage through the existing landfill operation is polluting [a stream through the site] which is only 8,000 feet along the run of the stream from the Wanaque Reservoir,” Noll wrote to state environmental officials.

Ford’s own documents from the time show company officials felt Noll was right.

In an interoffice memo the automaker gave to the EPA recently, one Ford executive said: “The area used as a dumpsite for many years is leaching into a public water supply and represents a contingent liability.”

In another document, a second Ford executive blamed O’Connor for getting the company in trouble in Ringwood: “This stream became definitely polluted as a result of paint and other refuse finding its way into the water course.”

Ford officials decided O’Connor had to go.

In April of 1971, the company fired O’Connor and hired Industrial Services of America, a Kentucky-based firm that held disposal contracts at Ford plants in Louisville. ISA would go on to become a national player in the waste business. In making the move, Ford expected that ISA would be able to dump in Ringwood. But the permit for dumping there was already in jeopardy – and would ultimately be revoked.

“I go to a big meeting with these Ford people and they say we have this land, these mines, but they also have these people that live on it,” recalled ISA founder Harry Kletter in an interview this summer.

Kletter said he told Ford executives that, as an out-of-state company, he needed to bring in a local hauler to help with the job. Kletter, now semiretired as ISA’s “chief visionary officer,” said one of his company’s local salesman recommended a carting family based in New York’s Orange County.

“I didn’t know too much of their background, he said, “but having been around for a while, I knew there were some shadows.”

Truckers dodge police

During the eight years he hauled Ford’s sludge, Charlie Oetzel played a cat-and-mouse game with the police. He and other truck drivers would leave the Ford plant with a 20-cubic-yard truckload of waste and get directions on the road via radio.

The sludge went wherever the cops weren’t watching, he said.

Oetzel remembers unloading sludge by a stream that fed the Ramapo River. The water ran green, blue, red and yellow, he said. The battery acid burned through work gloves.

“It stunk like the devil, it did,” said Oetzel, now 76 and retired in Monroe, N.Y. “Especially in the warm weather. … You got a lot of fumes coming off the load. You’d look in the mirror and you could see the fumes coming off of it.”

In the 1970s, Oetzel drove for the Mongellis. The Mongellis were the family that Kletter’s ISA brought in. The family had had a tenuous connection with Ford before ISA arrived. Ringwood Realty had allowed their trucks to dump in Ringwood in 1967.

The family’s mob connections would come to light later. The 1989 report of New Jersey’s SCI said that Louis J. Mongelli was an associate of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the muttering, bathrobe-wearing boss of the Genovese crime family. The Chin’s brother was on the Mongelli payroll, the report said.

In 1992, Louis and brother Robert pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, bribery and money laundering charges related to their hauling business. Two years later, Louis vanished into the federal witness-protection program. The Record couldn’t locate Robert or Louis Mongelli, but in an interview this summer their younger brother Joseph denied that the family had any connections to organized crime.

Kletter maintains that Ford’s Mahwah waste was handled properly while he was on the job.

“I was up there a lot. I had [contracts at several] plants and I was responsible to Ford,” he said. “So I had people going up there all the time to make sure it was handled correctly.”

Within two years, Kletter said, his company was out of the picture and the Mongellis were in control of Ford’s toxic waste.

In the Mahwah plant’s final years, haulers dumped Ford’s waste anywhere they could – in landfills, on farms, near streams that fed the Ramapo River and above waters that fed the Wanaque Reservoir. Organized crime ruled the trash business, and the automaker employed contractors that dumped according to the mob’s rules.

Oetzel remembers routinely being ordered by the Mongellis to break the law. He covered his truck’s logos with magnetic signs to conceal their identity from police.

Oetzel said he dumped Ford’s paint sludge in more than a dozen landfills and other sites in New Jersey and upstate New York between 1972 and 1980.

He remembers dumping near the Wanaque Reservoir and in Wanaque’s municipal landfill, now the upcounty campus of Passaic County Community College. In the woods behind the school, The Record this summer found about a dozen 55-gallon industrial drums, the kind sometimes used by Ford. No paint sludge was visible on the land.

Oetzel often headed south to Kearny or other landfills in the Meadowlands. A trail of spilled sludge would slop behind him on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Even farmers waved the trucks in. Another retired Mongelli driver, who asked to remain unidentified for fear of retribution, said he dumped in woods and swamps next to upstate New York farms. The farmers were paid about $1,000 a truckload by the Mongellis, the second driver said.

Oetzel said he usually dumped at landfills authorized to accept only household trash – in early morning or late afternoon, when no one was around to see. Dump workers bulldozed a hole in the garbage for Ford’s waste. Oetzel would back up his vehicle, tip back the truck bed and let sludge slide out like melted cheese. The hole was quickly covered, the evidence buried.

Oetzel hauled to the Warwick landfill, a private dump in the woods above Greenwood Lake. The lake drains into the Wanaque Reservoir system.

Bill Decker, the landfill’s caretaker, described the illegal dumping in a tape-recorded interview later used as evidence by a New York State Assembly committee investigating toxic waste haulers. He told of a steady stream of “paint, lacquer, brake fluid – all that [expletive] from the Ford plant; that’s what’s running down in there; that’s what’s going in the water table.”

New York shut the landfill in 1980. Weeks later, Decker was found dead on local railroad tracks. The cause was listed as heart failure, though neighbors told New York State’s Assembly Environment Committee that the middle-aged Decker had no heart problems.

At the Wallkill landfill in Orange County, Donald “Dutch” Smith ran a bulldozer from 1971 until the dump closed in 1974. Once a week, he remembers, trucks pulled in with metal and cardboard barrels stamped “Ford Motor Co.” and “Mahwah Plant.”

“They dumped stuff way up in the back, in different places, in special holes and stuff like that, so you know they was dumping stuff that wasn’t supposed to be dumped,” said Smith, 75, who still lives in a ramshackle trailer next to the landfill. “I was digging down right to the water table to dump stuff, and you wasn’t supposed to do that either.”

The government tried to bring some order to this toxic Wild West in 1976. Congress imposed new rules on the disposal of hazardous waste. Every shipment of industrial waste would have to include a manifest, paperwork meant to track the material “from cradle to grave.” Two years later, New Jersey imposed its own manifest system.

The Mongellis and others ran their trucks right through those laws.

Mobsters set up shell companies. Truckers falsified manifests. New Jersey, praised for some of the country’s toughest laws, had only four inspectors to track thousands of truck movements each month.

The environmental laws had an unintended consequence: Unscrupulous haulers got rich. They used the stringent new requirements to justify higher fees – then went ahead and dumped hazardous waste wherever they could get away with it.

A 55-gallon drum of chemicals that had been hauled for $20 now cost up to $100, said Harold Kaufman, a star government informer who worked for mafia haulers while undercover for the FBI.

Moving the Mahwah sludge could mean as much as $500,000 a year in profit. And that didn’t include the old batteries, cardboard, waste oil and other trash the Ford plant pumped out every day.

“The biggest contract in New Jersey,” Kaufman called it.

As the dumping continued, the Mongellis prospered. Joseph Mongelli said the family also hauled for four Ford facilities in Michigan.

He said the company properly disposed of all of Ford’s sludge at the old Bergen County landfill in Lyndhurst, now part of the massive EnCap development.

Ford’s sludge will probably never be completely accounted for. Millions of gallons essentially disappeared. Mob-connected haulers didn’t keep records – at least, not honest ones.

What Ford officials knew about the dumping is less clear.

The police officers and prosecutors who pursued illicit dumpers during the last years of the Mahwah plant say mob haulers had to have inside help to keep their exorbitant contracts.

“Somebody at Ford had to be greased,” said Dirk Ottens, a retired state police detective who led several toxic-dumping investigations in New Jersey in the 1970s.

Ottens and former partner Jack Penny said many industries fell under the sway of shady carters at the time.

“The mentality then was: I give it to a licensed hauler, he’ll take care of it,” said A. Patrick Nucciarone, who tried environmental cases at the time for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark. “Is that criminal? Probably not. Is it negligent? Probably so.”

No one inside the Mahwah plant was ever charged. Ford, for its part, declined to answer questions about past waste haulers and practices, telling The Record it had “limited historical records.”

But it’s clear that even after the last car – a two-tone Fairmont Futura – rolled off the line in Mahwah, Ford couldn’t escape the mob. Four years after the plant closed in 1980, it hired the Mongellis to help clean up the waste still on its property.

A man’s dreams upended

Trucks have been hauling sludge in Ringwood again. Only this time, they’ve been taking it off the mountain.

Surveyors came out this summer to search the woods for sludge now hidden under lush tangles of weeds. They marked tree branches and rocks with pink fluorescent spray paint, though they never told residents what the marks meant.

A tractor-trailer rumbled past Mickey Van Dunk’s house as he gardened one May afternoon. He tended the tidy rows of onions peeking out of the earth. There’s not much else he can do. The OxyContin quits working in half the time it’s supposed to.

Hardened boils look burned into his 34-year-old face. He’s found it’s just easier to tell people it’s from a car accident.

A massive scar runs across his back where doctors removed a kickball’s worth of pus and tissue. He lost huge swaths of skin when they cut out infected sweat glands. In all he’s had surgery 17 times since his skin first erupted in boils when he was a teen.

He has a rare condition called hidradenitis suppurativa. “He’s one of the most severe cases I’ve ever seen. He has it on his face even, which is unusual,” said his surgeon, Dr. Parmad Ganchi, a Harvard-trained expert at UMDNJ in Newark.

The disease seems to be genetic in some respects; but many who have studied it believe exposure to pollutants can make it worse.

In his dreams, Mickey Van Dunk is outdoors, wading in water or ice fishing. All the things he used to do on the mountain before he was sick. He dreamed of having a brood of boys and driving backhoes and dump trucks at construction sites. They’d live in the house where he grew up, where Mickey and his brothers wore a path from the yard up the hill into Ringwood State Park. That’s were he worked 12 years ago as a laborer, his last job.

The smell of his skin and the pus drives him crazy some days. He’s thought of suicide. “I’m so tired of going under the blade,” he said.

He learned to undress in the dark to spare his wife, Linda. They tried to have children, but Mickey is sterile now, he says.

“They told me there’s something in my body that keeps building this pus,” he said. “I really believe it comes from all this crap.”

Janet, his mom, is convinced her boy was sickened by the contamination that is all around them, in the woods they hunt in, the fish they eat, maybe even in the 20 pounds of deer meat in the freezer.

“Nobody’s going to change my mind,” she said.

She’s certain of something else. Mickey won’t have any more surgery.

“Why keep cuttin’ on him?” she said as she smoked a cigarette on the front porch. “There’s nothing left to cut.”

Staff Writer Clint Riley contributed to this article. E-mail: toxiclegacy@northjersey.com.

(SIDEBAR, page A18)

How paint becomes pollution

Ford had come a long way from the days when its headstrong founder was quoted – perhaps apocryphally – in a classic misreading of the car-buying market. By 1955, when the Mahwah assembly plant opened for business, Ford buyers could choose from an artist’s palette of color when ordering their vehicles – Monte Carlo Red, Academy Blue, Meadow Green. But that high-gloss finish came with a cost to the environment. The painting of cars produced vast quantities of waste, from volatile organic compounds in thinners to heavy metals in the pigments. Up to 5 gallons of paint sludge was produced in the manufacture of each vehicle. Today, sludge amounts are reduced by recycling and other process improvements. What follows is a simplified description of how paint was handled at the Mahwah plant.

Henry Ford


Partially assembled vehicle bodies rode the assembly line to the paint shop. There the sheet metal was chemically cleaned, then primed, then topcoated. Paint was applied in booths, using hand-held spray guns.

Making sludge

The overspray was blown out of the booth through a screen of water – essentially a small waterfall that stripped the paint from the air. The paint-laden water flowed into a large clarifying tank, where chemical compounds such as ferric chloride and lime were added to extract heavy metals and other paint solids from the solution. The water was discarded. Often the resulting sludge was disposed of as slurry; it had the consistency of molten lava and an intense paint smell. Other times, it was allowed to harden before disposal.

Dumping it

The sludge was loaded onto 20-yard container trucks and transported to landfills, where bulldozers plowed it into position. For the most part, it sat there and hardened over time, with little further evaporation of solvents or water. As a result, the volume of the sludge stayed the same, with the solvents still trapped within. Even decades later, a strong smell of paint solvents is released when chunks of paint sludge are broken apart.

Sources: Ford documents filed with Mahwah officials; Richard W. Chapin, P.E., Chapin Engineering; former Ford and hauler employees.

(SIDEBAR, page S22)

Ford’s plant in Mahwah

It was an icon of a different time in America – when a generation emerged from World War II with an insatiable hunger for the good life and the American cars that were its hallmark. Detroit stoked that appetite, churning out model after model with ever more horsepower, flash and comfort.

The No. 2 American automaker boasted its Mahwah plant was the largest of its kind in the world. Built at a cost of $70 million as a replacement for a ’30s-era factory in Edgewater, the behemoth ultimately occupied 50 acres of a 177-acre meadow between Route 17 and the Ramapo River, just south of the New York State line.

In 1955, Detroit had a near-monopoly on the American car market; by 1980, it faced stiff competition from Japanese and European rivals. Still, in its 25 years of operation, the plant produced nearly 6 million vehicles, from full-size Galaxies and F-150 trucks in its early years, to downsized Monarchs and Fairmonts.

But that productivity had a cost: It generated vast amounts of waste.

25 years of cars and castoffs

In just three years, from 1968 to 1970, the Mahwah plant produced:

*-Paint sludge: 3,403,644 gallons

*-Kolene sludge: 28,478 gallons*

*-Thinners, oils, liquids: 73,000 gallons

*-Wood dunnage: 1,525,000 cubic feet**

*-Paper: 190,000 tons

*-Cardboard: 490,000 cubic feet

*-Cars: 495,088

*-Commercial vehicles: 163,968

*-Vehicles produced in the life of the plant: 4,594,243 cars and 1,318,522 trucks

* Kolene is a chemical compound used to clean paint from assembly-line equipment.

** Dunnage is packing material used in the shipping of parts.

Source: Ford Motor Co. documents provided to EPA

The EPA has no records on total sludge amounts. Our estimate is based on information contained in state Department of Environmental Protection documents.

Facts and figures

*-First car, specially equipped for the disabled, rolled off the line on July 16, 1955. Last car, a two-tone, two-door Fairmont Futura, was produced in June 1980.

*-The plant tripled the output of the Edgewater plant, which had opened in 1930 and produced 1,817,938 cars in its 25 years.

*-During the transition from Edgewater to Mahwah, only 16 hours of operation were lost, as equipment and stock were moved 26 miles in a convoy of trucks.

*-The Mahwah tract was a golf course before Ford acquired it. Indians had once held powwows on the land; it was also used by Colonial troops as a bivouac area during the Revolutionary War.

*-Opened at 1.5 million square feet, the plant was expanded to 2.3 million square feet.

*-The plant had 10 miles of production aisles, including assembly lines and storage areas. It also held experimental labs, a 93,000-square-foot shipping and receiving platform, three air-conditioned cafeterias, medical facilities, a physics lab, a metallurgy lab, and a chemical lab.

*-Payroll in 1960 was around $25 million for 4,350 workers, rising to $84.9 million in 1979. The average worker made $159 a week in 1965.

*-At its peak, the plant turned out a car every minute.

* The plant produced 6,200 1958 Edsels, the car that quickly became synonymous with failure.

*-Vehicles made at the plant included LTDs, Galaxies, Granadas, Mercury Monarchs, Fairmonts, Zephyrs and light trucks.

*-In 1974, 2,400 workers lived in New Jersey and 2,050 in New York. Ford was the largest employer in Bergen County.

*-In 1962, the plant consumed 235,320 kilowatt-hours of power a day, enough to supply a small city. The monthly electric bill was around $68,000 and had grown to more than $500,000 at closing.

*-The factory used 1.2 million gallons of water every production day and 1.3 million cubic feet of natural gas.

(SIDEBAR, page A23)

A Ford timeline

*-July 1955: Ford opens new assembly plant in Mahwah to replace a 1930 factory in Edgewater. Ford boasts that its new plant is the largest in the world.

*-January 1965: A Ford subsidiary buys 900 acres in Ringwood from an iron-mining company. Hiding its connection to the auto giant, Ringwood Realty first proposes a development, but gives up on the idea amid problems trying to relocate occupants of the miners’ homes and concerns raised by the operators of the nearby Wanaque Reservoir, the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission.

*-October 1967: Water district asks the state Department of Health to withhold approval of a landfill in Ringwood until the plan can be evaluated. Later, in a letter to the Ringwood borough council, chief water district engineer Dean Noll says the agency opposes the plan because of the risk of contamination.

*-December 1967: Ford contracts Harrison-based O’Connor Trucking and Haulage to remove waste from Mahwah. Over the next four years, paint sludge and other waste is dumped in the mines and forests on the tract by O’Connor. Sludge is later found in many places there.

*-March 1969: A Ringwood police report describes how a bulldozer had fallen into the open pit of Peters Mine. It is never recovered. Later reports detail numerous fires and complaints about nighttime visits by waste-hauling trucks.

*-April 1971: Ford executives decide to fire O’Connor, citing performance issues and financial problems. Instead, they hire ISA, a Kentucky company that hauls waste for a Ford plant in Louisville. ISA forms a partnership with a mob-connected carter based in Orange County, N.Y. Over the next decade, Ford waste is handled by firms that routinely dispose of the paint sludge, chemicals and other castoffs in unauthorized locations throughout New York and New Jersey.

*-June 1972: Ford drops plans to keep dumping in Ringwood after deciding it can’t meet state environmental requirements.

*-December 1973: Ford donates 109 acres, including the heavily polluted Peters Mine dump area, to the state, which adds it to Ringwood State Park in 1979. The transaction completes Ford’s divestiture of the entire 900-acre property; other portions had been sold to utility companies for transmission lines and to a private developer. Another tract is donated to Ringwood.

*-June 1980: Ford closes the Mahwah plant. The company ultimately spends nearly $10 million to clean up the site, which is sold to developers.

*-September 1983: Ringwood tract becomes a Superfund site. By 1988, Ford contractors remove 7,000 cubic yards of paint sludge, at cost of $1.6 million.

*-January 1988: Sheraton Crossroads opens on the Mahwah site.

*-September 1988: EPA chooses the least expensive of five follow-through options for Ringwood: For 30 years, Ford must monitor groundwater in areas where sludge was removed. The agency could have insisted that landfills be capped, groundwater treated, and leaching prevented.

*-January 1990: Ford is called back to Ringwood to remove 727 tons of paint sludge and 61 drums of waste from the O’Connor landfill. The waste had been uncovered during site work for a proposed radio tower.

*-November 1994: EPA declares the site clean enough to be delisted by Superfund.

*-April 1995: Ford is called back to Ringwood to remove 5 cubic yards of paint sludge from back yard of a home.

*-December 1997: Ford is called back to Ringwood to remove 30 cubic yards of paint sludge from O’Connor landfill.

*-March 2002: Less than halfway through its groundwater-monitoring program, Ford petitions the EPA to stop tests, saying that nothing hazardous is being detected; Ringwood and the Sierra Club object.

*-Spring 2004: EPA orders Ford to do another cleanup; tests by the company detect elevated levels of lead, benzene and arsenic in groundwater.

*-February 2005: EPA orders search for paint sludge around all 48 homes in the Ringwood Mines area. Ford conducts survey of the original 900-acre tract.

*-March 2005: The New Jersey Environmental Justice Task Force, a group charged with ensuring that minorities and the poor receive fair treatment in environmental matters, recommends relisting of Ringwood as a Superfund site.

*-June 2005: State Health Department releases survey that confirms what residents of the Ringwood dump area have suspected for years: They suffer from elevated rates of some cancers.

*-September 2005: Excavation work stopped in Ringwood after a Michigan landfill that’s been accepting the sludge refuses to take any more, saying it’s too contaminated.


  1. Anyone who claims that it’s unfair to paint Ford as a company that takes pleasure in harming people is an idiot. Ford’s pleasure or pain is of complete indifference to me. They dumped waste because of what they are, a capitalist, profit-driven corporation. That is the crime. Like Robespierre charging Louis XVI not with any particular crime, but with being a king, we charge Ford with being for-profits. The savaging by Ford of those who were weaker is the inevitable outcome of that identity.

    but we already knew that. just keeping those venting muscles in shape.

    Comment by Brian Gallagher — July 18, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  2. Brian,

    Hope you are well.

    Ford, it’s managers, were faced with the question. Should I take selfishly for myself and knowingly hurt others, or should I be responsible and not make as much.

    Thus why capitalism must be eliminated. It is a profit driven thing which will always choose the easy way out.


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by John Kaniecki — July 19, 2011 @ 1:44 am

  3. John,

    Thank you. You make your point with great clarity and yes, I agree with you completely. However, there is the matter of class consciousness. Those running Ford don’t see their actions as selfish. They see Reality according to their bourgeois consciousness which inevitably justifies their actions and with which there is no moral dilemma to struggle. So they are unknowingly hurting people and even if they know it, it’s not the same as if you or I know we are hurting others. There is a qualitative difference between their consciousnesses and ours. For them, it’s not the “free moral choice” of the religious scholastics, but a conditioning of the mind.
    Well, that’s my view anyways. Not that it ever moved mountains.


    Comment by Brian Gallagher — July 20, 2011 @ 4:06 am

  4. Brian,

    Hope you are well. Please regard the Pentagon papers where Daniel Ellsburg had a change of thinking. He was motivated by the protesters he saw daily as he went to work. I believe the essence of what you are saying is true. That these people are hardened and cold hearted. I also know that these people are human being and they are affected. That is why soldiers returning from war or even just military service have so much psychological difficulty. They are trained and brain washed to do something that is against the natural. I have never moved a mountain either up to this point. I have stopped trying to move mountains. Instead I hope to destroy the imperialistic and capitalistic systems which torment and torture this world, or known to us Christians folks as the worship of mammon.

    Articles like this prick the spirit. Don’t you think that somebody from the FBI will be reading this interaction? Perhaps they consider themselves a Christian. Allow me to point out the despotic wickedness of man failing in his first task as steward of God’s creation. What’s good for Ford is not good for America. And selfishly lusting for profits in blind greed is evil.


    John Kaniecki.

    Comment by john kaniecki — July 20, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  5. In late 2008, The Big Three (GM, Ford & Chrysler) asked Washington for a 50 billion dollar bailout. This request, along with an already abismal economy sent all of their stock prices down further. At this time, Ford made an offer of settlement for 11 million with the Ramapoughs, reminding them a bankruptcy might be imminent & they could get nothing. They accepted it. Something odd then happened. In early 2009, Obama approved the auto bailout and Chrysler & GM took the money. They still went into bankruptcy. Ford not only didn’t file bankruptcy but they also DECLINED the bailout. Did they add their name to the original bailout request deliberately, to be able to look insolvent and settle what could have been a multi-billion dollar suit for chump change? Seems they were back to making billions the minute the suit was settled.

    Comment by Liz — July 27, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

  6. This is tragic in every way possible. All I can offer is a prayer for these people and a vow that from this day forward, I will never again consider buying a Ford product, and this comes from a person who has loved Mustangs since I begged my father for one, when I turned 16 back in 1976. Hey Ford Motor Company…you are Candy Apple DEAD to me.

    Comment by Sammie — July 31, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  7. I’m really saddened by the story of this tribe;I hope justice will come for them soon,to hell with ford!

    Comment by Marsha Dickerson — August 11, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  8. I just received an e-mail from change.org – there is a petition going around to help make Ford clean up their ess instead of the park becoming a legal toxic waste dump. I found your post because I like to investigate before blindly signing petitions. Change.org says it is Ringwood park in NJ that is in question. Is that correct? I also find it odd that The Native Americans mentioned are having a pow wow this Sept. at Ringwood state park. I was at that state park about six years ago. I didn’t walk the entire thing, but everything seemed very nice and tourist friendly there.

    Comment by Carol Bender — August 12, 2011 @ 1:28 am

  9. Carol, I am no expert on the details of the struggle. My suggestion is to check the Ramapough Mountain Indian website for information.


    Comment by louisproyect — August 12, 2011 @ 1:40 am

  10. Though I pity the people in question, this is not merely Ford’s doing: obviously the lack of early response from the people living in the area of the dumps, the lack of knowledge and legislation about pollutants at the time, and the role of the mafia in pressuring against more legitimate means of disposal play a role. There were better ways of handling this on Ford’s part, but the justice system was hindered from stopping Ford by factors not completely in Ford’s control.

    The battle between communism and capitalism is not the battle here, and is not relevant. Communist countries generally have fewer checks against corruption because the power is more centralised. For example, China has a fatality rate from pollution over over 750,000 people every year as of several years ago, a number which has almost certainly reached over 1,000,000 deaths per year, but which is not public knowledge, because the same government responsible for that egregious mismanagement of public affairs also controls the press. (I know these things because I used to live there.)

    Fortunately, it is not the case that the media and Internet blogs such as this are censored in the United States because this country is capitalist and therefore the press and Internet are independent of the government or Ford, and so there is a place for communists to complain that we need a more centralised system for collective management, while in communist countries there is no place to complain at all.

    As I said, this event relating to pollution is undeniably tragic, but not related to overarching economic systems.

    Comment by Alan — August 16, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  11. Heres the latest article.


    Thanks for helping and I hope you come to the meeting next week.

    Bob Spiegel

    Comment by Robert Spiegel — August 18, 2011 @ 3:58 am

  12. Can anyone tell me where the Michigan dump is located? Or the name of the company running it?

    Comment by Kelly — September 26, 2011 @ 3:49 am

  13. Just because a company is able to do something does not make it right. It also does not negate their responsibility for the damages caused by their actions. Ford hired a company to haul toxic waste. It was Ford’s waste they are responsible for it. Glad I do not own a Ford, will never own one now. If this is how Ford conducts business the EPA should start checking around every Ford plant, my guess is they all have dumping histories.

    Comment by ginny — November 28, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

  14. What was the final outcome. Was Ford Sued and if so for how much. Did the Indians and community win?


    Comment by Darcy Taylor — November 28, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  15. The communist v. capitalist argument here is forced. The American idea of liberty comes down to “Being responsible for your own choices as long as you are not affecting someone else.” In Ford’s case they caused harm to the environment and to the known residents. This is not an example of Liberty or Capitalism, it is a violation of it’s principles.

    From the Capitalist point of view their choices were incredibly stupid. They not only dumped 30 mil gallons of toxins but did so with no location records of any value. From a liability standpoint this put them in a very bad position. Knowing that if they ever were caught and forced to clean up they wouldn’t even know where to start, and would have bankrupted the company. AKA a bad business decision. The problem is allowing them to have such a large influence with elected officials that this may be kept quiet with no recourse for a long time.

    Now consider these same employees in charge, having been in similar positions in a communist America. Making the decisions of what to do with these same toxic waste issues with pressure from the central government to get the job done within a certain budget. What’s to stop them from making the same easy out decisions.

    Comment by mike — January 27, 2012 @ 3:46 am

  16. Sorry I bought a Ford in the 70’s.– hope they go out of business.

    Comment by Jan Fredericks — March 20, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

  17. What exactly is a “violation of principles”? The disposal was LEGAL based on the laws at that time. You can bitch and moan all you want about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the property was a legal dump at the time. it was a dump BEFORE before Ford leased the property from the city of Ringwood.

    Comment by Joe Nichols — April 26, 2012 @ 2:04 am

  18. Yes there was a dump in Ringwood.. the issue is they were dumping outside the designated dumping area. They dumped toxic waste in neighborhoods, mines, anywhere they could. For years we have complained about the dumping without resolution. Now that the sludge is known to be polluting the Wanaque drinking water for all of Bergen and Passaic county, now it’s an issue for everyone.

    Comment by steven — April 7, 2013 @ 2:45 am

  19. Shame on Ford Motors shame on the goverment.I for one am ashamed of owning one of their trucks and will be putting a for sale sign on it today

    Comment by Aaron Brown — November 25, 2013 @ 1:08 am

  20. I can not read any more I’m so mad I could spit. I think Ford executives and the ones that kept their mouth shut should have to live their with their families ! Of course their off some where safe and away from all they of done and not made responsible for any thing. This is normal not to be held responsible for dumping toxic sludge !! They need to be held accountable for their actions and I mean now !!

    Comment by Alice Helton Smith — November 25, 2013 @ 3:32 am

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