Media in Trouble: All the news thats UNfit to print!: The Superfund State Part 3

"The information of the people at large can alone make them safe, as they are the sole depositary of our political and religious freedom." --Thomas Jefferson 1810

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Superfund State Part 3

In this third and final installment (see one and two) I will first highlight the severity of the situation in Ringwood, then touch upon the disparity between Corzine and Forrester in terms of how they would rather handle the situation. But first, let us remind ourselves just why Ringwood should be an issue. The Bergen Record does a fine job of cataloguing the attrocious nature of how Ringwood and the surrounding communities became the exemplar of toxic waste dumps Superfund sites that it is today:
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.


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.


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.


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.

If you think Ringwood doesn't affect you, think again.

Let's see... Which river was it that was flooding recently?

Right...The Ramapo

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words so if you live in the blue area, worry.

more here...

Unfortunatley, the case of the enormous area in Ringwood, has many folks to blame. Ford dumped the paint onto mobsters. Mobsters being the waste managers of old dumped it anywhere they felt like dumping it. At times the mob bought dumping grounds. The Superfund law came to being and the cyclical clean-up by the polluter ensued. Who to blame?

Not that this exculpates the company, but Ford has literally done what the EPA has told it to. Ford (the polluter) contracts someone to clean up the mess (as deemed by the Superfund law). The EPA comes along after Ford says things are clean and claims the area clean. Then a few months or years go by, and sludge magically appears in the surrounding area, prompting local outrage and DEP inspection. The DEP comes and says, the site needs more cleaning. Then Ford contracts a cleaner, and the viscious Superfund cycle begins anew. This is now the 5th time we go around.

It seems obvious that the model of claiming a place a "Superfund site" does not work. Particularly in this case. First of all, if a polluter is deemed liable via the Superfund law, and that law demands the polluter to clean up the mess, then only strict regulatory oversight can accomplish the end goal. For how can a polluter responsible for dumping "oceans of sludge" be trusted for doing the job solely on its own?

This is like asking a 10 year old that they can only go outside an play if they clean and dust their room, and then not checking for dust with a white glove. As many mothers out there will tell you, you better check behind every nook and cranny, before you let that toddler go.

This is precisely what the EPA failed to do. Perhaps after the first time they deemed the site clean and were wrong they should have performed the same investigation that the Bergen Record did. The record having much less access was able to find a large part of the sludge that the EPA missed. They also did the proper tests on soil and drinking water from the surrounding areas. How is it that the Bergen Record outdid the Environmental Protection Agency?

It's baffling but I am sure some of New Jersey's famous corruption was behind it.

Onto the disparities between the candidates.

Doug Forrester wants to claim it as a Superfund site (again). Strange for a conservative as well as a representative of the "party of personal repsponsibility" to want to remove the polluter from the responsibility to pay the bill. Granted, he doesn't want to waste NJ tax dollars on the clean up, he would rather pass those costs onto the Federal Budget. This may be a good political move, but I think the Superfund route has wore out its welcome in Ringwood. Besides, Forrester has been critical of Corzine's voting for Superfund tax increases. So if Forrester had been in charge, perhaps the Superfund wouldn't exhist anymore.

Jon Corzine, on the other hand, would like to begin a criminal investigation into the Ringwood affair. This is perhaps the only option left. Given that the Superfund route has tried and failed so many times, and the polluter keeps hiring cleaners who don't do the job throughly, and the watchers fall asleep at the switch. A criminal investigation into who did what, when would be a fine change of pace in this case.

Simply put, blame has been pushed around, an Erin Brokovichesque investigation will let the chips fall at the feet of the appropriate folks, whomever they may be. It will also put the power of jurisprudence behind the penalties ensued. Perhaps court orders could be better implementations of strict clean-up procedures and who should pay for which part of it. Surely the EPA needs to be taken off the case, since they keep either looking the other way, or simply being incompetent. Judges reviewing hard evidence may be better at the oversight part of the equation here.

At the very least, a court can reward long overdue damages to the families already affected, and perhaps families that have not yet been affected. Either way, penalties need to be applied and enforced, and the area needs to be cleaned up. PERIOD.

With all of Doug Forrester's grandstanding and the phony calls for action, I think the Corzine approach is more in line with good old fasioned "rule of law."

Either way, I would like to see both candidates address the fact that NJ has the most toxic waste dumps Superfund sites in the country and perhaps try to reduce that number during their tenure.