This article is a classic modern tale of David versus Goliath. It is a tale of how a rich and powerful corporation has gotten away with poisoning a poor and disenfranchised community of mostly Ramapo Indians in the rural mountainous region of northern New Jersey. This is a tale of how a community was made irreparably sick from years of having untold amounts of paint sludge and industrial toxic chemicals like PCBs, Freon, heavy metals, lead and arsenic dumped literally into the backyards of an unsuspecting Ramapough Indian people. It is a tale of genocide.
The definition of a superfund site: An area that is contaminated by hazardous waste(s) and therefore designated for “cleanup” by the U.S. government’s Environmental Protective Agency as pertaining to Congress’ passing of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.
The definition of genocide: The deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.
Living on top of a “superfund” site
Between 1967 and 1971 executives that oversaw toxic waste management at Ford Motor Company’s Mahway assembly plant in New Jersey – at the time the country’s largest automobile factory – allowed the dumping of hundreds of thousands of cubic tons of toxic chemical sludge (lead and a variety of other dioxins) into the soil located at the Ringwood Landfill which is within close proximity to the Ramapough Community.
As a result of the dumping and the release of poisonous “cocktails” in the soil and the air, the underprivileged Ramapough Tribe suffered staggering rates of premature deaths, rare cancers and autoimmune diseases believed to be linked directly to the toxic waste.
When the dumping began in 1967 the Ramapough children who lived within the midst of the landfill would in child’s play, cover their body with the colorful lead filled paint that insidiously seeped from out of the ground.
Acting with a child’s curiosity and innocence, some of the children even made rainbow-colored “pies” from the sweet tasting but highly poisonous dioxins. Almost immediately the children began suffering severe headaches, nose, eye, and throat irritation / bleeding. What made a horrible situation even worse is they developed large rashes that almost entirely covered their little body.
It wasn’t until the children began attending school with other children from outside the community that adults within the school system began noticing the health differences between the children that lived within the Ramapough Community and the children that lived beyond the hazardous boundaries of the Ringwood Landfill.
Today in 2011, there isn’t a single family that lives within the Ramapough Indian Community that hasn’t escaped the plague of an astronomically disproportionate amount of cancers, tumors, diabetes, miscarriages, respiratory illnesses and birth defects. The community’s suffering – which includea wide variety of other abnormal maladies – has been linked by independent studies to Ford Motor Company’s dumping of deadly dioxins in the landfill from 1967 to 1971. From the very beginning, the poisons have saturated the community’s soil that grows their food and contaminated both the water they drink and the air that they breathe.
Mann vs. Ford chronicles the legal struggles of community leaders Wayne Mann and Vivian Milligan as they and their lawyers do battle against a corporate icon and their legion of high powered lawyers.
Although Ford admits to having dumped the poisons into the community’s soil, their lawyers contend that at the time of the dumping, it was a legal act and perhaps other factors that were connected to the area’s iron mining could have been the invisible culprit that contributed to the community’s sickness.
In 1980 the EPA placed the Ringwood Landfill on their list of “superfunds” and ordered Ford to begin cleaning / removing the waste from the site. Although a perfunctory effort was made by Ford in the 1990s to clean the site, hazardous waste is still present in the Ramapough Community and with dwindling resources to pay their lawyers to fight against Ford’s unlimited monetary resources, community leaders are facing certain defeat in the U.S. halls of “justice”.
When people within the community that have stayed are asked by the media why don’t they just leave the poisonous land and relocate, the answer is generally the same, “Where are we to move to when there isn’t enough money to relocate and start all over again?”
Perhaps the media should ask the leaders at Ford Motor Company why hundreds of thousands of cubic tons of toxic chemicals was dumped haphazardly in the backyards of poor and disenfranchised Native Americans, and not in the backyards of communities where Ford executives and their children live and attend school. Perhaps the media already knows the answer to that question as reporters hold the microphone and uncomfortably shuffle their feet gazing into the eyes of America’s sick and disenfranchised, victims of corporate callous and indifference.
First they were given booze, then their land was stolen, then their source of food (the buffalo) was purposely slaughtered to extinction causing great famine among the people, then they were infected with small pox and measles that were hidden in government issued blankets and now they are poisoned. The question that should be asked is what indignity is left to man that can be heaped upon the Native by “progress” that cares little for culture and for tradition?
In closing, if you don’t think this could happen to you…. Fact: 74 million Americans live near a hazardous waste dump site.
As always, the New Orleans Examiner is interested in what you think. Will the courts eventually side with the Ramapo Indians or will they side with Ford Motor Company? Inquiring minds want to know. Sound off.
Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless, and Good Fishing.