Ramapough Mountain Indians File Suit Against Ford Motor Company Over Toxic Contamination

WATERKEEPER

Residents hire high-powered legal ’Green Team’ including The Cochran Firm, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. & Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo to fight Ford’s toxic legacy

HURLEY, NY – On January 18, 2006, attorneys filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company and other defendants on behalf of 717 individuals, most of whom are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe and live in Upper Ringwood, NJ, for property damage and personal injuries caused by the improper disposal of toxic waste from Ford’s former Mahwah, NJ automobile plant.  

The lawsuit (Wayne Mann, et al. v. Ford Motor Company, et al., filed in Superior Court, Passaic County, NJ) alleges that defendants dumped thousands of tons of paint sludge and other toxic material, thereby contaminating the soil, air and groundwater of the community.  The lawsuit further alleges that the defendants failed to investigate and remediate contamination notwithstanding the specific knowledge they possessed concerning its extent and the dangerous effects it would have on people and the environment.

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.  In 1994, Ford claimed that it had thoroughly cleaned the site, having removed 7,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil.  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.  Residents, who suffer leukemia at rates double that of the rest of the state, claim that the hazardous waste causes elevated cancer levels.  The contamination also threatens the Wanaque Reservoir which provides drinking water for 2.5 million people.

In June 2005, NJ 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, 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.”

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,” explained plaintiff Wayne Mann.  Mr. Mann is one of the many members of the Indian Tribe living near the site, and whose ancestry traces back over 200 years. 

“Ford’s choice to perform four inadequate investigations and cleanups has devastated this community,” stated Kevin Madonna, law partners with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Additional information on the community’s plight can be found at the Bergen Record’s website www.toxiclegacy.com

The plaintiffs are represented by The Cochran Firm, Kennedy & Madonna, LLP, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, Law Office of Catalano & Plache, PLLC, & Lawrence A. Wilson, P.C.

WHAT:          Press conference announcing filing of lawsuit against Ford
WHEN:          Thursday, January 19 at 10:30 am
WHERE:       End of Peter’s Mine Road, Ringwood, NJ