RFK Jr. Adds Heft to Ford Fight

By Barbara Williams and Jan Barry

Star power and political muscle were on display Monday as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and federal legislators toured Ford's toxic waste dump in Upper Ringwood and promised stepped-up pressure on behalf of nearby residents.

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and Kennedy accused Ford of criminal activity in dumping thousand of tons of waste and then taking decades on a cleanup.

Kennedy's law firm is involved in a lawsuit by neighborhood residents against Ford Motor Co., claiming the dump has led to sometimes lethal health problems.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is joining the team of lawyers representing Upper Ringwood residents in their lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. Kennedy is a professor at the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law. He also is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international association of clean water groups.

To read The Record's coverage of Ford's Superfund site in Ringwood, got to northjersey.com/toxiclegacy .

Kennedy's visit, his first, marked his formal entrance into the case -- and provided an opportunity for the TV news show "Nightline" to interview him for a report on the issue.

"This site is one of the worst I've seen," Kennedy said. It's really ugly because it's hard to tell where the site begins and the community ends."

Lautenberg, who has been monitoring the cleanup since its resumption four years ago, noted its slow pace. He said, "Ford criminally neglected this site."

"In the next Congress, we're going to pick up the pace," he added: "Ford, get it out of first gear and get going."

The dump is in a watershed that supplies millions of state residents, though officials say no contamination has yet shown up in the water supply. Shown piles of arsenic-laced soil left near Ringwood State Park and next to a stream across the road from several homes, Lautenberg said, "I'm going to make sure it's taken away."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing Ford's fifth cleanup of lead-based paint sludge dumped nearly 40 years ago. Ford has removed 29,000 tons of waste since 2004, Ford spokesman Jon Holt said Monday. That is more than three times what it originally removed in the 1980s in an initial Superfund cleanup that the EPA pronounced as satisfactory.

Holt said that "we hope he [Kennedy] is aware of the progress that has been made."

Holt said Ford is still working on a report to the EPA on ways of handling waste buried in mine pits and landfills. "It's EPA's call on what needs to be done," he said.

State Environmental Commissioner Lisa Jackson, who joined the tour, called for the site to be cleaned rather than have some waste contained on-site.

"I certainly would echo the concept that removing the contamination on a site like this is preferable to leaving it in place," she said. But for now, Jackson added, "our first priority is the people who live here."

Later, she said a tainted section of Ringwood State Park has to be restored for public use.

Residents complain that the slow pace of the new cleanup has left them living amid what the federal government has declared a public health hazard.