Kennedy Has His Attention Focused on a State-Regulated Pollution Problem in St. Petersburg

News Channel 8

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spends a lot of time on environmental causes ranging from global warming to Hudson River pollution. Now Kennedy has his attention focused on a state-regulated pollution problem in St. Petersburg.

"They ought to be saying to these people you're on a train track and there's a train heading for you. We don't know if it's gonna hit you, but you ought to know about it," Kennedy said.

Nine years ago, Time magazine named Kennedy as one of its "Heroes for the Planet." Some St. Petersburg homeowners who live near the Raytheon defense plant at 1501 72nd St. N. would be happy if he could just do something to spur the cleanup of their neighborhood.

Kennedy blames Florida's Department of Environmental Protection for failing to take meaningful action 17 years after the first discovery of toxic waste under the defense plant later purchased by Raytheon. "This agency has completely abandoned its obligation to the public and abdicated it in favor of becoming essentially a hand puppet for the industry it is meant to regulate," Kennedy said.

Thursday afternoon, Kennedy, who is one of the lead lawyers in a pending class action lawsuit against Raytheon, toured the neighborhoods around the plant for a first-hand look at the groundwater contamination problem that now vexes homeowners who worry about their health and their property values.

They're concerned because a plume of toxic chemicals such as dioxane, trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride has spread under their neighborhood as far as half a mile from the Raytheon property.

"Get a Raytheon executive to come and live in this house and drink this water and have their children play in the sprinklers for a couple months and see if any of them will agree to do that," Kennedy said.

The house on 12th Avenue he was referring to belongs to 70-year-old Cathy Swerediuk, who says both she and her husband have suffered from unexplained brain tumors.

"There are people here who are sick, and you can't say the water had nothing to do with it," Swerediuk said after Kennedy stopped to look at a test well on the street in front of her house.

Swerediuk told Kennedy that Raytheon says it found only minimal traces of chemical contamination in her irrigation well, but she's not taking any chances. "We all used to use our sprinklers. We don't use them anymore."

During his walking tour around the now-empty defense plant, Kennedy became curious about a dead bird in a ditch that runs along the Pinellas Trail adjacent to the rear of the plant. Records filed with the state indicate under previous ownership decades ago, plant workers dumped chemicals into the ground at the rear of the defense plant, a stone's throw from that location.

Kennedy questions why Raytheon hasn't tested water in the ditch sediments or examined the fish he observed living in it, for evidence of pollution.

"The chemical will tend to isolate in their pancreas and their flesh and their fat. It's not just a snapshot, but it gives you a panoramic of what's coming through the creek," Kennedy said, "It's a very easy thing, a very obvious thing to do."

During a briefing by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Agency on Bay Management on Aug. 14, Raytheon's Environmental Manager Bob Luhrs said his company hasn't tested the ditch because it's normally dry except for occasional rainwater.

"Not only is it not dry, but it's never dry," Kennedy said, "because if it was ever dry you wouldn't see these huge populations of fish in it."

Kennedy also criticizes the findings of a Raytheon report released by the DEP on Tuesday that establishes a perimeter around the known plume of "chemicals of concern" in this pollution case, but also shows 40 private irrigation wells with detectable contamination as far as a quarter mile beyond that perimeter in the neighborhoods surrounding Raytheon.

"Their argument that the plume is only this big, but now we've found that people outside the plume are also contaminated," Kennedy said. "Clearly that's also part of the plume that's coming from Raytheon. Anybody with common sense could see that."

DEP staff members are still reviewing Raytheon's latest report, and agency spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez said they couldn't yet comment on the plume or other findings. Those findings include a June 17 test showing small traces of seven chemicals in a deep ditch along Farragut Drive that drains directly into Boca Ciega Bay.

Raytheon spokesman Jon Kasle says none of those seven chemicals exceeds state surface water standards. Kasle said Raytheon is also confident about the plume's boundaries. He didn't make clear what responsibility the company will take for the 40 wells with detectable chemical contamination outside of that boundary.

During a town meeting in July, DEP District Director Barbara Getzoff indicated that two health studies have shown no one is at risk from the pollution. Getzoff said even if small amounts of pollution were flowing into Boca Ciega Bay there is no pathway to exposure for people — therefore no risk — because no one eats shellfish out of the Bay.

During his visit to St. Petersburg on Thursday, Kennedy asked a reporter, "How can she know that people aren't eating those oysters?"

Chemical fears bring community to prominent law firm


The New York law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., part of a legal team that won a $380 million suit against DuPont last year in West Virginia, has been retained by borough residents living in a Pompton Lakes neighborhood where contamination by DuPont has been discovered.

"We’ve been asked by a significant number of residents to look into the possibility of making claims for damages relating to the Pompton Lakes community against DuPont,“ said Kevin Madonna, a partner in Kennedy and Madonna of Hurley, N.Y.

Tests in May in a neighborhood near DuPont’s former explosives plant found elevated levels of hazardous vapors coming from groundwater pollution that is a legacy of the factory’s 92 years of operation.

Residents have voiced mistrust of the company at informational hearings, noting that this is the second round of contamination they’ve had to deal with. DuPont is involved in an ongoing, $130 million effort to clean the area of mercury, lead and solvents. This time, the concern is that chemicals tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), used to degrease machinery, have risen from the ground soil into homes.

Madonna would not disclose how many residents have retained the firm or how long the investigation would take.

“We are still investigating and don’t know the scope of the case. You never know how long an investigation will take,” he said. “But we are contemplating bringing claims for loss of property values.”

The environmental law firm is also representing hundreds of Ringwood residents in a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co.’s dumping of toxic waste in the area four decades ago.

“We represent communities impacted by pollution from companies,” Madonna said.

“In my experience, DuPont has a history of not being forthcoming with communities that have been impacted by its pollution,” Madonna said.

Madonna also criticized state officials. “They [residents] contacted us because the Department of Environmental Protection isn’t fulfilling the role that’s been entrusted to them by the state legislators,” he said.

Borough officials have maintained that DuPont — the town’s largest taxpayer — has always co-operated and shared information when asked.

Company officials have described themselves as “proactive” in contacting the state DEP quickly when tests revealed the possibility of so-called “vapor intrusion” in up to 350 homes.

It also has participated in informational meetings with homeowners and offered all those residents testing inside their homes and installation of a mitigation system without charge while testing continues.

Still, the fears of residents have moved members of the Borough Council to seek a private, independent consultant to test the soil outdoors and the basements of the 350 homes that could be affected. Candidates for the job are being considered

The Kind of Story I Wish Was Fiction
By Alexis Glick

Remember that book that I told you I was reading over vacation — The Appeal by John Grisham? The story about a cancer cluster caused by a plant that was dumping toxic waste in the ground and throughout the water system? The class action suit filed against a publicly-traded company?

This morning, I interviewed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio, both very well known lawyers. Kennedy, a big defender of the environment and considered a trailblazer for his fight to help clean up the Hudson River. Papantonio, a partner at one of the largest plaintiffs’ law firms in the country.
They came on the show to talk about a class action lawsuit that they filed on April 11th against Raytheon (RTN: 56.29, -0.64, -1.12%), a huge defense and aerospace systems supplier. The lawsuit concerns a facility in St. Petersburg, Fla. which residents believe has released toxins into the water and its neighboring environment. The toxic chemicals — trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and dioxane — are all believed to be responsible for cancer, birth defects and death. It’s a very sad story about what has happened to this area in Florida. The damages are estimated to be between $250 and $400 million. The case could take two years to settle.

I hear and read about these stories, but I’ve never interviewed the attorneys filing the class action lawsuit – until today. We also contacted Raytheon and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They had a different story.

Kennedy's Law Firm Asked to Represent Champaign Residents

By Mike Monson

CHAMPAIGN – Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s, law firm is looking into representing residents who live near a contaminated former manufactured coal-gas plant site in north Champaign.

Kennedy's law partner, Kevin Madonna, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his firm has been asked by a coalition of local groups to represent the neighborhood and is investigating whether to do so. Kennedy & Madonna, with offices in White Plains, N.Y., and Hurley, N.Y., is a nationally known firm in the field of environmental law.

Robert Kennedy Jr. is the son of late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 while running for president.

Kennedy & Madonna is currently representing about 20 property owners in the Oakwood area who live near a fly-ash landfill. 

Madonna said he had been speaking with Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Lennhoff is active in the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign that has formed to represent residents who live near the former coal-gas site near Fifth and Hill streets.

"We've been speaking with Claudia and looking over documents the past few weeks to see if there's anything we can do to assist the community," he said. "I will be in town April 10."

It's too early to say what type of legal challenge the firm might make if it does become involved, he said.

He said there are thousands of former coal-gas manufacturing sites across the country that are in need of environmental cleanup.

"The potential for off-site contamination is a definite possibility and is something the residents should be concerned about," Madonna said. "The question is how far off site it's gone and to what extent are residents are being exposed and have been exposed to contaminants."

The 3.5-acre site – between Fifth and Sixth streets and Washington and Church streets – is owned by AmerenIP. The utility is expected this week to begin extensive testing, including soil borings and drilling monitoring wells, of the neighborhood surrounding the site to determine how far off site contamination has traveled.

AmerenIP officials have said they hope to begin a multimillion dollar cleanup of the site by next year.

The site formerly housed a manufactured coal-gas plant that produced a byproduct, coal tar, that was stored on site in tar wells for decades, before the wells were cleaned a decade ago. Coal tar contains volatile compounds referred to as BTEX – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – found in petroleum products. Previous testing has shown that benzene and other compounds have contaminated soil and shallow groundwater in the area.

Lennhoff said the neighborhood rights campaign has surveyed residents who live near the site and found a number of women with reproductive health problems, as well as a few cases of multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.

"I think it's highly encouraging that a renowned, highly respected law firm that has a successful track record for representing people victimized by environmental toxins is interested in our case," said Lennhoff.

AmerenIP spokesman Leigh Morris said Tuesday he had no comment on Kennedy & Madonna's possible involvement.

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 .

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.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Smithfield Foods Reach Agreement on Environmental Pact

January 20, 2006 |  pdf » | link »

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Waterkeeper Alliance and Smithfield Foods, Inc. today announced agreement on new measures to enhance environmental protections at approximately 275 hog production facilities in North Carolina. These measures are the result of the settlement of two lawsuits filed in 2001 by Waterkeeper Alliance, Neuse River Foundation and Lower Neuse Riverkeeper against two swine facilities that are now owned and operated by Murphy-Brown LLC, Smithfield’s hog production subsidiary. 

“We are pleased that Smithfield and Murphy-Brown are taking positive steps to make Murphy-Brown operations more protective of the environment,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance president. “The enhancements that Murphy-Brown has agreed to implement pursuant to our agreement are important improvements in the operation of the current system.” 

Typical swine facilities in North Carolina and many other states use a lagoon waste management system to collect and biologically treat animal manure, which then is sprayed onto fields as fertilizer. Under today’s agreement, Murphy-Brown will fund major programs to: (1) identify and eliminate potential lagoon risks to groundwater, the drinking water source for most rural North Carolinians; (2) monitor potential surface water runoff from land application areas; and (3) increase stream buffers, wetlands and other methods for protecting the public’s waterways. 

In addition, Murphy-Brown will implement enhanced manure management measures at all the hog production facilities that it owns and operates in North Carolina. These enhancements include a computerized Precipitation Alert System that uses National Weather Service Data to prevent the spraying of liquid manure before, during and immediately after rainstorms, and the use of automatic devices to shut down spraying when wind speeds exceed 15 miles per hour. 

“We are very pleased with this settlement, which acknowledges Smithfield Foods’ environmental stewardship efforts, and its position as a food industry leader in helping preserve and protect the natural resources in the communities where we live and work,” said Dennis Treacy, Smithfield’s Vice President – Environmental and Corporate Affairs. 

The enhanced measures are contained in a consent decree filed in U. S. District Court in Greenville. The decree is subject to a 45-day period for review and comment by the United States Department of Justice and approval by the Court. 

“Smithfield Foods has committed to continually improving its environmental stewardship efforts, and much of the credit goes to our employees, who have worked very hard to implement our industry’s highest environmental standards and help Smithfield achieve our environmental goals,” said Treacy. 

Waterkeeper Alliance is a grassroots advocacy group made up of 157 local advocacy organizations, including the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, dedicated to protecting the nation’s waterways. “Today’s agreement represents a significant milestone in the efforts of Waterkeeper Alliance, our member program Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, and the Neuse River Foundation to preserve and protect North Carolina’s waterways and fisheries,” said Steve Fleischli, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Executive Director. “Our focus will now turn to convincing the rest of the industry to follow Smithfield’s lead and implement similar environmentally protective enhancements while we await a longer term solution to the agricultural waste conundrum.” 

Larry Baldwin, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper concurred, “This agreement is a positive step for the Neuse River, and all rivers of the state of North Carolina. Our hope at this time is that the example that is being set by Smithfield Foods will now be followed by the rest of the industry. The technology is available for all of the hog producers to become good stewards of our rivers.” 

Steve Fleischli, Waterkeeper Alliance. (914) 674-0622
Dennis Treacy, Smithfield Foods, Inc. (757) 365-3010
Larry Baldwin, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, (252) 670-0389

For more information, please visit, or

DuPont Is Ordered to Pay $196.2 Million in Dumping Case

Associated Press

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -- DuPont Co. was ordered Friday to pay $196.2 million in punitive damages for deliberately dumping dangerous heavy metals on an industrial site, ending a complex trial involving property damage claims, long-term health screenings and corporate accountability.

The lawsuit accused DuPont of deliberately dumping toxic arsenic, cadmium and lead on the site of a former zinc-smelting plant, leaving thousands of residents in and around the small town of Spelter in fear for their health.

Ten Harrison County residents who sued DuPont won the first phase of their case Oct. 1, when jurors found the chemical company liable for and negligent in creating the waste site. They also found DuPont had created a public and private nuisance and that its pollution trespassed onto private property.

In the second phase of the trial, the jury required DuPont to provide medical monitoring for 40 years to people who were exposed to the arsenic, cadmium and lead. Judge Thomas Bedell will determine how the plan will be administered.

On Monday, jurors decided DuPont should pay about $55.5 million to clean up private properties.

DuPont said it would appeal the decision.

"We are extremely disappointed by the outcome of the Spelter case. With today's decision, DuPont believes it has been unfairly punished for doing the right thing for this property and this community," the company said in a statement.

DuPont lawyer Jeffrey Hall also said he was displeased with the verdict.

"DuPont last owned this property in 1950. Forty-six years later, DuPont came back. It alone, among all the prior owners of this property, worked with the DEP, cleaned up the property, and helped the community," he said. "We will appeal."

Following the conclusion of the fourth and final phase of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs _ hugging each other and their lawyers _ celebrated with a cake in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Plaintiff Waunona Crouser said the three years since the class-action lawsuit was filed have been stressful but she never doubted the 11-member jury would do the right thing.

"They're West Virginians and that's how we are in the state of West Virginia. We watch each other's backs. We don't let people do this to us."

DuPont Lawsuit Winds Down

Associated Press
By Vicki Smith    
DuPont manipulated state environmental regulators and lied to residents about the dangers surrounding a zinc-smelting plant in Spelter and should now pay a high price for its wanton, willful and reckless conduct, attorney Robert Kennedy Jr. argued Thursday as a class-action medical monitoring lawsuit went to the jury.

The 11-member panel in Harrison County Circuit Court must weigh whether to award punitive damages to 10 Spelter residents suing the chemical giant in a complex four-part trial involving property damage claims, long-term health screenings and corporate accountability.

The jury recessed after roughly three hours of deliberation Thursday without reaching a verdict. It was scheduled to begin further deliberation Friday.

Kennedy accused DuPont of repeatedly misleading the public with many "little lies" intended to save the company money on testings and cleanups.

"They were being cagey. They were being dodgy. They were being coy. They were being clever," he said. "That is who DuPont is. They have lost touch with their moral bearings."

DuPont attorney Jeffrey Hall argued his client did what state and federal regulators demanded, voluntarily removing a 112-acre waste pile tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead, then capping it with plastic and clean soil.

"You've seen a lot of arm-waving, finger-pointing, name-calling," he told the jury. "Those are tactics to divert. They're tactics to anger you, to have you decide this case on anger, not evidence."

The plaintiffs won the first phase of their case Oct. 1, when jurors found DuPont liable for and negligent in creating the waste site. They also found DuPont had created a public and private nuisance and that its pollution trespassed onto private property.

In the second phase of the trial, the jury required DuPont to provide medical monitoring for 40 years to people who were exposed to the arsenic, cadmium and lead. Judge Thomas Bedell will determine how the plan will be administered.

On Monday, jurors decided DuPont should pay about $55.5 million to clean up private properties.

Hall said DuPont does not deserve to be punished further.

He argued DuPont should be applauded for using the state-run, voluntary remediation program to clean up the Spelter site rather than the federal Superfund program. He claims Superfund is no more effective, much slower moving and potentially more disruptive to the quality of life because some Superfund cleanups have involved letting large waste piles burn.

Hall also dismissed the plaintiffs' claims that state Department of Environmental Protection officials were complicit in allowing the pollution to occur, then sparing DuPont the expense of cleaning up the neighborhoods along with the site. He called those claims unsubstantiated.

But Kennedy said DuPont "had the state wired" with close contacts with people including DEP Secretary - and former DuPont attorney - Stephanie Timmermeyer.

"This agency was a hand puppet for this company," he charged.

"These gentlemen have come here day after day and said, 'We did what the agencies told us to do,' but they were lying to the agencies," he said, claiming DuPont routinely massaged statistics to suit its purposes. "This is part of the corporate DNA, these tiny perjuries that illustrate what the corporate culture here is really all about."

Kennedy pointed to the packed courtroom, where dozens of residents sat shoulder to shoulder, and urged the jury to send a message to DuPont and other industries he said are raping the state's natural resources.

"These were people who could not believe that other human beings were able to treat them this way, but this was a company that is willing to treat all of these people as if they were commodities," he said. "They looked over the green landscape of West Virginia and they saw a commodity. They saw cash."

Decades After a Plant Closes, Waste Remains

New York Times

In the summer of 2005, around the time that residents of Upper Ringwood, N.J., began to wonder whether the skin rashes, nose bleeds and bronchitis that plagued their community were more than bad luck, the Ford Motor Company and the Environmental Protection Agency made a request: the automaker and the regulator wanted access to the yards around two families’ homes to remove waste that had been dumped in the area. Ford boasts in its ads that “It’s Easy Being Green,” but residents feared the request suggested something not so easy at all. From the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, Ford operated an assembly plant in northern New Jersey, in nearby Mahwah, that cranked out millions of passenger cars. Ford closed the plant in 1980, after dumping what the E.P.A. describes as thousands of tons of paint sludge and other waste in Upper Ringwood, a community of about 350 working-class residents located in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains.

A few years later, the Environmental Protection Agency identified Upper Ringwood for priority cleanup under its Superfund program. Ford, deemed responsible for the pollution, spent the next five years assessing and removing sludge from a 500-acre site that included 50 homes. Satisfied with Ford’s cleanup, the E.P.A. dropped Upper Ringwood as a Superfund site in 1994, having determined, according to a public notice, that “no further cleanup by responsible parties is appropriate” and that “the current risk posed by the site is within an acceptable range.”

Yet recently, based on Ford’s and the E.P.A.’s own recent follow-up studies of the soil and groundwater in Upper Ringwood, those conclusions unraveled and became fodder in what environmental experts say is now among the messiest industrial cleanup efforts in Superfund’s 27-year history. 

Since the E.P.A. relisted Upper Ringwood last year as a Superfund site, cleanup experts in the area have not only removed several thousand tons of waste that crews had previously overlooked, but workers have also identified substantial amounts of potentially hazardous paint sludge in the yards of at least two private homes, according to federal regulators and Ford.

Last year, residents sued Ford in a New Jersey state court for property damage and personal injuries, citing the improper disposal of waste from the Mahwah plant. The lawsuit claims that Ford’s hazardous paint sludge and other contaminated material, while dumped decades ago, still contaminate the soil, air and groundwater in their community; that Ford failed to tell more than 600 residents how dangerous the waste was; and that Ford has yet to properly clean up the mess. 

To make their case, residents have enlisted several high-profile legal experts and consultants, including the environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the physician James Dahlgren of “Erin Brockovich” fame, and the law firm of the late civil rights lawyer Johnnie Cochran. The lawyers contend in the suit that contaminated waste that Ford left behind has contributed to such illnesses among residents as the diabetes that caused Paul Eugene VanDunk to have his leg amputated and the cancer that killed his daughter. “This community was here long before Ford had anything to do with Upper Ringwood,” says Andrew Carboy, a lead lawyer for the residents. “Ford’s involvement here ended almost 40 years ago, but the community is still dealing with the health consequences of Ford’s dumping.”

Ford counters that its history of dumping in Upper Ringwood, which occurred for four years, was legal and authorized by town supervisors. It says it was just one of several companies that deposited waste in the area during the years that its Mahwah plant operated and that its dumping activities and recent cleanup efforts have not endangered the health of residents.

“Bronchitis could be caused by a number of things that have nothing to do with toxins,” said Alan Kraus, a Ford lawyer, during a recent court appearance. According to records of the proceedings, Mr. Kraus said he needed a medical history from each of the plaintiffs before turning over any records concerning the automaker’s waste disposal activities.

“To be honest, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t know whether bronchitis can be caused by toxins,” he said in court. 

Citing the litigation, Ford officials declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that “the company is working diligently to address remaining issues related to its past disposal activities.” Ford also noted that “the Borough of Ringwood used the site as a general dump before, during and after the four-year period that Ford-related waste materials were disposed at the site” and that recent surveys of the property “recorded the presence of non-Ford related miscellaneous wastes and debris on approximately half of all locations included in the survey.” 

Ford contractors and E.P.A. officials also say that residents here have been wary about granting access to their homes to remove potentially dangerous, brick-size shards of sludge. 

“C’mon, we understand that the residents in Ringwood do not trust the agency or Ford too much,” says Patricia Carr, an E.P.A. spokeswoman. “But how can they voice concern about the health effects of the waste there for all these years and then not allow us access into their homes?” 

Residents see things quite differently. “Tell me what they can do to satisfy us for the lives that have been lost already?” asks Wayne Mann, a local activist and community leader. “How do you justify what they’ve done?”

THIS rustic community, an hour’s drive from the heart of Manhattan, is home to the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation, a group of American Indians with roots in the area reaching back before the Revolutionary War. The tribe has maintained many of its traditions, and has been slow to integrate; residents hunt deer and turkey and fish the local streams for food. They also harvest vegetables grown on small plots in their yards, and are not politically active — which contributed to Ford’s and the E.P.A.’s inefficiency in cleaning the area, residents say.

Environmental advocates say that the significance of the fight between Ford and residents here transcends Ford’s activities, plaintiffs’ lawyers’ claims of “environmental racism,” or so-called green-washing efforts of companies with dubious environmental records to improve their images. They say it sheds light on the inherent limitations of the Superfund program, which has relied heavily on the scientific research and the purse strings of corporate polluters to clean up sites — limitations that have only been compounded by severe cuts recently in the E.P.A.’s budget.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers also contend that Ford’s waste has resulted in the contamination of a local reservoir that provides drinking water for 2.5 million people in the surrounding area. Ford denies that.

“This site is the poster child of corporate bad behavior and the inability of the E.P.A. to really make corporate polluters do proper cleanup of sites,” said Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, an environmental advocacy group in New Jersey. Ford’s waste, Mr. Spiegel said, “is polluting the drinking water for millions of people, yet it’s still unclear whether the E.P.A. will ever force Ford into really cleaning it up.” 

ROGER DeGROAT, 58, leaves the above-ground swimming pool outside his Upper Ringwood home empty because he’s afraid he might be filling it with contaminated water. He points at a purple rash on his arms to illustrate other fears. “I don’t know what these blotches are,” he says. “It scares me because my doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong with me either. I get dizzy for no apparent reason; my eyes itch.

“My children have nose bleeds so bad in their sleep that they wake up stuck to the bed, like they’ve been hit in the head or something,” he adds. 

Mr. DeGroat, like many other residents here, says he believes that hazardous waste contributed to his family’s illnesses as well as elevated rates of leukemia, cancer, diabetes and asthma in other residents. 

A line of trucks barrels past Mr. DeGroat’s house and disappears behind gates securing the work site where a business hired by Ford is cleaning Upper Ringwood. In recent months, workers have been removing sludge and investigating the possible presence of such hazardous substances as lead, arsenic, chromium, ethylbenzene and P.C.B.’s in local soil, according to the E.P.A. 

Residents say that the cleanup makes their close-knit community feel like an occupied military zone, with the constant rumble of tank-size tractors drowning out the banter from children playing tag and hopscotch.

Despite the noise and the threat of illnesses, Mr. DeGroat says that he, like most of the American Indians who live here, can’t imagine relocating. Tribe members have maintained largely isolated lives (due, they say, to racial taunting and stereotyping from people outside their community) and are groomed to be suspicious of most outsiders. 

After Ford built its Mahwah plant in 1955 and bought 800 nearby acres to build homes for its workers, it became among the largest employers in the area. In 1967, Ford hired a contractor to dispose of waste from the Mahwah plant. Court filings say that Ford’s agreement with the contractor “called for disposal of cardboard and other packing materials from the plant, scrap car parts, paint sludge and scrap and dented drums containing obsoleted hardened production sealing and insulating stock of noninflammable nature.” Ford says that state and local officials approved the dumping that occurred from 1967 to 1971. 

Residents say that regardless of who approved the dumping, their lives were changed. “The way we were living is not how people live in the real world,” says Mr. Mann, who is also a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Ford. “There was trash everywhere. There were drums and chemicals all around, and trucks coming and dumping anywhere and everywhere. The Dumpsters would get so high that they would mysteriously burn for weeks.” 

STARTING in the late 1960s, Ford says it began divesting large portions of the dump site in Upper Ringwood. It donated 300 acres of land to the town government, which, it claims, allowed other companies to continue dumping on the site between 1972 and 1976 (at which point state regulators shut it down). 

Joseph Maraziti, a lawyer representing the town government said that after Ford left the area, the Upper Ringwood site was used for only household waste, not potentially toxic industrial waste. “As of this moment, there has been no identification of any hazardous material connected with that site other than Ford’s,” he says. 

Ford closed its Mahwah plant in 1980. Two years later, New Jersey regulators discovered substantial levels of arsenic in local water samples and gave their findings to the E.P.A., which added Upper Ringwood to a national priorities list under its Superfund program. Ford’s cleanup crews arrived in Ringwood in 1983, but the company acknowledges that the process from the start was prolonged by extensive research and bureaucratic red tape. 

“With the site sprawling over more than 500 acres, the E.P.A. had to make decisions regarding how best to investigate, characterize and then address the disposal of hazardous substances on the site,” the company said in a statement. 

Part of the problem, too, Ford and E.P.A. officials say, was a steep learning curve in the remediation of Superfund sites, or as the 1980 law is called, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. Superfund was a response to public outcries in the 1970s over the discovery that some 22,000 tons of toxic waste had been dumped in the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“There was no model out there and no mentors in cleaning up sites,” says Ms. Carr, the E.P.A. spokeswoman. “The law was detailed and prescriptive but nobody had any experience in how to do this.” 

Among the most costly initial mistakes, Ms. Carr says, was the agency’s failure to involve residents in the cleanup. “In the early days, we didn’t have a lot of interaction with the residents in Ringwood and from that have learned to reach out earlier in the process,” she said. 

Ford says it does not accept full responsibility for the lack of dialogue with the community. In its statement, the company says that “in the 1980s and early 1990s, neither the Borough of Ringwood nor the residents expressed significant interest in the process to Ford.” 

Residents don’t dispute that they were hesitant to speak out early on, but say they were silent because of fears of retribution. “When the berries and the fruit and the frogs started disappearing, I looked the other way,” Mr. Mann says. “Who is going to cry out when you are only renting and can be thrown out? There were some who wanted to be vocal, but if you fought back against the state, local government and a major company like Ford, what was going to happen to you?”

Ford says in a statement that even its best efforts to alleviate those fears during the more recent cleanup often proved ineffective. It says it helped the E.P.A. set up a toll-free number early in the reinvestigation process that residents could use to anonymously report information regarding the location of paint sludge on the site. “The toll-free number was never used,” the company said.

But as Alan J. Steinberg, a regional E.P.A. administrator says: “Regardless of who was at fault for what, I find the situation to be heartbreaking. It’s obvious that some mistakes were made, that the site was cleaned up too quickly. We are in the process of correcting that mistake by supervising a very intensive cleanup effort by Ford.”

SOME environmental experts and analysts say the biggest problem in cleaning Upper Ringwood, as well as the nation’s more than 1,000 other Superfund sites, stems from the depleted resources of the Superfund itself. Superfund’s budget was built on an excise tax on crude oil and chemicals used for manufacturing. The tax lapsed in 1995, and the trust fund has shrunk from $1.5 billion in 1994 to insolvency today — leaving the E.P.A. struggling to find other sources of money to identify and assess the nation’s future cleanup needs, according to several recent studies. The E.P.A. says that Superfund’s shrinking resources don’t undermine its ability to monitor corporate polluters and that companies themselves can adequately manage and police cleanups on their own. 

The price tag for all of this remains large: according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report, it will cost $20 billion to remediate the 142 largest Superfund sites.

Superfund has proved to be effective in spurring corporate polluters to pay for their own cleanups, analysts say. Rather than face fines of as much as three times the actual cost of a cleanup if the E.P.A. undertook the effort on its own, most major corporate polluters have opted to clean the sites themselves. But that, in turn, has left the E.P.A. dependent on corporate polluters to oversee and clean up problem sites.

“Funding of cleanups is a really central issue now that the tax fund has been depleted,” says Katherine N. Probst, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan economic research group in Washington. “And there are issues about money, and issues about the future of the program, and questions about what you can expect to get in a cleanup these days.” 

For its part, Ford says its efforts to clean the area through the years have been nothing less than rigorous, and that the company’s voluntary decision to study the area’s ground and streams for pollutants after closing its plant reflects its overall commitment to making the area safe for residents. The company says it is doing additional cleanup work at known landfill areas, including at two abandoned mine sites.

More specifically, the company said in a statement that contractors have removed several tons of paint sludge deposits from Upper Ringwood sites and that samples of soil, surface water, sediment and groundwater have shown that the sludge has not migrated into soils or water supplies. 

But residents say other warning signs still concern them, despite assurances from Ford and the E.P.A. Earlier this year, for example, New Jersey health authorities warned residents not to hunt squirrels (a longtime staple of the local diet) after discovering a squirrel that was contaminated with lead. 

Vivian Milligan, 55, said that the notification unnerved her and that she had not gotten satisfactory answers as to why she had two miscarriages, an ulcer, and has high blood pressure. Or why her husband has had four of his toes amputated. Or why three of her cousins have each had a leg amputated. 

“I really feel that there’s a connection between the contamination and all the health problems around here,” she says. “There’s just too many sick people for one little area.”

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


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

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