BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Hillburn – After decades of problems in the Torne Valley due to contamination from the dumping of paint sludge, the Ford Motor Company finally begun hazardous waste cleanup near the Ramapo River on January 28.
Cleanup was initiated last Monday, focusing upon Operable Unit 1 (OU1), a well field and top priority among three operable units. OU1’s cleanup is expected to conclude around May 15.
Initial construction consists of the preliminary construction of a road and lay down table to prepare for the actual collection, screening, and removal of paint sludge which had been dumped in the area when the Ford Motor Company owned a plant in Mahwah from 1965 to 1980.
Cornell Cooperative Extension environmental educator and restoration consultant Chuck Stead said that the restoration will not only replace native plants and trees, but will also include a Native American medicine garden in a reconciliation effort between Ford Motors and the Ramapo Indian Nation, one of the main groups affected by the pollution.
“Ford’s got a terrible, tenacious, and conflicted relationship with the Ramapo nation, given what happened up in Ringwood,” Stead explained. “This is the first step towards creating some sort of healing around that relationship.”
The cleanup was a result not of the lawsuits which had been leveled against Ford over the health effects of the sludge, but of ongoing activism, research, and negotiations. Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence negotiated the matter with Ford Motors and obtained a full cleanup agreement without litigation.
Stead stated that with luck, the progress will set a precedent for other areas affected by paint sludge, including Ringwood, New Jersey, which was contaminated by tainted Mahwah River water.
“With painstaking and relentless negotiation, you can get this done without going to court,” Stead explained.
The Ford plant boasted of being the nation’s largest when it opened in 1955, but for several years they were not a friendly neighbor, infecting the region with the sludge. Finally, generations later, the company is cleaning up its mess.