From 1967 to 1974, Ford Motor Co.’s Mahwah, N.J., plant
disposed of car parts and paint sludge in parts of Upper Ringwood, home of the
Ramapough Mountain Indians.

Four decades later, sludge embedded in the woodlands still smells of paint, said Robert  Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association.

The South Plainfield, N.J.-based group began working with the
tribe seven years ago to perform chemical testing and later launched an online
petition at change.org to pressure Ford to clean the area.

Last month, the tribe grabbed a “temporary victory” in its
long-running dispute with Ford, Spiegel said.

During an Aug. 23 hearing, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced that it wouldn’t give Peters Mine back to Ford.

The ownership debate has been blown out of proportion, said Jon Holt, Ford’s community relations consultant for the Ringwood Mines Superfund site.

About nine months ago, Holt said DPE asked Ford officials if they would consider taking back the mine since the company was responsible for cleaning it and Ford said it was open to doing so.

Holt said the company was responding to a proposal and not trying to take over the mine.

The company has already presented its cleanup plan to EPA,
with options ranging from capping the property to removing leftover waste
completely. The approval process for these options may last into next year.

“DEP won’t make any decisions on it. We’ve done our reports
and developed options for remediation,” Holt said. “There are options like
capping the site or removing some of the materials. These are all options.”

The mine is one of the areas within Ringwood State Park that
Ford polluted.

It was sold to the state by a Ford subsidiary in the early 1970s,
according to the Bergen Record.

Although the decision was encouraging, Spiegel said it isn’t
time to become complacent.

“We’re happy the state got away from the poor decision, but
it leaves the door open for them to revisit this. We’re going to have to remain
vigilant,” he said. “That land belongs to the state of New Jersey. Ford has to
clean this up once and for all. They’ve done as little as possible for as long
as possible.”

The federal government declared the area a superfund site in
1983 after contamination was found.

Ford removed more than 7,700 cubic tons of paint sludge and soil during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the EPA declared it cleaned.

However, much of the toxic sludge remained and it was reclassified as a superfund site in 2006, according to EPA Spokesperson Elias Rodriguez.

Another 8,600 tons of sludge has been retrieved from the site since 2004, the agency reported.

Chemicals, namely lead and arsenic, accumulated on residential properties and endangered drinking water for communities in the Ringwood Borough, Spiegel said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the poisons dumped in this community had an effect,” Spiegel said. “We were in disbelief that they lived under such harsh conditions.”

 Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com or 313-446-1653.

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