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Ford motor company sued over NJ tribal land pollution

The Hill logo The Hill 6/21/2022 Gianna Melillo | June 21, 2022
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Story at a glance

  • Plaintiffs accuse the Ford Motor Company of knowingly dumping toxic sludge onto land in northern New Jersey then failing to disclose the extent of the pollution upon selling the areas.
  • The land is home to some 200 members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation.
  • Unhealthy levels of toxins were found in water, soil, and air samples.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has filed a civil suit against the Ford Motor Company, claiming it dumped thousands of tons of toxic waste onto Ramapough Lenape Nation land in the 1960s and ’70s, then failed to inform subsequent land owners of the extent of pollution. 

The DEP alleges Ford illegally disposed of paint sludge and other contaminants at a site in Bergen County, N.J., that led to contamination of groundwater, soils, sediments, surface waters, freshwater wetlands, biota, air and other natural resources, according to the complaint. 

Ford operated the Mahwah Assembly, the largest automobile assembly plant in the country at the time, between 1955 and 1980. 

“No matter our race, income, or ancestry, every resident of the State of New Jersey is entitled to the good care and enjoyment of our natural, historic, and cultural resources,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette in a press release

LaTourette went on to demand accountability from Ford “for its history of polluting the land and degrading the natural resources that belong to the people of New Jersey, including those once enjoyed by members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation for whom we must further the promise of environmental justice.”


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Hazardous waste was disposed of into abandoned mineshafts and pits at Ringwood mines and on the ground surrounding the mines. The company began selling and donating portions of the mines in the early 1970s without disclosing the extent of the contamination. 

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This lack of disclosure meant pollutants were not promptly removed or contained. After being placed on a National Priorities List in 1983, Ford removed more than 7,000 cubic yards of paint sludge and the site was subsequently removed from the list in 1994. 

“Despite Ford’s representations, residents of Upper Ringwood continued to encounter substantial deposits of paint sludge, around their residences and throughout the Site,” the complaint states. 

“In 2006, following the discovery of extensive remaining contamination, Ringwood Mines became the first Superfund Site to be restored to the NPL due to Ford’s failure to disclose the full extent of the contamination at the Site.” 

In the meantime, members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation reported a series of negative health effects including cancer and birth defects.

Contaminants included harmful levels of lead, arsenic, antimony, vanadium, polychlorinated biphenyls and benzene, among others. 

Plaintiffs are seeking damages of an unknown amount for the destruction of natural resources. 

In a statement, Ford did not respond directly to the claims but said, “We understand this has affected the community and have worked cooperatively with the Borough of Ringwood, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while implementing the remediation plan stipulated by the EPA.” 

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