From the Bergen Record late last week, we get news of a settlement:
The Upper Ringwood community will receive millions of dollars from the Ford Motor. Co. under the Thursday settlement of a lawsuit claiming the auto giant’s toxic dumps ravaged their neighborhood with illness and death.
But the near-unanimous reaction of residents afterward was: There’s the money, yes, but what about the blame?
The amount of the agreement is legally confidential. But sources close to the case said it’s $10 million, to be split among the 600-plus plaintiffs and their attorneys. What residents pointed to, however, was Ford’s continued denial of liability in the settlement.
Here’s a summary from the article of how they got to this point where the settlement is even needed:
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ford contractors dumped huge swaths of paint sludge from their Mahwah plant in the neighborhood of mostly Ramapough Mountain Indians. Widespread illness followed, and the community blamed the waste, which is lead-based and contains arsenic. Ford has always denied responsibility for the illnesses.
In time, as more tribal members fell ill and died, the normally reclusive community reached out to the media, environmentalists, and state and federal legislators. The Record’s “Toxic Legacy” series in 2005 outlined their plight.
After the federal government reinstated a previous Superfund designation on the site, Ford embarked on its fifth cleanup, announcing last year it had cleared 35,000 tons of toxic materials. But arsenic-laced dirt remains in piles under plastic tarps in nearby Ringwood State Park, and it is unclear whether Ford will have to clean out waste found in mine pits.
The cleanup and lawsuit settlement are not connected.
You can view the Record’s original Toxic Legacy series here. Residents had mixed reactions questioning the lack of liability by Ford in the Settlement:
But resident Kristy DeFreese said she had “mixed emotions” about the settlement. She asked, “How can Ford not accept liability when they’re cleaning up the area? And why did they give us a dime if they’re not responsible?”
Wayne Mann, who led the community in seeking outside help in battling Ford, said he was too upset to talk about the settlement.
“It’s just not a happy day for me,” Mann said.
And while the lawyers say the problem with getting more is proving causation, other residents don’t need court acknowledgement to know:
“I’m 23 years old, and I may never be able to bear children,” said Kayla Van Dunk. “I have a heart condition, and I know it’s from what they dumped up here.”
The lawsuit is now settled, but the contamination and process of cleanup still remain. And the fear residents live in can’t be taken away by any sum of money.