A Blind Eye: The Plight of the Ramapoughs

Posted on 22 July 2011

When I was asked last week to craft an article to help launch the upcoming HBO documentary, Mann vs. Ford, I had no idea how hard my heart was about to be wrenched, or how far my head was about to be blown.

If you know someone who has recorded this documentary, I strongly urge you to view it, absorb it, and understand how it impacts us all, not just a group of Native Americans who have been living under these untenable conditions for more than 40 years.  It’s a long documentary, a two-hour commitment on your part, and well worth the investment of your time.  I myself have another 25 minutes left to complete my viewing, as I can only watch so much in a single sitting, for it has affected me to that degree.

The case underpinning Mann vs. Ford centers upon a section of New Jersey that I have long admired and skirted many times, decades before I ever moved to the so-called Garden State.   To the uneducated eye, the area remains beautiful; in the autumn, in particular, it is breathtaking.  But what God has wrought, man’s greed and utter disregard for his fellow humans has made ugly and deadly.

Witness the facts as presented in the series and recapped here: facts based upon documentation from the Ford Motor Company, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses/victims, and the findings of medical experts and respected, independent scientists.

1.  In 1966, Ford Motor Company purchased 900 acres of a once-pristine area in the Ramapough (A.K.A. Ramapo) Mountains of Northern New Jersey. There, they built an automotive manufacturing plant.  The area was so large that they allowed the Native American Ramapoughs, who had occupied that land for centuries, to continue living there.

2.  In 1967, Ford began dumping toxic waste — the detritus of its manufacturing processes — into three designated dumpsites in the area, including dormant mineshafts (the place had once been a large mining community).  In 1967, the EPA had not yet emerged as a watchdog for human health and safety, so the dumping continued unmitigated and often secretively, in the wee hours of the night.  Mass quantities of toxic waste (thousands of pounds daily) were dumped not only into the three designated sites, but into other areas as well.

Fly over the Ramapo Mountains and you will see, lying incongruously and stealthily among the green trees and shrubs, dried lakes of bright blue, red, and tan.  These are the waste products of paint whose colors, decades later, are as vibrant as the day they were applied to the cars churned off the assembly line.

3.  What you won’t see, unless you look and tread very carefully, is how the paint, discarded metals, and other waste infiltrated and tainted so very many other areas: how the toxins are now literally part of the landscape, how they have seeped into a reservoir whose water is consumed by than 2 million people, and how they impacted every level of the food chain.

What you also won’t see is the lethal dioxin that was burned off in the Ford Motor Factory, leaving a deadly dust that carpeted the land and all that lived upon it.

4.  Legal counsel for the Ramapough Native Americans, who are located in both Tennessee and California, have failed to find a single case of this magnitude in our nation. What I mean is, there exists no other case of toxic dumping at such tremendous levels affecting so very many people over more than four decades.

5.  In a normal class action suit involving tort, 15% to 20% of the population in question has been adversely affected by the party they are suing.   But with the Ramapoughs, roughly 95% of the population has been affected!

One area in particular is known as “Cancer Row.”  Every house here has been visited by cancer and in many cases, by The Grim Reaper.  No individual lives into his or her 70s in this area, which, prior to Ford’s presence, supported a healthy population of elderly people.

Children, adolescents, and adults are routinely diagnosed with multiple cancers; many have died as a result.  Those who are still on this Earth are not exempt from a myriad of other health issues, including but not limited to gall stones the size of which seasoned medical professionals have never before seen, skin ailments requiring surgical excising of large areas of one’s skin, and unexplained bleeding from the throat, eyes, ears, and mouth.

Stumped, local doctors advised one 29-year-old woman that she suffered from lupus and all manner of other diseases; all were incorrect diagnoses. Finally diagnosed properly by healthcare professionals in New York City, the woman learned that she suffers from heavy metal poisoning.  A newlywed, she was also counseled not to try to conceive, as “it won’t live.”

6.  On seven separate occasions, Ford Motor Company was contacted about this situation.  They had declined to be interviewed for the documentary, which speaks volumes.  Their representatives claim that the company has taken the necessary remedial steps, but the evidence says otherwise. That evidence includes dioxin dust found and confirmed as dioxin in the attics of the Ramapough people as well as the paint, and other heavy metals that the company dumped without conscience into this area.

7.  The EPA was brought in, long before this documentary was filmed, but there has been no respite from that quarter.  The EPA’s line is that the toxins have all been removed, and that the area is now safe.  Both are blatant lies.  Whether this is incompetence on the part of the EPA or whether money greased certain palms, we don’t yet know.

8.  Ford has published a number of articles concerning the character of the Ramapough Native Americans.  In a nutshell, these people have been painted as one step above Cro-Magnon Man: another out and out lie. The tone of every one of these articles, all published after the Ramapoughs had became increasingly vocal, is insidious and frightening.  Ford’s view of these people is that they are disposable, and that they are not to be believed.  If one group of Americans is “disposable” to Corporate America, then we are all disposable.  None of us is safe.

9.  In desperation, and having no other recourse, the Ramapoughs and their tireless, dedicated attorneys have mounted a case against Ford Motor Company.

As I’ve said, I don’t yet know how the story ends, but I promise to return, to report it to you.

The plight of the Ramapoughs, and the blind eye that they have received from a mega-corporation and our own government is not simply “their problem.”  If it can happen in the once unspoiled Ramapough Mountains of New Jersey, it can happen anywhere.  It can happen in my community.  It can happen in yours.

Related Articles:

Mann vs. Ford: An HBO Documentary


Mann vs. Ford: The Denouement


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5 Responses to “A Blind Eye: The Plight of the Ramapoughs”

  1. Jack S. Fogbound says:

    Once again we have seen the devastation caused by man Whether it is toxic waste or corporate greed it all the same. The legal system is a myth when it comes to problems like these. Money and power are the factors that win law suits and heaven help the victims. You do not need an EPA to resolve these problems. All you need is common sense and responsibility on the part of the businesses that use toxic material in their manufacturing.

  2. Delay Lama says:

    I agree with Jack, If these mountains were situated in Tibet the hue and cry from the American media would be deafening. Movie stars would join in to correct an unforgivable situation and one of our fearless leaders in Washington would lead the charge. There would be candlelight vigils with native songs and prayer along with contributions. To bad the Ramapough settled in New Jersey

  3. Cassie Wexler says:

    I agree with the two posters above. This is a tragedy. Only in America could this happen. And I am ashamed that it did.

  4. shanice says:

    Keep on writing, great job!

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