In my first year writing class “landscape and place”, we studied how the natural environment correlates with wealth and learned about the concept of “environmental racism”. For example, higher class people tend to live in scenic areas with more trees, while lower class people tend to live in urban areas. I thought that studying the societal impacts of this so-called “environmental racism” would make for a great research topic in this class. For my topic, I wanted to focus upon a storied community that I know of first-hand and that piqued my curiosity during my time living nearby.

More than 30 years ago, the Ford Motor Company (abv. FMC) operated a manufacturing plant in the lowly township of Mahwah New Jersey, about 30 miles from New York City and right along the New York- New Jersey border in the Hudson valley. This plant was mainly responsible for assembly of various Ford and Lincoln automobiles and produced over 6 million vehicles before its closure in 1980. Occupying almost 172 acres, it was the largest assembly plant in the country when it first opened its doors in 1955. Over the 30 years of the plant’s operation, FMC repeatedly and intentionally mishandled the storage of waste, often illegally dumping it in the woods about two miles from the plant. Whether FMC was aware of it or not, these “woods” were actually home to an isolated indigenous community known as the Ramapo Mountain Indians, or Ramapo Lenape Nation in the township of Ringwood, NJ. FMC’s mishandling of the waste ended up releasing volatile organic compounds, 1, 4 dioxane, lead, arsenic and various other toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment. The 500 acre Ringwood Mines/Landfill site is located in a historic mining district within Passaic County NJ. from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, the area was popular for iron and zinc mining, and the site features various pits, shafts and other mining related structures, many of which FMC chose to utilize for the storage of toxic paint sludge. With the Ramapo Lenape Nation in close proximity to the site, the effects of toxic chemicals began to manifest themselves in many of the community residents. Reported incidents of cancer, specifically lung cancer, neurological effects and lead poisoning were significantly higher versus surrounding communities from 1979-2002.  Around 7 years after the plant’s closure, the Environmental Protection Agency removed over 7,000 cubic yards of paint sludge and associated soils from the site.

For my research proposal, I would like to study the societal impacts of this EPA superfund site on the Ramapo Lenape Nation community in New Jersey from social, ecological, and political standpoints.