RINGWOOD — Nuggets of toxic paint sludge still dot a hillside near
homes in Upper Ringwood. But top federal environmental officials said
Tuesday that’s about as clean as that part of Ford’s dump site is going
to get.

The officials toured
so-called “sludge hill” on the Superfund cleanup site in part because
of reports by neighborhood residents that Ford’s cleanup contractor had
been allowed to leave with sludge still scattered on site.


•  Two mammoth piles of soil and debris intermingled with sludge remain on top of a slope called “sludge hill.”

•  Ford offered to pay half the costs to have it removed, even though
it says the mounds are Ringwood’s responsibility. Ford said the piles
are not hazardous, and it shouldn’t have to clean up municipal trash
that was dumped illegally.

•  Ringwood is removing tires and metals, but said the rest of the
piles are contaminated. The borough’s engineering firm, H2M Group, said
the sludge is intermingled and can not be separated, so Ford is
responsible for removing all of it.

don’t expect to get out every molecule of paint sludge,” said Joe
Gowers, Environmental Protection Agency project manager. “The
excavation has gone down to the bedrock; there’s not really much more
that can be done here.”

in a concession to resident worries, EPA officials have said fences
will be erected around three sites: another, still unexcavated landfill
on the over 500-acre tract where some 35,000 tons of toxic waste have
been removed since 2004, as well as around two abandoned mines where
more waste is know to lurk. The fenced-off area will encompass 31 acres.

officials says the bulk of the industrial waste has been removed from
the sludge hill site, which is about a half-mile uphill of the Wanaque
reservoir and near the homes of some 500 people. But clumps of the
waste were still found mixed with rocks and debris during the morning

No one seemed
surprised. And even after Ringwood Councilman John Speer found a hunk
of the lead-based sludge, Gowers stood by EPA’s decision to pull Ford’s
contractor, Arcadis, off the site in May. Gowers said Arcadis would be
back only to do follow-up testing or take away any new sludge that is
found, not to do intensive removal work as it did since 2004.

tour had been set when Bob Speigel, director of the environmental
advocacy group Edison Wetlands Association, showed EPA officials
clumped sludge he found two weeks ago just as EPA regional
administrator Alan Steinberg said the site was cleared of visible

Steinberg responded with a promise of a walk-through of the site by his staff to see how much sludge remained.

said the risk of exposure to leftover waste is very small and added
that ongoing testing is being done on excavated areas to make sure
contamination is not leaching anywhere. He added that Arcadis also is
running tests to see whether contamination in two old iron mines and a
Ford industrial landfill elsewhere on the general tract should be

Sludge hill, once a
forested slope near homes, was one of the places Ford poured a lava of
sludge from dump trucks into this former mining community. Residents
recall “sledding” down the sludge on cardboard as children, unaware of
the dangers from the lead-based waste. Now, after decades of serious
and unexplained illnesses in the community, they have sued Ford,
claiming a link between the waste and their health problems.

representatives have said they will do whatever EPA orders, but
maintain Ringwood should help pay for cleaning dump areas because of a
history of municipal landfills on some of the tract.

The current Superfund cleanup is the second at sludge hill.

an initial cleanup begun in the late 1980s, Ford removed several
thousand cubic yards of sludge from four small sites, including the
hill, on the overall tract. Based on the company’s representations, EPA
declared the site clean. But resident, backed by legislators, pointed
to massive amounts of sludge left behind near homes and in adjacent
Ringwood State Park [See The Record’s Toxic Legacy series at www.toxiclegacy.com]. In 2004, EPA ordered Ford to do a more extensive
cleanup, The current cleanup has removed at least triple the amount of
waste trucked away in the first cleanup.

Today, the hill’s vegetation is gone and it is a series of bedrock levels strewn with dirt, broken glass and litter.

area also was used for years as a dump for residential trash. Residents
and local officials want sludge hill, as well as the rest of the
neighborhood and nearby parkland, cleaned of all Ford’s waste.

confirms the reports we’ve been given that say this area is still full
of paint sludge,” Speer said under a glaring sun as he broke the sludge
he found apart with his fingers.

Richard Chapin, a consulting engineer who advises the community, said
the sludge pieces aren’t too alarming. What concerns him is the exposed
hillside: He said it needs to be stabilized to prevent any
contamination that is there from running down into a nearby stream that
flows to the Wanaque Reservoir.

can never be sure you’ll get all the pieces,” Chapin said. “But you
need to get vegetation there as soon as possible to stop this from
going down the hill.”

any planting can happen, however, two massive mounds of soil mixed with
garbage and sludge must be removed. The piles, over 15 feet high and
about 50 feet wide, are covered with plastic tarps and contain broken
glass, wrappers, and other litter. Ringwood Borough is battling Ford
over removing the two piles, set aside when Arcadis took out tons of
waste from the hill. Ford says the soil is not hazardous and it is not
responsible for removing municipal waste. It did, however, offer to
split the cost with the borough.

Mayor Walter Davison on Tuesday was not satisfied with the offer.

believe the area is contaminated and Ford is responsible for any
contamination,” Davison said, surveying the looming piles. “God, this
is a lot to move, and it should be done immediately by Ford for the
sake of these residents.”