Jan Barry Interviewed by ABC News

January 15th, 2009

By Tom Carter

Jan Barry, one of the authors who writes for Opinion Forum, was interviewed in an ABC Nightline report aired on January 14.  The report, filmed last year, focuses on a toxic waste scandal in Ringwood, NJ that has been controversial for a quarter century.  As an investigative reporter for The Record of New Jersey, Jan and a team of journalists covered the story for several years, writing an awarding-winning series of reports.

The Ringwood toxic waste problem is back in the news because Lisa P. Jackson, former New Jersey state environmental commissioner, has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.  As she testified before a Senate committee today, four residents of Ringwood sat behind her, symbolizing the seriousness of toxic waste, the necessity for cleaning it up, and the ineffectiveness of the federal government.

As reported by ABC Nightline,

In the 1960s, when the Ford Motor Company created some of the world’s most popular cars, it disposed of some of the toxic by-products in a wooded area of Ringwood, N.J., currently one of the most polluted areas in America.

Overrun with paint deposits, battery acid and chemicals, local residents call the area Sludge Hill.

The sludge, which is now rock hard, was once a colorful liquid goo. It was also a toxic brew of arsenic, benzene and lead, and it was runny, slippery and dangerous.

The toxic dump became a playground for local children.  They played with the goo that was really dumped auto paint and sledded on the mucky, toxic sludge.  Some of these children, now grown, and other residents of Ringwood have since died from cancer.

In 1983, the Ringwood toxic dump was put on the EPA superfund list, and Ford was ordered to clean it up.  It was removed from the superfund list in 1994, when Ford and the EPA agreed that it had been cleaned and was safe.

Residents disagreed and took the story to The Record.  Jan and the team of journalists from The Record began investigating, and they found that the site was far from clean.  In fact, it was still highly toxic.  As Jan told ABC News,

So we did our own investigation and went and looked at the original field reports from the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] and the EPA from the early ’80s as to why they created a superfund site.  They indicated where they saw paint sludge. I went out with a camera and found paint sludge in the same places. It was still there.

The Ringwood toxic dump was put back on the EPA superfund list in 2005, the first time a site has ever been re-listed.  Now it has a new level of attention, from the EPA to high-visibility environmental activists like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  As Kennedy said,

This could not happen in Bedford, N.Y., couldn’t happen in Greenwich, Conn. This type of thing only happens in communities that don’t have the resources or political clout to defend themselves from the big polluters.

The claims and counter-claims continue, as they have for 25 years or more.  Ford says the site is clean.  The people of Ringwood say it isn’t and that residents have statistically unusual rates of cancer.  Ford says that data shows the cancer rate isn’t unusual except for lung cancer and that might be from smoking or other bad habits.  Officials say that no data has been collected to support that conclusion. The residents are suing and seeking compensation from Ford Motor Company.

Read the award-winning series of reports written by Jan and his colleagues in a multi-media presentation.  It’s an outstanding example of the value of aggressive reporting by a free press.


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