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Haunted by Ghosts of the Unregulated Past

By Tim Wright

Published February 6, 2007
It is possible to contend that over the years, not one single issue has impacted the paint and coatings industry as heavily as environmental legislation. The growing restrictions being placed on paint and coatings makers due to VOC legislation has become a common fabric woven into the consciousness of this industry.

This was not always the case. Twenty to 30 years ago issues concerning the environment, the dangers of toxic compounds and waste disposal were flying way under the radar.

While the industry should be commended for the strides it has made and the level of innovation it continues to achieve to keep meeting tougher restrictions, it is still haunted by ghosts from the "environmental dark ages," if you will.

I was thinking about these things the other day while I was doing some research for our annual wood coatings feature (page 26). I was reviewing some comments about the new SCAQMD VOC regulations that went into effect July 1, 2006, when I picked up a local newspaper whose cover story was about paint sludge dumped by Ford Motor Co. in the Upper Ringwood, NJ area and in Hillburn, NY years ago that has now led to a major lawsuit. In fact, the lawsuit 700 Upper Ringwood residents filed against Ford is one of the largest environmental cases ever in New Jersey.

The paint sludge came from the Ford Motor Co.'s factory in Mahwah, once the largest auto assembly plant in the nation. Before closing in 1980, millions of gallons of paint sludge were dumped in the remote section of Ringwood.

A year into the multimillion-dollar lawsuit, this case has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster involving Ford, the feds and the mob (experts involved in the "Erin Brockovich" case have been called in).

As reported by Mary Jo Layton in The Record, the Upper Ringwood residents, many of them members of the Ramapough Mountain Tribe, accuse Ford of polluting their neighborhood with contaminants from its now defunct factory. They say the millions of gallons of paint sludge destroyed their land and caused widespread illness.

Ford denies the allegations, saying the company dumped legally in a Ringwood landfill and that sludge was found on just five percent of the 500-acre site. In addition, Ford says it has spent millions to comply fully with EPA-supervised cleanups.

Certainly an interesting story and one that directly involves our industry. As the case awaits trial, I encourage you to read about it. Log on to www.northjersey.com/toxiclegacy where you will find a series of articles The Record ran back in October 2005. Please let me know your thoughts. Happy reading!

Tim Wright

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