Impacts on Human Health

Human Bodies Diagram

It is important to understand that some Ramapough live in the Superfund site, not near it. The EPA removed contaminated soil from 23 residential properties. Residents recall playing with the sludge as children - making mud pies in the woods and sledding down “Sludge Hill” (now the SR-6 removal site). Despite the sustained, long-term, extreme proximity to toxic sludge the Ramapough have had a difficult time making the case that their illnesses are connected to the toxicants.

It is up to citizens to prove that health conditions are caused by pollution, and there are many challenges to making this case, since ailments can be attributed to other factors such as diet or lifestyle. Exposure from many decades ago could have affected people’s immune systems, as well as other organ systems, while there may be nothing detectable in their blood today.

Of particular relevance for the mixture that composes paint sludge, expertise is lacking in analyzing effects of chemical synergy and understanding the consequences of chemical reactions. Some cell culture studies, such as that by Jagannathan et al. (2017) of the synergistic effects of mercury and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) indicate that toxicity can be increased with binary mixtures of chemicals that have also been shown to have existed simultaneously in upper Ringwood at the Superfund site.

The September 2018 report prepared for Ford Motor Company by Cornerstone Environmental Group, LLC, describes the results of the Baseline Human Health Risk Assessment (BHRRA): “Under existing conditions, the potential human health or ecological risks are not significant, and therefore, the alternatives [for remediation] are protective.” This finding is consistent with the assessment of regulatory bodies regarding Ringwood over the years, where residents’ symptoms have been connected to other issues related to social injustice, lifestyle, and ailments that often affect low income communities. Chuck Stead raises an important point:

“A community of Ramapoughs living no more than thirty miles from the Ringwood site (at Stag Hill in Mahwah, New Jersey) subjected to similar economic deprivation indicate few of these symptoms; the only difference is this community lives apart from the paint sludge exposure. It would stand to reason that a comparison study of the Turtle Clan in Ringwood with the Wolf Clan on Stag Hill would put the “life-style” diagnosis to rest” (Stead, 2015, p.88).

Health survey studies with the Wolf Clan in Mahwah are planned by the New York University (NYU)- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Core Center, Department of Environmental Medicine over the next few years.

Ford Motor Barrel

The CDC’s official stance is that “the presence of a chemical does not imply disease.

The levels or concentrations of the chemicals are more important determinants of the relation to disease, when established in appropriate research studies, than the detection or presence of a chemical” (Quoted in Hoover, 2017 p.101). Scientists must be very careful not to jump to conclusions that cannot be supported by sound science and research data. While there may be demonstrated connections/associations between particular chemicals and certain illnesses, they are often not able to connect them directly to exposure to the contaminants. It is doubtful that scientific inquiry will ever be able to conclusively trace present day illnesses in Ringwood directly back to the paint sludge.

Particularly, as many chemical exposures in utero and/or during early infancy and childhood can increase the risk for a number of adult diseases, including (but not limited to) obesity, asthma, behavioral modifications, and heart disease. Thus, it is difficult to track the relationship between these later-life disease outcomes with their early-life exposure roots.

Nonetheless, Dr. Judith Zelikoff, NYU-NIEHS Community Engagement Core Director and Toxicology Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine will say that chemical contamination in upper Ringwood where the Ramapough continue to reside over many decades likely contributed to, or exacerbated, some of the health issues and/or disorders that were self-reported by the Ramapough and non-Native Americans in Ringwood.

Learn about the medicinal and healing value of food in this clip.
Impacts on Human Health