Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 18, 2011

Mann V. Ford

Filed under: Ecology,indigenous,racism,television — louisproyect @ 1:19 am

If someone asked you what came to mind when a huge multinational corporations was dumping toxic waste on indigenous peoples’ land, you are likely to think of far-off places like Ecuador where Chevron refuses to pay for the damage to land, water and the health of native peoples caused by oil run-off. This conflict between Indians and Chevron was documented in the film “Crude” that represented advocacy film-making at its finest.

As it turns out, a similar drama unfolded not 40 miles from New York in the 1990s when the Ramapough Mountain Indians sought damages against Ford Motor for dumping the toxic waste from their Mahwah plant into the soil, water and abandoned iron mines where the native peoples lived. A documentary titled “Mann V. Ford” that is every bit as powerful as “Crude” tells their story tomorrow night at 9pm on HBO, the premium cable channel that is one of the best places to go on television for hard-hitting political material. It is a sad commentary on the state of PBS’s Frontline that you need to go to cable TV to see such a film.

When you think of American Indians and environmental racism, you are likely to visualize reservations in New Mexico or Arizona where nuclear waste material is dumped. But the Indians who lived in suburban-style tract housing in New Jersey suffered more than any Indians in recent history. As children, they swam in nearby streams and rolled around on fields that contained paint and other toxic waste, including PCBs, Freon, heavy metals, lead and arsenic. Now in their forties and fifties, they are suffering cancer rates triple those of other people in New Jersey, a state infamous for environmental health hazards. Today, almost every home in Upper Ringwood, the town where they are based, has someone who died from cancer, or is suffering from diabetes, kidney stones, miscarriage, asthma, gastrointestinal disease or skin disorders.

Ford decided that these people were not worth worrying about since the general perception—racist to the core—was that the Ramapough Mountain Indians, who are descended from the Lenapes, were “trash” that deserved everything they got. They were seen as backward hill people who were culturally akin to other mountain peoples in the Ozarks or West Virginia. The assumption is that anybody who kept a car seat on his or her porch deserved to get cancer from Ford Motor toxic waste.

The documentary focuses on Wayne Mann, the lead plaintiff in the case. Mann is an articulate and passionate spokesman for his people. Like other members of this ethnic group, Mann obviously has African-American as well as Indian roots. This is the case for the Seminole people in Florida as well. He is advised by one of the lead attorneys, a feisty Blond-haired woman named Vicky Gilliam who hails from rural Louisiana and who had seen the impact of agricultural chemicals and oil spills on her own farming community. She is their Erin Brockovich.

Back in 1958, when I was in 8th grade, we went on a field trip to the Mahwah plant that had opened up three years earlier. The Ford employee who escorted around the plant kept making the point that this was the most modern and efficient auto plant the world had ever seen. Little did we suspect that 9 years later the plant management would decide to dump their waste in Upper Ringwood, obviously to save money. This was at a time when the reputation of American corporations was at an all-time high. The General Electric Theater aired on Sunday evening at 9pm, considered one of the most prestigious shows on television. Speaking for GE, Ronald reminded us that progress was their most important product. And all the while GE was dumping PCB’s in the Hudson River, the same way that Ford was dumping it in Indian country.

As is customary with HBO documentaries, they can be viewed on-demand from Time-Warner and other cable providers. If not, you can watch them on your computer if you are an HBO subscriber—a new feature available at www.hbogo.com.


  1. I understand the anger, but these emotions can’t override the reality that what was done by Ford back in the day was perfectly legal. This area where they dumped was an iron mining community and landfill BEFORE they purchased the property and began using it. So iron mining doesn’t leave any traces of heavy metals in the soil—just Ford’s paint sludge?

    The desire to paint Ford as an evil corporation who derives pleasure from watching others suffer simply isn’t fair. They—not unlike many other corporations back in the day as well as today—generate waste and castoffs from their manufacturing processes. There simply isn’t anyway to make manufacturing completely waste free is all I’m saying. When this factory was operating, they legally disposed of their waste via licensed waste carters / haulers. The real criminals are the waste haulers / carters who dumped industrial waste far and wide in NY and NJ such that the area has more superfund sites than anywhere else in the country. They are the ones who poisoned the people by not acting responsibility and disposing of it in sanctioned landfills.

    If you do addl’ research on this Ford plant, you will find that there waste was disposed of in other landfills surrouding the area that are now superfund sites. Where is the outrage over those people and those areas?

    To make this a story that Ford chose to dump on natives is not a fair and accurate representation. Ford’s Mahwah operation was the LARGEST trash hauling contract in the state of NJ at the time. When you LEGALLY give you trash to a licensed waste hauler, you expect them to dispose of it properly. In this case, when the trash industry was controlled entirely by the mafia, you get what happened to the Ramapoughs.

    Everyone’s anger and disgust isn’t pointed at the right party. Organized crime should be blamed for this disaster……

    Comment by JH — July 18, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

  2. This defense of Ford is familiar. A corporation turns over its toxic waste to a hauler and washes its hands of the matter. It’s not their concern where it’s dumped. The hauler breaks the law for them. The dumping ground is always in a poor region where the locals have no voice. Whole areas of Italy have been devastated by this trick. See Roberto Saviano’s book “Gomorrah” or the 2008 movie made from it.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 19, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  3. There is STRONG evidence this was intended genocide by Ford. Hopefully, one day soon, this will come out.

    Comment by Ramapough Friend — July 19, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  4. Law and justice. Two very different matters.

    Comment by Chuckie K — July 19, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  5. Let’s see…how exactly are you supposed to react to suppositions that Ford was desiring “genocide”? Seriously? Come on…use your head. I’m not defending Ford or claiming that they have ZERO responsibility for the problems that took place in Ringwood, NJ. All I’m saying is that to somehow overlook the responsibility (both legally and morally) of the waste haulers in this travesty is to ingore THEIR contribution to this problem.

    Let’s see….do you generate trash? Answer…yes. Do you think about where it ends up going—do you not “wash your hands of the matter” when you set it out on the curb? You give it a licensed waste hauler that you EXPECT to dump it responsibly in a location that is secure / safe / legal and in accordance with all laws at the given time.

    Why is there a different standard for Ford because their waste—again, which they gave to a licensed waste haulers—-wound up being spread all over by unscrupulous people??

    Comment by JH — July 20, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

  6. I don’t know how much JH knows about American history, but the people running Ford have been scumbags going back to Henry himself who was a big-time anti-Semite. He was also violently opposed to unions and organized a goon squad to beat up Walter Reuther and other UAW organizers in 1937. Reuther wrote: “Seven times they raised me off the concrete and slammed me down on it. They pinned my arms . . . and I was punched and kicked and dragged by my feet to the stairway, thrown down the first flight of steps, picked up, slammed down on the platform and kicked down the second flight. On the ground they beat and kicked me some more. . . “

    Comment by louisproyect — July 20, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  7. To JH, there IS documented evidence Ford fully intended this dumping to be the genocide of eugenics. Also, are you aware Henry Ford was a major financial backer of Nazi Germany which is best known for applying the theories of eugenics? This is far more than “waste haulers.”

    Comment by Ramapough Friend — July 20, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

  8. Oh I see. Just because you say there is evidence that this was intended to be genocide, then I’m supposed to believe it. Show me proof, show me that two incidents are in any way related…bring it on.

    Referencing Henry’s anti-Semitism and the fact that he disliked unions (along with every other auto company at the time) does not mean the issue with the Ramapoughs in NJ are connected.

    Comment by JH — July 20, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  9. Of course they are related. The Ford company is run by a bunch of worker-hating racist pigs. What they did to the Ramapough Mountain Indians is par for the course.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 20, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

  10. Where’s the proof they are related? I’m waiting…..

    Comment by JH — July 20, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

  11. JH, your comparison in 5. doesn’t stand up. Yes I put my trash out on the curb to be taken away by someone else.
    But my trash isn’t toxic waste as Ford’s was in New Jersey. If my trash is poisonous I’m responsible until it’s made harmless.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 21, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  12. When you are shown internal documentation from Ford that they wanted to get rid of the property soomer rather then later so there would be less question, what does that mean. It means Ford knew what they were doing. They bought this land from a family that owned it, used it as a dumping ground ground, then covered it with soil and donated the land (tax write off ) to a developer. They then built houses on this land. They have still have found residue from the fire’s that bruned for weeks in the home’s of these people. This company chose to settle with this community instead of fighting. If they did nothing wrong they should have stood up for themselves. Instead they used the economy to scare this community into taking as little as possible to hopefully shut them up and that it would not hurt their bottom line. Since this pay off Ford has bosted profits in the billions. They at the very least owe this community the same health care that upper management receive’s and the offer to relocate the family’s. Ford has basiclly wiped out 3-4 generations of people.

    Comment by kjb — July 25, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  13. To KJB in #12, what the hell are you talking about? “Using the economy to scare the community”—what does that mean exactly? Let me see, the Ramapoughs sued Ford in 2006 and hired an attorney to represent them. This same firm has Robert F Kennedy, Jr as one of its partners. So how were the Ramapoughs “scared” into settling with Ford when they have someone of RFKs stature / notoriety representing them? You people obviously haven’t done enough research on this matter and are clearly into ranting about things like “genocide”, “environmental racism” rather than dealing with the FACTS of this case.

    “Since then Ford has boasted billions in profits”—-so does that mean Ford has boasted billions in profits because of not paying their fair share in this case? What rock have you been living under? Ford has posted profits by building and selling cars the past 3-4 years that people have clearly wanted—not by cheating the Ramapoughs.

    Comment by JH — July 25, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  14. To Peter in #11, your claim is simply laughable. So you’ve never tossed out a near empty paint can, a can of spray paint, a can of bug spray, or a piece of electronics like an old calculator, curling iron, hair dryer, etc? You do know that all of these things contain trace elements of VOCs and or heavy metals in them. Over time, these things will began to leech trace amounts into a regular sanitary landfill where we send them. But when MILLIONS of people do the very same thing, it can very quickly add up. So yeah, we’re all responsible.

    Comment by JH — July 25, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

  15. Is that what Ford did? Dumped millions of gallons of paint sludge in the same way that people throw out a used can of spray paint? If this is the sort of thinking that prevails among the ditto-heads cheering for Ford, no wonder there’s a cancer epidemic of epic proportions in industrialized countries. It is nearly impossible to control the behavior of individual consumers but the government can regulate the behavior of a billion dollar corporation. Sadly, the attack on regulation that began in the Reagan era and continues apace under Republican and Democrat alike will turn this country into a massive version of Upper Ringwood until an aroused citizenry takes action against these profit-hungry monsters.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  16. jh unfortunately I do feel like I have been under a rock. I don’t need that pointed out, But thank you just as much. I am unable to find the remark for the settlement to place on here but the documentary will be air again on 7/29/11 @ 11:25 est on HBO 2. The comment about the profits that Ford has achieved, It proves the point that they could have done more when these people on average received less the 8000.00 a piece after all fees were paid. Yes people obviously want the products that Ford makes, and with any luck the public will be made aware of this injustice and stand up for what it right and refuse to buy their products for a certain amount of time. God Bless

    Comment by kjb — July 25, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  17. @JH

    There is a hole in your logic large enough to drive a waste truck through. Just because something was ‘legal’ when it was done, does not absolve a party from any future guilt or responsibility should it be later deemed illegal or in this case morally and or ethically reprehensible. Also, it’s fairly clear that the ‘legality’ of that dumping can easily be called into question because there is evidence that officials were paid off and the site for dumping was secured by Ford if not illegally, then at least questionably. In my opinion, if someone with the resources to support the legal battle were to come forward, and a suitably sized and skilled legal team were assembled, they could secure a judgment from Ford and the EPA (who bear some responsibility in this matter), many, many times larger than what the settlement is reported to be.

    The idea that some offence may have been legal in some jurisdiction when it was committed is absolutely no defence that will stand up under any kind of real exposure and / or pressure. What is truly frightening about this type of case is that it’s not really about Ford, in truth, it is about America. Bear witness friends, we are living through what history will look back on as ‘the end of the American Empire’.

    Comment by Palerider — July 31, 2011 @ 3:30 am

  18. America brought this onto itself, let the mighty fall into their own glutenous waste and be buried in the past.

    Comment by Damnu — July 31, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  19. Though government regulations sometimes get in the way, we all can see and understand the need. It’s sad to see that a reputable company like ford, would act in this manner. Companies, governments etc. are all made up of people. Usually these narrow minded people just don’t get it. We all drink from the same water source and eat from the same food source’s. So when they pollute in areas they think won’t affect them, they don’t relate the cancer in their own family member to what the do. Humans are destructive in nature, governments are used to keep humans in check. But when you have state and federal governments who don’t care for their own citizens, this is what you get. It’s clear to me that we’re going to end up like the dinosaur’s, unless our government officials stop being in it for themselves and do what’s right for the country, which by the way is the people.

    Comment by joe meloni — August 2, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  20. articles like this will hopefully keep this issue in the public eye

    Comment by kjb — August 3, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

  21. “Genocide”………… @JH, There are hundreds of records showing how Hernry Ford was behind Eugenics. The Ford Foundation contributed $100,000,000’s of dollars to eugenics, which if “YOU” look up you will find. Henry Ford was very good friends with Hitler, and it is a known “FACT” that the Eugenics movement started right here in northern NJ, and southern NY. Heny Ford was also given the highest award that Hitler had. Ford started out with it’s involvement in eugenics and yes it was directed at our people, with other so called elitest, like the Harriman’s, Rockafeller’s, Bush’s and even more. So when Ford bought the property for its plant in Mahwah they had to research the land deeds. When they did this they would have seen the deeed that showed our longhouse’s that were there. Then they build their plant, then they buy the mines under a sub company named Ringwood Realty to build executive homes, then they were denied because they never made contingency plans for the Ramapough’s who lived there so their plan was shut down. Almost imediately they commenced to dumping in the mines, and then after years of doing so say lets give this to a non profit (how to) to build them homes before its too late. As another side not here the founder of planned parenthood also involved in eugenics with those listed above to inclunde Mr Ford put out one of their ways to deal with us, THAT MOST POPULAR WAY TO DEAL WITH THE TAINTED BLOOD OF NJ WAS BY “LEATHAL PUBLIC GAS CHAMBER”!!!!!!! This was in the early 1900’s. When they realized that there was no public support for mass murder of a people, they decided they need to “STERILIZE” us so we would no longer be able to reproduce. Henry Goddard also as the head of the ‘STATE OF NEW JERSEY’S VINELAND TRAINING SCHOOL” also supported these methods, but once he realized later in his career and his life what he had contributed to, that he walked away from it. So do not kid your self, or anyone else that this is far reaching, because just like the FORDS HARRIMANS ROCKAFELLERS, BUSH’S, and quite possibly your ancestor’s wanted us dead and or gone from here so they could have our land, at any cost. Trail of Tears, Trail of Heartaches, and many many more forced removals are a testament to eugenics, genocide, and the likes. Maybe had it been the other way around and My Ancestors invaded england and created these atrocites to those who came here it would be written differently, but that is not what happened. It appears to me that you are a intelligent person, so the next time you respond about something that hasn’t been about your people research it first, its all there for you or anyone else to see, and instead of standing on the fence you’ll begin to stand up for those who these atrocities were committed against, and still are in many ways.

    Comment by Vincent Mann — August 21, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  22. Ok to clarify this better for you JW.. (and I know why you used those letters to respond, smarta$$!) Henry Ford was a supporter of Eugenics (look it up if you don’t know what that is) Ford along with the State of New Jersey and a few other notibles supported the study of Eugenics. ( Actually 33 states adopted some form or another of this plan) The Vineland Training School under Dr. Goddard made this study using some of our people and the Shinnecocks. Later this study was expanded in Nazi Germany against the Jewish. Before the Ford plant was built on that location, it was an airport but before that it was our ancestral home. (see the Shuyler Patent 1710) The Iron mines of Ringwood were never used as a dump until after Ford bought the land for the specific purpose of dumping. IDK who you are, you can’t possibly be that stupid to think that dumping in residential neighborhoods is wrong! Ford had an internal memo back in 1972 stating the toxins were leaking into the water table and they decided to donate the land to absolve themselves of the responsibility of cleanng up. ( now think… if the toxins were found to to be leaching into the drinking water then, imagine how much of it you have injested now. Also note: they are still trying to cover this fact and say the Wanaque is not affected. If it was leaching and contaminated in 1972, it still leaching and contaminated now).
    When the lawsuit went to trial, the judge told the lawyers to settle or get nothing. Ford also threatened bankrupcy. Soon as the case was settled, Ford posted the highest earnings in 2 quarters afterwards. What does this say? Ford fudged the numbers for the quarter before settlement and fixed the case with the judge. Now Ford is trying to buy part of the land donated so they don’t have to cleanup the mess. they are trying to save money and don’t give a crap about anyone in North Jersey. SO JW, My question to you is.. You want to be petty and argue over who’s fault it is or do want to keep your family save? And by the way, don’t think for a minute this is complete. Foed also has to cleanup 2 other sites. Hillburn and the Meadows in Mahwah.. right where they proposed to build a mall. This is no longer a Ramapough vs Ford issue.. this is survival for all of North Jersey.

    Comment by Steven Burton — August 21, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  23. More information about the Schuyler Patent can be found in this link from Wikipedia:


    Comment by Carolyn Suffern — August 21, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  24. Lost cause…..

    Comment by Joe Nichols — April 26, 2012 @ 2:11 am

  25. I have lived my life in the Ramapo Valley. Born and raised in the Village of Hillburn NY, where I trapped in the Torne Valley just north of the village. I was a very active trapper, tracker, and hunter/forager, as a boy. I witnessed paint sludge dumping and burial which went on in the middle of the night. So lets see, if this wasn’t something one was supposed to be doing, why then in the middle of the night and trenched and backfilled? Most hunters from our region eventually contract cancer, the numbers are frightening. Today I work as a college professor and a researcher with Ramapo College, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland and Antioch School of Environmental Studies in New Hampshire. I have been working with the Town of the Ramapo on negotiating with Ford for the clean-up work that is being done in Hillburn and in Ramapo Hamlet area. This past year we have gotten Ford to remove 40,000 tons of contamination from the Ramapo Well Field, yes that is right from your local source of drinking water. While we are at it let me point out that knoweldge of this paint sludge in the well field has been there since it was dumped there, it was no secret. Our regulatory agencies failed us for years but now, finally we have some traction. Primarily this is because of the efforts of Ramapo Town Supervisor Chris St. Lawrence, who continues to negotiate on behalf of the watershed as no politician ever did in the Borough of Ringwood. We have built a home for my students who continue to do field research in the watershed. It is called the Ramapo Saltbox Environmental Research Center. You can see some of the work we did on this if you go to the Town of Ramapo Web Site. As for the interesting discussion that spun out here during 2011, I agree with Chief Mann of the Turtle Clan. It really takes some stepping out of your white perspective in order to assess this story. In the meantime, we will continue to move Ford along toward a full recovery.
    Thanks for reading this.
    Chuck Stead

    Comment by Chuck Stead — February 3, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

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