Citizens of 'Sludge City' File Lawsuit Against Ford Over Toxic Waste

Hundreds claim illnesses after auto company dumps waste.

ByABC News
January 14, 2009, 9:34 AM

Jan. 14, 2009— -- 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.

"I was one of those children who used to go up on Sludge Hill," recalled Wayne Mann, the neighborhood's spokesman. "[I would] take a car hood and ride down, your hand steering in the wet sludge. You paint your face. You lick it, whatever. I was one of the young kids."

"I used to love to jump on the hard stuff," Vivian Milligan, a community leader, said. "I really loved that, my God."

Now residents like Mann and Milligan believe that they and many others are sick because they grew up on a toxic waste dump. They and 650 others are now suing, and are seeking compensation from the Ford Motor Company for allegedly contaminating the soil and groundwater in Ringwood.

Robert Kennedy Jr. has joined with other lawyers to represent the group. Kennedy says he has "no doubt" the actions of Ford caused the illness of Ringwood residents.

"This could not happen in Bedford, N.Y., couldn't happen in Greenwich, Conn.," Kennedy said, referring to a couple of wealthy suburban towns. "This type of thing only happens in communities that don't have the resources or political clout to defend themselves from the big polluters."

To describe how difficult these types of cases are to try in court, Kennedy points to the challenge lawyers faced for years while trying to prove in court that cigarettes caused cancer. The tobacco companies, he said, had other explanations for the plaintiffs' illnesses.

"It could have come from the benzene in the environment. It could have been genetics. It could have been anything," he said.