TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – In January, the state warned hunters and residents near a toxic waste dump in northern New Jersey to limit their consumption of squirrel after federal monitors tested a dead squirrel and found it contaminated by lead.
Yesterday, officials said it was a false alarm.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said a blender used to process the squirrel’s tissue samples was defective and that the lead believed to be in the squirrel actually came from a part of the blender.
“Resampling indicated significantly lower lead levels in the squirrel tissue,” the agency said in a statement.
State officials will decide what action they need to take regarding the squirrel advisory based on the EPA’s new findings, said Tom Slater, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Senior Services.
The dead squirrel was sent to the EPA lab as part of tests the agency was conducting on plants and animals near a Superfund site where Ford Motor Co. used to dump toxic waste.
Ford spokesman Jon Holt said the Dearborn-based automaker was pleased that the issue had been clarified.
He said the EPA’s findings demonstrate the need to perform accurate testing.
“Our position has been that the paint sludge has been isolated, and that it doesn’t really leach into the soil or the water, so it hasn’t been any real threat to the environment or animals in the area,” Holt said.
But the executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, Robert Spiegel, said area residents, many of whom are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe and have been hunting and growing food in the area for decades, are still at risk.
“Even if you do believe that they had some sort of blender malfunction, it’s still not good news,” Spiegel said. “It actually raises a lot of red flags about all the other work that the EPA has done up there … How do we trust the rest of what the EPA is telling us?”
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Ford dumped paint sludge and other toxic waste in the area from its now-closed car assembly plant in Mahwah.
The site eventually was put on the Superfund list, a ranking of the country’s worst dump sites. The site was removed from the Superfund list following an EPA-supervised cleanup, but residents repeatedly complained of large sections of paint sludge still left in the area. Ford returned for more cleanup work.
Last year, the site was put back on the Superfund list, the first time in Superfund’s history that a site has been relisted.
A group of Ringwood residents is suing Ford over the dump, saying it was responsible for health problems including certain cancers and skin diseases.