It is the first time the state has cautioned Ringwood residents - many who are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian tribe who hunt and fish in the area - about their squirrel intake, said Tom Slater, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Senior Services.
A lead-contaminated squirrel was found in the area two months ago, prompting the agency, along with the state Department of Environmental Protection, to send out letters advising that adults eat squirrel no more than twice a week and even less for children and pregnant women.
Lead, which is harmful in small amounts, can damage the nervous system, red blood cell production and the kidneys.
"We've known for a long time something was wrong here, we just didn't know what it was," resident Myrtle Van Dunk said.
Residents and many environmental activists believe the lead comes from toxic waste, including paint sludge, dumped in the area by the Ford Motor Co. during the 1960s and early 1970s, from its now-closed car manufacturing plant in Mahwah.
Ford is removing thousands of tons of waste from a 500-acre former mining property in the Ringwood area. The site was recently relisted on the federal Superfund list, a ranking of the country's worst environmental dump sites, after multiple cleanups failed to remove all the sludge.
(Copyright 2007. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)