Love Canal NYS

Love Canal

From Wikipedia(View original Wikipedia Article)Last modified on 19 December 2010, at 06:19 
Love Canal
Superfund site
City Niagara Falls
County Niagara County
State New York
Love Canal is located in New York
Proposed 12/30/1982
Listed 09/08/1983
Deleted 09/30/2004
Superfund sites

Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara FallsNew York, which became the subject of national and international attention, controversy, and eventual environmental notoriety following the discovery of 21,000 tons of toxic waste that had been buried beneath the neighborhood by Hooker Chemical. Love Canal officially covers 36 square blocks in the far southeastern corner of the city, along 99th Street and Read Avenue. Two bodies of water define the northern and southern boundaries of the neighborhood: Bergholtz Creek to the north and the Niagara River one-quarter mile (400 m) to the south. In this area, Grand Island is situated on the south shore of the Niagara River.

Hooker Chemical sold this site to the Niagara Falls School Board with a deed explicitly detailing the danger contained within the site, and including a liability limitation clause about the contamination. The construction efforts of housing development, combined with particularly heavy rainstorms, released the chemical waste, leading to a public health emergency and an urban planning scandal. Hooker Chemical was found to be negligent in their disposal of waste, though not reckless in the sale of the land, in what became a test case for liability clauses. The dumpsite was discovered and investigated by the local newspaper, the Niagara Gazette, from 1976 through the evacuation in 1978. Potential health problems were first raised by reporter Michael H. Brown in July 1978.

Ten years after the incident, New York State Health Department Commissioner David Axelrod stated that Love Canal would long be remembered as a "national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations."[1] The Love Canal incident was especially significant as a situation where the inhabitants "overflowed into the wastes instead of the other way around." [2]

Table of Contents
1 Early history
2 The Love Canal disaster
  2.1 Sale of the site
  2.2 Construction of the 99th Street School
  2.3 Health problems, activism, and site cleanup
  2.4 State of emergency
3 Aftermath
4 See also
5 References
6 External links

Early history

The name Love Canal came from the last name of William T. Love, who in the early 1890s envisioned a canal connecting the two levels of the Niagara River separated by Niagara Falls. He believed it would serve the area's burgeoning industries with much needed hydro electricity; however, the power scheme was never completed due to limitations of direct current (DC) power transmission, and Tesla's introduction of alternating current (AC). Furthermore, the Panic of 1893 caused investors to no longer sponsor the project.[3]. [4] Also, Congress passed a law barring the removal of water from the Niagara River, to preserve Niagara Falls.[5] After 1892, Love's plan changed to incorporate a shipping lane that would bypass the Niagara Falls, reaching Lake Ontario. He envisioned a perfect urban area called "Model City" and prepared a plan with a community of parks and homes along Lake Ontario. His plan was never realized. He began digging the canal and built a few streets and homes when his fund were depleted .[2] Only one mile (1.6 km) of the canal, about 50 feet (15 m) wide and 10 to 40 feet (3 m to 12 m) deep, stretching northward from the Niagara River, was dug.[3]

There is little information about those who actually worked for Love.[4] Canal building was exhausting, dirty and often dangerous. Immigrants usually performed this arduous work, along with removing all trees and vegetation.

With the project abandoned, the canal gradually filled with water. The local children swam there in the summer and skated in the winter. Children from a nearby federal housing project, Griffon Manor, often used the canal. In the 1920s, the canal became a dump site for the City of Niagara Falls, with the city regularly unloading its municipal refuse into the pit. In the 1940s, the U.S. Army began using the site to dump wastes from the war effort during World War II, including some waste from the Manhattan Project, the rest of which was dumped in nearbyLewiston, New York at the Niagara Falls Storage Site.

By the 1940s, Hooker Electrochemical Company (later known as Hooker Chemical Company) founded by Elon Hooker, began searching for a place to dump the rampant amount of chemical waste it was producing. Hooker was granted permission by the Niagara Power and Development Company in 1942 to dump wastes in the Love Canal. The canal was drained and lined with thick clay. Into this site, Hooker began placing 55-gallon metal or fibre barrels. The City of Niagara Falls and the army continued dumping garbage.

In 1948, after World War II had ended and the City of Niagara Falls had ended self-sufficient disposal of refuse, Hooker became the sole user and owner of the site.

This dumpsite was in operation until 1953. During this time, 21,000 tons of chemicals such as "caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins" were added.[5] These chemicals were buried at a depth of twenty to twenty-five feet.[6] In 1947, Hooker bought the canal and the 70-foot-wide (21 m) banks on either side of the canal.[7] After 1953, the canal was covered with soil, and vegetation began to grow atop the dumpsite.

The Love Canal disaster

Sale of the site

At the time of the dump's closure, Niagara Falls' population began to expand. The local school board needed land, and attempted to purchase a property from Hooker Chemical that had been used to bury toxic waste. The corporation refused to sell, citing safety concerns, and took members of the school board to the canal and drilled several bore holes to demonstrate that there were toxic chemicals below the surface. However, the board refused to capitulate.[8] Eventually, faced with the property being condemned and/or expropriated, Hooker Chemical agreed to sell on the condition that the board buy the entire property for one dollar. In the agreement signed on April 28, 1953, Hooker included a seventeen line caveat that explained the dangers of building on the site. Hooker believed it was thus released from all legal obligations should lawsuits arise in the future.[9]

Prior to the delivery of this instrument of conveyance, the grantee herein has been advised by the grantor that the premises above described have been filled, in whole or in part, to the present grade level thereof with waste products resulting from the manufacturing of chemicals by the grantor at its plant in the City of Niagara Falls, New York, and the grantee assumes all risk and liability incident to the use thereof. It is therefore understood and agreed that, as a part of the consideration for this conveyance and as a condition thereof, no claim, suit, action or demand of any nature whatsoever shall ever be made by the grantee, its successors or assigns, against the grantor, its successors or assigns, for injury to a person or persons, including death resulting therefrom, or loss of or damage to property caused by, in connection with or by reason of the presence of said industrial wastes. It is further agreed as a condition hereof that each subsequent conveyance of the aforesaid lands shall be made subject to the foregoing provisions and conditions.[8]

Hooker stated that the area should be sealed off "so as to prevent the possibility of persons or animals coming in contact with the dumped materials."[10]

Construction of the 99th Street School

Despite the disclaimer, the board began construction of the 99th Street School in its originally intended location. In January 1954, the architect of the school wrote to the education committee informing them that during excavation, workers discovered two dump sites filled with 55-gallon drums containing chemical wastes. The architect also noted that it would be "poor policy" to build in that area since it was not known what wastes were present in the ground, and the concrete foundation might be subsequently damaged.[11] The school board then moved the school site eighty to eighty-five feet further north.[2] The kindergarten playground also had to be relocated because a chemical dump lay directly beneath. Upon completion in 1955, 400 children attended the school. That same year, a twenty-five foot area crumbled exposing toxic chemical drums, which then filled with water during rainstorms. This created large puddles that children enjoyed playing in.[2]

In 1957, the City of Niagara Falls constructed sewers for a mixture of low-income and single family residences to be built on lands adjacent to the landfill site. While building the gravel sewer beds, construction crews broke through the clay seal, breaching the canal walls.[8]Specifically, the local government removed part of the protective clay cap to use as fill dirt for another school site, and punched holes in the impermeable clay walls to build water lines and a highway. This allowed the toxic wastes to escape when rainwater, no longer kept out by the partially removed clay cap, washed them through the gaps created in the walls.[12] Hence, the buried chemicals had a further opportunity to migrate and seep from the canal. The land where the homes were being built was not part of the agreement between the school board and Hooker, thus none of these residents knew the history of the canal.[13] There was no monitoring or evaluating of the chemical wastes which were being stored under the ground. Additionally, the clay cover of the canal which was supposed to be impermeable began to crack.[14] The subsequent construction of the LaSalle Expressway restricted groundwater from flowing to the Niagara River. Following the exceptionally wet winter and spring of 1962, the elevated expressway turned the breached canal into an overflowing pool. People reported having puddles of oil or colored liquid in yards or basements.[15]

Health problems, activism, and site cleanup

A protest by Love Canal residents, ca. 1978.

In 1976, two reporters for the Niagara Gazette, David Pollak and David Russell, tested several sump-pumps near Love Canal and found toxic chemicals in them. The matter went quiet for more than a year and was resurrected by reporter Michael Brown, who then investigated potential health effects by carrying forth an informal door-to-door survey in the early summer of 1978, finding birth defects and many anomalies. He advised the local residents to create a protest group, which was led by resident Karen Schroeder, whose daughter had a dozen birth defects. The New York State Health Department followed suit and found an abnormal incidence of miscarriages. The dumpsite was declared an unprecedented state emergency on August 2, 1978. Mr. Brown, who wrote more than a hundred articles on the dump, also further tested groundwater and later found that the dump was three times the size officials knew, with possible ramifications beyond the original evacuation zone. He was also to discover that highly toxic dioxin was there. On August 2, 1978Lois Gibbs, a local mother who called an election to head the Love Canal Homeowners' Association, began to further rally homeowners. Her son, Michael Gibbs, began attending school in September 1977. He developedepilepsy in December, suffered from asthma and a urinary tract infection, and had a low white blood cell count[16][17], all associated with his exposure to the leaking chemical waste. Gibbs had learned from Mr. Brown that her neighborhood sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried chemical waste.[18]

In the following years, Gibbs led an effort to investigate community concerns about the health of its residents; she and other residents made repeated complaints of strange odors and "substances" that surfaced in their yards. In Gibbs' neighborhood, there was a high rate of unexplained illnesses, miscarriages, and mental retardation.[17] Furthermore, basements were often covered with a thick, black substance, and vegetation was also dying. In many yards, the only vegetation that grew were shrubby grasses.[19] Although city officials were asked to investigate the area, they did not act to solve the problem.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, residents exhibited a "disturbingly high rate ofmiscarriages...Love Canal can now be added to a growing list of environmental disasters involving toxics, ranging from industrial workers stricken by nervous disorders and cancers to the discovery of toxic materials in the milk of nursing mothers." In one case, two out of four children in a single Love Canal family had birth defects; one girl was born deaf with a cleft palate, an extra row of teeth, and slightretardation, and a boy was born with an eye defect.[20] A survey conducted by the Love Canal Homeowners Association found that 56% of the children born from 1974-1978 had at least one birth defect.[21]

With further investigation, Gibbs discovered the chemical danger of the adjacent canal. This began her organization's two-year effort to demonstrate that the waste buried by Hooker Chemical was responsible for the health problems of local residents. Throughout the ordeal, homeowners' concerns were ignored not only by Hooker Chemical (now a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum), but also by members of government. These parties argued that the area's endemic health problems were unrelated to the toxic chemicals buried in the Canal. Since the residents could not prove the chemicals on their property had come from Hooker's disposal site, they could not prove liability. Throughout the legal battle, residents were unable to sell their properties and move away.

However, when Eckhardt C. Beck (EPA Administrator for Region 2, 1977–1979) visited Love Canal in the late 1970s, he discerned the presence of toxic substances in the community:

I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces. [20]

Robert Whalen, New York's Health Commissioner, also visited Love Canal and believed that the Canal constituted an emergency, stating: "Love Canal Chemical Waste Landfill constitutes a public nuisance and an extremely serious threat and danger to the health, safety and welfare of those using it, living near it or exposed to the conditions emanating from it, consisting among other things, of chemical wastes lying exposed on the surface in numerous places pervasive, pernicious and obnoxious chemical vapors and fumes affecting both the ambient air and the homes of certain residents living near such sites." [22] Whalen also instructed people to avoid going into their basements as well as to avoid fruits and vegetables grown in their gardens. People became very worried because many had consumed produce from their gardens for several years.[23] Whalen urged that all pregnant women and children under the age of two be removed from Love Canal as soon as possible.

The 99th Street School, on the other hand, was located within the former boundary of the Hooker Chemical landfill site. The school was closed and demolished, but both the school board and the chemical company refused to accept liability.

State of emergency

The lack of public interest in Love Canal made matters worse for the homeowners' association, which now battled two organizations who were spending vast amounts of money to disprove negligence. Initially, members of the association had been frustrated by the lack of a public entity that could advise and defend them. Gibbs met with considerable public resistance from a number of residents within the community: the mostly middle-class families did not have the resources to protect themselves, and many did not see any alternative other than abandoning their homes at a loss.

By 1978, Love Canal had become a national media event with articles referring to the neighborhood as "a public health time bomb," and "one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history."[20] Brown, a reporter for the local newspaper called the Niagara Gazette, was the first person to discover and further investigate health problems at the Love Canal. His research is credited with not only breaking open that case but with establishing toxic chemical wastes as a nationwide issue. Brown's book, Laying Waste, examined the Love Canal disaster and many other toxic waste catastrophes nationwide.[24]

On August 7, 1978, United States President Jimmy Carter announced a federal health emergency, called for the allocation of federal funds and ordered the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency to assist the City of Niagara Falls to remedy the Love Canal site.[25] This was the first time in American history that emergency funds were used other than for a natural disaster.[26] Carter had trenches built that would transport the wastes to sewers and had home sump pumps sealed off.[25]

At first, scientific studies did not conclusively prove that the chemicals were responsible for the residents' illnesses, and scientists were divided on the issue, even though eleven known or suspected carcinogens had been identified, one of the most prevalent being benzene. There was also dioxin (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins) in the water, a very hazardous substance. Dioxin pollution is usually measured in parts per trillion; at Love Canal, water samples showed dioxin levels of 53 parts per billion.[25] Geologists were recruited to determine whether underground swales were responsible for carrying the chemicals to the surrounding residential areas. Once there, they explained, chemicals could leach into basements and evaporate into household air.

In 1979, the EPA announced the result of blood tests that showed high white blood cell counts, a precursor to leukemia,[20] and chromosomedamage in Love Canal residents. In fact, 33 percent of the residents had undergone chromosomal damage, while in a normal population, this should be at 1 percent.[25] Other studies were unable to find harm.[27][28][29][30][31] The United States National Research Council (NRC) surveyed Love Canal health studies in 1991. The NRC noted that the major exposure of concern was the groundwater rather than drinking water; the groundwater "seeped into basements" and then led to exposure through air and soil[32]:196 noted that several studies reported higher levels of low-birth weight babies and birth defects among the exposed residents[32]:190-91 with some evidence that the effect subsided after the exposure was eliminated.[32]:165 The National Research Council also noted a study which found that exposed children were found to have an "excess of seizures, learning problems, hyperactivity, eye irritation, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and incontinence" and stunted growth.[32]:196 Voles in the area were studied and found to have significantly increased mortality compared to controls (mean life expectancy in exposed animals "23.6 and 29.2 days, respectively, compared to 48.8 days" for control animals).[32]:215 New York State also has an ongoing health study of Love Canal residents.[33] In that year the Albert Elia Building Co., Inc., now Sevenson Environmental Services, Inc., was selected as the principal contractor to safely re-bury the toxic waste at the Love Canal Site.

Eventually, the government relocated more than 800 families and reimbursed them for their homes, and the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or the Superfund Act, that holds pollutersaccountable for their damages. In 1994, Federal District Judge John Curtin ruled that Hooker/Occidental had been negligent, but not reckless, in its handling of the waste and sale of the land to the Niagara Falls School Board.[34] Curtin's decision also contains a detailed history of events leading up to the Love Canal disaster. Occidental Petroleum was sued by the EPA and in 1995 agreed to pay $129 million in restitution.[35] Residents' lawsuits were also settled in the years following the Love Canal disaster.[36]


Today, houses in the residential areas on the east and west sides of the canal have been demolished. All that remains on the west side are abandoned residential streets. Some older east side residents, whose houses stand alone in the demolished neighborhood, chose to stay. It was estimated that less than 90 of the original 900 families opted to remain.[25] They were willing to remain as long as they were guaranteed that their homes were in a relatively safe area.[37] On June 4, 1980, the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency (LCARA) was founded to restore the area. The area north of Love Canal became known as Black Creek Village. LCARA wanted to resell 300 homes that had been originally bought by New York when the residents were relocated.[37] These homes were farther away from where the chemicals had been dumped. The most toxic area (16 acres) has been reburied with a thick plastic liner, clay and dirt. A 2.4 metre high barbed wire fence was constructed around this area.[38] It has been calculated that 248 separate chemicals, including 60 kilograms of dioxin, have been unearthed from the canal.[38]

There has been much controversy surrounding Love Canal and what the eventual health consequences were for the inhabitants. In 1998, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan wrote an editorial about the Canal in which she stated that when the media started calling the Canal a "public health time bomb," it created hysteria. She declared that people were not falling ill due to exposure to chemical waste, but from stress caused by the media.[38].

Love Canal, along with Times Beach, Missouri, are important in United States environmental history as the two sites that in large part led to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA is much more commonly referred to as "Superfund" because of the fund established by the act to help the clean-up of toxic pollution in residential locations such as Love Canal. It has been stated that Love Canal has "become the symbol for what happens when hazardous industrial products are not confined to the workplace but 'hit people where they live' in inestimable amounts." [39]

Love Canal was not an isolated case. Eckardt C. Beck, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Love Canal crisis suggested that there are probably hundreds of similar dumpsites (i.e. in Canada).[26] President Carter declared that discovering these dumpsites was "one of the grimmest discoveries of the modern era."[26] Had the residents of Love Canal been aware that they were residing on toxic chemicals, most would not have moved there in the first place. Beck noted that one main problem remains that ownership of such chemical companies can change over the years making liability difficult to assign (a problem that would be addressed by CERCLA, or the Superfund Act).[40] Beck contended that increased commitment was necessary to develop controls that would "defuse future Love Canals."[26]

The free market environmentalist movement has often cited the Love Canal incident as a consequence of government decision-makers not taking responsibility for their decisions. Stroup writes, "The school district owning the land had a laudable but narrow goal: it wanted to provide education cheaply for district children. Government decision makers are seldom held accountable for broader social goals in the way that private owners are by liability rules and potential profits."[12]

The legacy of the disaster spawned a fictionalized made-for-TV film entitled Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal (1982). A documentary entitledIn Our Own Backyard was released in the U.S. in 1983, and Modern Marvels retold the disaster in 2004. Love Canal was also referenced in 1982 film Tootsie, in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, and the 1998 computer game Blood II: The Chosen.

See also


  1. ? Verhovek, Sam How (August 5, 1988). "After 10 Years, the Trauma of Love Canal Continues". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Colten, Craig E., and Peter N. Skinner, The Road to Love Canal: Managing Industrial Waste Before EPA. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996, p. 153
  3. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.21
  4. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.20
  5. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.22
  6. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.9
  7. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.10
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Zuesse, Eric (February 1981). "Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 2007-02-03.
  9. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.22
  10. ? Colten, Craig E., and Peter N. Skinner, The Road to Love Canal: Managing Industrial Waste Before EPA. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996, p. 157
  11. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.12
  12. 12.0 12.1 Stroup, Richard, Free-Market Environmentalism, The Library of Economics and Liberty
  13. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.13
  14. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.13
  15. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.25
  16. ? Heroism Project - Lois Gibbs
  17. 17.0 17.1 Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.26
  18. ? Goldman Environmental Prize - Lois Gibbs
  19. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.14
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 The Love Canal Tragedy
  21. ? New Protections and Newly Discovered Threats
  22. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.27
  23. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.29
  24. ? Brown, Michael, Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals. New York: Washington Square Press, 1981, ii.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.28
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Beck, Eckardt, C. "The Love Canal Tragedy."Environmental Protection Agency History, 1979. (accessed February 5, 2009.
  27. ? Cancer incidence in the Love Canal area. Science, v. 212, June 19, 1981: 1404-1407. "Data from the New York Cancer Registry show no evidence for higher cancer rates associated with residence near the Love Canal toxic waste burial site in comparison with the entire state outside of New York City."
  28. ? Ember, Lois R. Uncertain science pushes Love Canal solutions to political, legal arenas. Chemical & Engineering News, v. 58, Aug. 11, 1980: 22-29. Relates the chronology of Hooker Chemical Company and the discovery of toxic chemicals at Love Canal and describes the medical research on the former residents to determine the health effects.
  29. ? Maugh, Thomas H., 11. Health effects of exposure to toxic wastes. Science, v. 215, Jan. 29, 1982: 490-493; Feb. 5: 643-647. This two-part series first addresses the question "Just how hazardous are dumps?" and then, in "Biological markers for chemical exposure," suggests that alterations in chromosomes indicate exposure but that long term studies will be necessary to determine the severity of effects of health.
  30. ? The Risks of living near Love Canal. Science, v . 212, Aug. 27, 1982: 808-809, 811. "Controversy and confusion follow a report that the Love Canal area is no more hazardous than areas elsewhere in Niagara Falls."
  31. ? [1] Congressional Research Service, Report No. 83-160 L, LIABILITY FOR INJURY RESULTING FROM THE DISPOSAL OF HAZARDOUS WASTE: Preliminary Bibliography on the 1983-1984, Intercollegiate Debate Resolution, August 12, 1983
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 National Research Council, Committee on Environmental Epidemiology, Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 1: Public Health and Hazardous Wastes (Washington: National Academy Press, 1991)
  33. ? New York State Department of Health - Love Canal
  34. ? U.S. v. Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp., 850 Federal Supplement, 993 (W.D.N.Y., 1994)
  35. ? "Occidental to pay $129 Million in Love Canal Settlement". U.S. Department of Justice. December 21, 1995. Retrieved 2007-02-03.
  36. ? Blum, Elizabeth D., Love Canal Revisited. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008, p.29
  37. 37.0 37.1 Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.215
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Jordan, Michael, Hush Hush: The Dark Secrets of Scientific Research. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2003, p.108.
  39. ? Levine, Adeline Gordon, Love Canal: Science, Politics and People.New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1982, p.218
  40. ? Beck, Eckardt, C. "The Love Canal Tragedy." Environmental Protection Agency History, 1979. (accessed February 5, 2009.

External links

The Love Canal Tragedy

by Eckardt C. Beck
[EPA Journal - January 1979]


If you get there before I do
Tell 'em I'm a comin' too
To see the things so wondrous true
At Love's new Model City

(From a turn-of-the-century advertising jingle promoting the development of Love Canal) 

Give me Liberty. I've Already Got Death.
(From a sign displayed by a Love Canal resident, 1978)

Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.

But that's not the most disturbing fact.

What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again--anywhere in this country--unless we move expeditiously to prevent it.

It is a cruel irony that Love Canal was originally meant to be a dream community. That vision belonged to the man for whom the three-block tract of land on the eastern edge of Niagara Falls, New York, was named--William T. Love.

Love felt that by digging a short canal between the upper and lower Niagara Rivers, power could be generated cheaply to fuel the industry and homes of his would-be model city.

But despite considerable backing, Love's project was unable to endure the one-two punch of fluctuations in the economy and Nikola Tesla's discovery of how to economically transmit electricity over great distances by means of an alternating current.

By 1910, the dream was shattered. All that was left to commemorate Love's hope was a partial ditch where construction of the canal had begun.

In the 1920s the seeds of a genuine nightmare were planted. The canal was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite.

Landfills can of course be an environmentally acceptable method of hazardous waste disposal, assuming they are properly sited, managed, and regulated. Love Canal will always remain a perfect historical example of how not to run such an operation.

In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city for one dollar.

It was a bad buy.

In the late '50s, about 100 homes and a school were built at the site. Perhaps it wasn't William T. Love's model city, but it was a solid, working-class community. For a while.

On the first day of August, 1978, the lead paragraph of a front-page story in the New York Times read:

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.--Twenty five years after the Hooker Chemical Company stopped using the Love Canal here as an industrial dump, 82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens, have been percolating upward through the soil, their drum containers rotting and leaching their contents into the backyards and basements of 100 homes and a public school built on the banks of the canal.

In an article prepared for the February, 1978 EPA Journal, I wrote, regarding chemical dumpsites in general, that "even though some of these landfills have been closed down, they may stand like ticking time bombs." Just months later, Love Canal exploded.

The explosion was triggered by a record amount of rainfall. Shortly thereafter, the leaching began.

I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces.

And then there were the birth defects. The New York State Health Department is continuing an investigation into a disturbingly high rate of miscarriages, along with five birth-defect cases detected thus far in the area.

I recall talking with the father of one the children with birth defects. "I heard someone from the press saying that there were only five cases of birth defects here," he told me. "When you go back to your people at EPA, please don't use the phrase 'only five cases.' People must realize that this is a tiny community. Five birth defect cases here is terrifying."

A large percentage of people in Love Canal are also being closely observed because of detected high white-blood-cell counts, a possible precursor of leukemia.

When the citizens of Love Canal were finally evacuated from their homes and their neighborhood, pregnant women and infants were deliberately among the first to be taken out.

"We knew they put chemicals into the canal and filled it over," said one woman, a long-time resident of the Canal area., "but we had no idea the chemicals would invade our homes. We're worried sick about the grandchildren and their children."

Two of this woman's four grandchildren have birth defects. The children were born and raised in the Love Canal community. A granddaughter was born deaf with a cleft palate, an extra row of teeth, and slight retardation. A grandson was born with an eye defect.

Of the chemicals which comprise the brew seeping through the ground and into homes at Love Canal, one of the most prevalent is benzene -- a known human carcinogen, and one detected in high concentrations. But the residents characterize things more simply.

"I've got this slop everywhere," said another man who lives at Love Canal. His daughter also suffers from a congenital defect.

On August 7, New York Governor Hugh Carey announced to the residents of the Canal that the State Government wold purchase the homes affected by chemicals.

On that same day, President Carter approved emergency financial aid for the Love Canal area (the first emergency funds ever to be approved for something other than a "natural" disaster), and the U.S. Senate approved a "sense of Congress" amendment saying that Federal aid should be forthcoming to relieve the serious environmental disaster which had occurred.

By the month's end, 98 families had already been evacuated. Another 46 had found temporary housing. Soon after, all families would be gone from the most contaminated areas -- a total of 221 families have moved or agreed to be moved.

State figures show more than 200 purchase offers for homes have been made, totaling nearly $7 million.

A plan is being set in motion now to implement technical procedures designed to meet the seemingly impossible job of detoxifying the Canal area. The plan calls for a trench system to drain chemicals from the Canal. It is a difficult procedure, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will yield some degree of success.

I have been very pleased with the high degree of cooperation in this case among local, State, and Federal governments, and with the swiftness by which the Congress and the President have acted to make funds available.

But this is not really where the story ends.

Quite the contrary.

We suspect that there are hundreds of such chemical dumpsites across this Nation.

Unlike Love Canal, few are situated so close to human settlements. But without a doubt, many of these old dumpsites are time bombs with burning fuses -- their contents slowly leaching out. And the next victim cold be a water supply, or a sensitive wetland.

The presence of various types of toxic substances in our environment has become increasingly widespread -- a fact that President Carter has called "one of the grimmest discoveries of the modern era."

Chemical sales in the United States now exceed a mind-boggling $112 billion per year, with as many as 70,000 chemical substances in commerce.

Love Canal can now be added to a growing list of environmental disasters involving toxics, ranging from industrial workers stricken by nervous disorders and cancers to the discovery of toxic materials in the milk of nursing mothers.

Through the national environmental program it administers, the Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to draw a chain of Congressional acts around the toxics problem.

The Clean Air and Water Acts, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pesticide Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act -- each is an essential link.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, EPA is making grants available to States to help them establish programs to assure the safe handling and disposal of hazardous wastes. As guidance for such programs, we are working to make sure that State inventories of industrial waste disposal sites include full assessments of any potential dangers created by these sites.

Also, EPA recently proposed a system to ensure that the more than 35 million tons of hazardous wastes produced in the U.S. each year, including most chemical wastes, are disposed of safely. Hazardous wastes will be controlled from point of generation to their ultimate disposal, and dangerous pratices now resulting in serious threats to health and environment will not be allowed.

Although we are taking these aggressive strides to make sure that hazardous waste is safely managed, there remains the question of liability regarding accidents occurring from wastes disposed of previously. This is a missing link. But no doubt this question will be addressed effectively in the future.

Regarding the missing link of liability, if health-related dangers are detected, what are we as s people willing to spend to correct the situation? How much risk are we willing to accept? Who's going to pick up the tab?

One of the chief problems we are up against is that ownership of these sites frequently shifts over the years, making liability difficult to determine in cases of an accident. And no secure mechanisms are in effect for determining such liability.

It is within our power to exercise intelligent and effective controls designed to significantly cut such environmental risks. A tragedy, unfortunately, has now called upon us to decide on the overall level of commitment we desire for defusing future Love Canals. And it is not forgotten that no one has paid more dearly already than the residents of Love Canal.

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