Love Canal


Love Canal

Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, United States of America (USA), which became the subject of national and international attention and controversy following the discovery of 21,000 tons of toxic waste buried beneath the neighborhood. It 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. The south shore of the Niagara River in this area is Grand Island.

The Niagara Falls School Board chose to construct a school on a retired toxic waste dump, and the City of Niagara Falls permitted the building of homes and rental units on this property. The development released the chemical waste, leading to a public health emergency, an urban planning scandal, and a finding of negligence by the former owner. In the words of a state health commissioner, "Among its legacies, Love Canal will likely long endure as a 'national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations." [cite web | first = Sam How | last = Verhovek | title = After 10 Years, the Trauma of Love Canal Continues | publisher = New York Times | date = August 5, 1988 | url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE6D9143CF936A3575BC0A96E948260 | accessdate = 2008-07-29]

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 hydroelectricity; however, the power scheme was never completed due to limitations of DC power transmission, and Tesla's introduction of alternating current or AC.

After 1892, Love's plan changed to incorporate a shipping lane that would bypass the Niagara Falls. He began to envision a perfect urban area called "Model City" and prepared a plan that called for the construction of a vast community of beautiful parks and homes. Unfortunately for Love, his plan was never realized. He was barely able to start digging the canal and build a few streets and homes before his money ran out.Berton, Pierre. Niagara: a history of the falls. McClelland & Stewart Inc. 1994.] Only one mile (1.6 km) of the canal, about convert|15|ft|m|0 wide and convert|10|ft|m|0 deep, stretching northward from the Niagara River, was ever dug. (For one solution to the falls trans-shipment problem, see Welland Canal.)

With the project abandoned, the canal gradually filled with water. The local children swam there in the summer and skated in the winter.,229.] At some time in the 1920s, the canal became a dumping site for the municipality of Niagara Falls. By the 1940s, a company by the name of Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation began a search for a dump to store the increasing amount of chemical waste it was producing. Finding Love Canal ideal, Hooker Chemical made arrangements with the local power company, then-owner of the site, to dump its waste there. They prepared the canal for the waste by draining it and lining it with clay. Into this site, Hooker began placing fifty-five gallon metal barrels. In 1947, Hooker bought the land outright., 354-355.]

The Love Canal disaster

ale of the site

At the time of the closure, Niagara Falls' population had begun to expand. The local school board was desperate for land, and attempted to purchase an area of expensive property from Hooker Chemical that had not yet been used to bury toxic waste. The corporation refused to sell on the grounds of safety, and took members of the school board to the canal and drilled several bore holes through the clay, showing that there were toxic chemicals below the surface. However, the board refused to capitulate.cite web | first = Eric | last = Zuesse | title = Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out | publisher = Reason Magazine | date = February 1981 | url = http://www.reason.com/news/show/29319.html | accessdate = 2007-02-03] 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, Hooker included a seventeen line caveat that explained the dangers of building on the site:

Construction of the 99th Street School

Shortly thereafter, the board began construction on the 99th Street School in its originally intended location. However, the building site was forced to relocate when contractors unearthed two pits filled with chemicals. The new location was directly on top of the former landfill, and during construction of the school, contractors broke through the clay seal that Hooker had installed to contain the chemical waste.

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 efforts broke through the clay seal, again breaching the walls of the canal. Hence, the buried chemicals had a further opportunity to migrate and seep from the canal. The subsequent construction of the LaSalle Expressway restricted groundwater from flowing to the Niagara River. Following the exceptionally wet winter and spring of 1977, the elevated expressway turned the breached canal into an overflowing pool.

Health problems, activism, and site cleanup

In 1978, Lois Gibbs, a local mother and president of the Love Canal Homeowners' Association, began to wonder if her children's recurring epilepsy, asthma, and urinary tract infections [http://www.heroism.org/class/1970/gibbs.html Heroism Project - Lois Gibbs] ] were connected to their exposure to leaking chemical waste. Gibbs later discovered that her neighborhood sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried chemical waste, the now infamous Love Canal. [http://www.goldmanprize.org/node/103 Goldman Environmental Prize - Lois Gibbs] ]

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. Although city officials were brought 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 of miscarriages...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 slight retardation, and a boy was born with an eye defect. [http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/01.htm The Love Canal Tragedy] ] A survey conducted by the Love Canal Homeowners Association found that 56% of the children born from 1974-1978 had a birth defect. [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/action/20years/ch1pg2.htm New Protections and Newly Discovered Threats] ]

With further investigation, Gibbs discovered the chemical danger of the adjacent canal. This began her organization's three year effort to demonstrate that the toxins buried by Hooker Chemical were 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 members of government. These opponents 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:

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.

tate of emergency

The lack of public interest in Love Canal made matters worse for the homeowners' association, which now battled two organizations spending vast amounts of money to disprove negligence. Initially, members of the organization 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." On August 7, 1978, United States President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency at Love Canal, and those living closest to the site were relocated. [cite web | title = Love Canal Collection | publisher = University of Buffalo Libraries | url = http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/lovecanal/introduction.html | accessdate = 2007-02-03 ]

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. 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, and chromosome damage in Love Canal residents. Other studies were unable to find harm. [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."] [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.] [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.] [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."] [ [http://digital.library.unt.edu/govdocs/crs//data/1983/upl-meta-pcc-1156152365knordstr_nt104619_unt/83-160L_1983Aug12.pdf] 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] The National Research Council surveyed Love Canal health studies in 1991. [National Research Council, Committee on Environmental Epidemiology, Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 1: Public Health and Hazardous Wastes (Washington: National Academy Press, 1991)] New York State also has an ongoing health study of Love Canal residents. [ [http://www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/investigations/love_canal/ New York State Department of Health - Love Canal] ] In that year the Albert Elia Building Co., Inc., now Sevenson Environmental Services, Inc., was selected as the principal contractor for cleanup work at the Love Canal Site. After growing evidence and two years' effort by Lois Gibbs and other residents, President Carter declared a federal state of emergency at Love Canal on May 21, 1980, and the EPA agreed to evacuate 700 families temporarily. [cite web | title = EPA, New York State Announce Temporary Relocation of Love Canal Residents | publisher = Environmental Protection Agency | date = May 21, 1980 | url = http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/03.htm | accessdate = 2007-02-03] 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 polluters accountable 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. [U.S. v. Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp., 850 Federal Supplement, 993 (W.D.N.Y.,1994)] 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. [cite web | title = Occidental to pay $129 Million in Love Canal Settlement | publisher = U.S. Department of Justice | date = December 21, 1995 | url = http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/Pre_96/December95/638.txt.html | accessdate = 2007-02-03]

Aftermath

Today, houses in the residential areas on the east and west sides of the canal have been demolished. All that is left on the west side are abandoned residential streets. Some older east side residents, whose houses stand alone in the demolished neighborhood, chose to stay. The neighborhood just north of the canal remained and was refurbished and resettled.

Though the containment area is still enforced, new development began in the early 1990s. Recreational buildings have been built against a chain-link fence that keeps the toxic area separated from the safe area. The neighborhood has been renamed Black Creek Village, and many families have now chosen to live there.

Love Canal, along with Times Beach, Missouri, share a special place 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 within the act to help the clean-up of toxically polluted residential locations such as Love Canal.

In popular culture

The Love Canal disaster forms a major plot strand in the Joyce Carol Oates 2004 novel "The Falls".

A made-for-TV movie entitled "Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal" was made in 1982 and based on the true Love Canal story. A documentary entitled "In Our Own Backyard" was released in the U.S. in 1983.

The punk band Flipper recorded a song entitled "Love Canal", a graphic account of the residents' ordeal.

The NUMB3RS episode is loosely based on this incident.

In the 1982 film "Tootsie", the character played by Bill Murray has written a play called "Return to Love Canal," and Dustin Hoffman's character dresses as a woman in order to fund the play (and his subsequent role in the play), leading Sydney Pollack's character to comment "Nobody wants to pay twenty dollars to watch people living next to chemical waste! They can see that in New Jersey!"

In the movie "Erin Brockovich", the Ed Masry character refers to the Love Canal as a warning of a prior case in which the plaintiffs still had not seen the restitution money they had sought.

In his graphic novel "In The Shadow Of No Towers" "Art Spiegelman" states that after 9/11 "Lower Manhattan's air is a witch's brew that makes Love Canal seem like a health spa."

In the Monolith video game , there is a level named "Love Canal".

The Styx song "Heavy Metal Poisoning" from the album "Kilroy Was Here" makes reference to "A toxic wasteland / in the Love Canal".

In the Sci Fi Channel's film Crimson Force, the character Shara refers to her genitalia as a "love canal", which is a triple entendre since romantic relations with Martian females prove to be fatal for human men, as well as referencing the once held belief that there were canals on Mars.

References

ee also

* William Ginsberg, member of New York State task force investigating Love Canal in 1979, and author of state report.
* Spring Valley, Washington, D.C.

External links

* [http://library.buffalo.edu/libraries/specialcollections/lovecanal/ Love Canal Collections in the University Archives, University at Buffalo, State University of New York]
* A contemporary libertarian commentary by Eric Zuesse published in Reason Magazine [http://reason.com/8102/fe.ez.the.shtml]
* MP3 of Lois Gibbs on environmental justice and Love Canal [http://www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=4355]
* EPA History - "The Love Canal Tragedy" by Eckardt C. Beck [http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/01.htm]
* Former Domtar Mill site, Cornwall, ON [http://home.cogeco.ca/~vote/page5a.html New Love Canal]
* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140270167/ Berton, Pierre Niagara: A History of the Falls, Koidenesha America, 1997]
* [http://transition.turbulence.org/Works/superfund/video.html Video of Lois Gibbs about Love Canal and Superfund]


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