Love Canal

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ABSTRACT

Love Canal was one of the most devastating environmental disasters experienced by this country and the state of New York. This environmental disaster did not occur accidentally. It occurred because individuals were more concerned about money and politics than with human life. Love Canal is a modern era David and Goliath. It is an example of how average small town citizens can stand up for their rights and their lives against the government and large corporations, and become triumphant in the end.

Love Canal owned by William T. Love, was a failed waterway meant to be used as a way to harness electrical power for industries along the 7-mile stretch of river leading to Lake Ontario. The land was eventually sold at public auction in 1920 and it became a municipal and chemical disposal site until 1953. The primary company that dumped wastes in the canal was Hooker Chemical Corporation, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. In an eleven-year span, Hooker and the U.S. government dumped a total of 22,000 tons of chemicals into the canal.

The canal was sold to the Niagara School Board in 1953 for one dollar. Hooker included in the deed transfer a "warning" of the chemical wastes buried on the property and a disclaimer absolving Hooker of any future liability.

An elementary school was then constructed over the dirt filled hazardous waste site despite the sternly worded disclaimer from Hooker. The school was completed in 1955 and opened its doors to approximately 400 students. New homes were then constructed on the fringes of the contaminated land.

New families began to move into the neighborhood adjacent to the newly constructed school. Once the children began to attend school, they soon became ill. Women who became pregnant in Love Canal were having miscarriages or gave birth to children with severe birth defects. Many of the illness existed in the area because of direct contact with the chemicals or prolonged exposures to the chemical fumes.

The residents of Love Canal were not uninformed of the chemicals presence nor were they aware that the chemicals were the cause of their illnesses. The residents eventually became informed through the efforts of a reporter named Mike Brown and a housewife named Lois Gibbs. Mrs. Gibbs organized the residents and together they fought the government for relocation to a safer area. The fight continued for many years because the state refused to admit and accept responsibility that there was a life threatening danger underground at Love Canal.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared Love Canal a health disaster area because of an EPA chromosome breakage test. The government eventually relocated all of the residents. More than $200 million were spent on the cleanup. Superfund laws were written to ensure that the Love Canal disaster would not occur again.

Once the EPA cleaned up the site, the homes in the area were resold at fifteen to twenty percent below market value. Almost all the homes have been sold and there was a waiting list for the new homes that remained. Chemicals are still present at the site, causing many to wonder if the disaster will occur again.

Love Canal was an example of the greed, irresponsibility, and political power of the leaders of this country and of big corporations. Love canal is also a tribute to the courage and fortitude of the average citizen who took on the large corporations and the government.

The Love Canal Disaster

I. Introduction

Love Canal was a disastrous event that occurred near Niagara Falls, New York. 22,000 tons of chemicals were dumped in a partially dug canal for eleven years. The canal was sold to the local school board for a dollar and an elementary school was constructed on the site in 1955.

The neighborhoods around the school and canal began to grow. The new residents were not aware of the chemicals...
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