During the year 1892, an era of economic depression, entrepreneur William T. Love had a vision for the southeast LaSalle district of Niagara Falls, and he gave that vision his name, The Love Canal. William T. Love saw in Niagara Falls a way of using a natural resource, water, to generate power for industries and homes along the rivers of Niagara to Ontario. Little did he know that the location he chose for his vision of helping a burgeoning society, would one day become the site for one of the first man made disasters in history?
Without financial banking, by 1910, William T. Love had to abandon his dream during partial construction. All that remained of his dream was a partial one-mile ditch of shipping canal, of which was to become, the home of deadly chemical waste.
Between 1920 and 1950, the Love Canal became the municipal and industrial chemical deposit of numerous 55-gallon ton drums of pesticide waste. By 1953, filled to its maximum capacity, then owners Hooker Chemical Company covered the site with multiple layers of earth. Hooker also took steps to line the canal with concrete, clay, and built a waterproof ceramic cap to keep waterfall out of the area. After exclaiming the property should never be excavated, Hooker reluctantly sold the property to the city of Niagara Falls, New York for $1.00 dollar, inserting a clause in the contract that would rid them of any liability for the property. Hooker never disclosed what had been dumped on the property. The city, happy to be in possession of land at such a low cost, immediately began the construction of low-income community development and housing. In doing so, they removed some of the ceramic caps, permitting rainwater to seep into the canal.
The community became the habitat for hard working individuals and their families, most of who were employed by Hooker Chemical Company. Schools, such as the 99th district were constructed directly above the chemical site. Churches, shopping centers, swimming pools, and homes were also constructed above a slowly deteriorating toxic waste dump.
By 1970, many of the families started noticing strange occurrences in the community. When it rained, a glowing haze consisting of over could be seen floating in the air above the site. The children who attended the 93rd, 99th, and 94th district schools constantly complained of severe headaches. School nurses and concerned mothers began reporting warts. Children were coming home with severe burns from playing with phosphorus rocks (rocks would give off a fiery glow when thrown). Numerous miscarriages and stillbirths were reported throughout the area.
By the late 1970’s, the earth could no longer sustain the poison. After heavy rains and snowfall, the earth began to bubble forth with black liquid sludge. Black sludge began to seep into the basement and ooze from sump pumps in homes. The grasses and trees began to turn black. Playing children and pets were being burned from exposure to cesspools of poison in the schoolyards and basements of their homes.
Finally, in 1978, then President Jimmy Carter declared the area an official disaster. More than a thousand families had to be evacuated from the community. There homes, schools, churches, and stores were demolished. The Federal government sued Hooker Chemical and Occidental for more 117,000,000 million dollars in damages. The suit exposed Hooker and Occidental for disposing 43.6 million tons of chemical waste at several sites in the Niagara Falls area. Acid Chlorides, sulphur compounds, tricholrophenol (TCP), and benzyl alcohol and dioxin were amongst 200 chemical compounds under investigation. Hooker chemical denied any liability for the disaster. The Federal courts ordered them to pay for the relocation and lifetime healthcare for Love Canals’ inhabitants.
The air, water, and soil in the Love Canal had been contaminated for years. The past 25-years of investigation have disclosed many horror stories for the families of Love Canal. The poison dumped in their backyards will forever taint their genealogical lineage. Their exposure to the carcinogenic toxins caused actual mutations of their genetic structure. Many of the children of Love Canal were born mentally retarded or missing limbs. Others were born with different types of abnormalities. Liver, lung, and thyroid cancers were reported in the area at an alarming rate.
In 1983, this disaster brought about a plan of operation, called the SuperFund, which has enabled us to successfully identify and/or treat other priority chemical sites over the years. The initial Love Canal cleanup process and cost the state and local governments, to include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) an estimated $7 million dollars to begin. Hooker ended up paying around $129 for the clean up effort.
In October 2004, twenty-some years and an estimated $400 million dollars later, the Love Canal has finally been removed from the SuperFund clean-up list. Renamed, the Black Creek Village, the toxic infested land, which will forever continue the cycle of decay, has been returned to market value ($75,000) low-income housing for hard-working families, but at what risk?
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