This unit was originally created by Mark A. Zaremba for the OEC. Revisions were made in 2004 by OEC staff
Simply put, it is an incomplete canal, or just a trench, built in western New York state in the 1890s. From the 1930s through the 1950s, it was used as a chemical waste dump. The surrounding land was then sold and used for residential purposes, and soon people began complaining about strange...
Simply put, it is an incomplete canal, or just a trench, built in western New York state in the 1890s. From the 1930s through the 1950s, it was used as a chemical waste dump. The surrounding land was then sold and used for residential purposes, and soon people began complaining about strange odors and possible health problems. Since the late 1970s, many studies have been done to ascertain whether any health problems can be traced to the waste dumped into Love Canal.
It is significant because it was the first case concerning hazardous waste disposal and its possible health effects that received major national attention. The information in this site is drawn primarily from two publications: Monitoring the Community for Exposure and Disease, a report to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (Nicholas Ashford, Principal Investigator, and Linda Schierow, Project Manager, Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development, 1991) and Love Canal: Science, Politics, and People (Adeline Gordon Levine, Toronto: D.C. Heath, 1982). Other information is drawn from materials listed in the other Love Canal Resources sections.
The Love Canal neighborhood is located in the city of Niagara Falls, in western New York state. It officially covers 36 square blocks in the southeastern corner of the city. 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 to the south. Open fields are to the east, and the western border is 92nd Street. The canal itself is enclosed by 97th, 99th, Colvin and Frontier Streets.
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In the 1890s, William T. Love began digging a canal near Niagara Falls, New York. The canal was never finished -- leaving a seemingly useless hole in the ground. But when industries started flocking to the area in later years, this trench, Love Canal, was bound to find a use.
In the 1930s, four decades after William T. Love's project had faded away, various companies began dumping chemical waste into the canal. Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation purchased the land in 1942; through 1953, the company dumped an enormous quantity of hazardous waste (estimated at 352 million pounds) into the canal. Instead of finding a proper place for the wastes, Hooker merely filled in and covered the canal. The Niagara Falls Board of Education acquired the land and constructed a playground and elementary school there, selling the rest of the land to real estate developers. Throughout the next two decades, chemicals that had been dumped into Love Canal began to leach through the soil and leak into people's basements, contaminate underground pipes, and pollute the air. It was not until the 1970s, however, that the true potential for damage from such wastes was recognized.
The first tests of the Love Canal area were begun by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) in 1976. In 1977, results were disclosed: according to NYDEC and the Calspan Corporation (a private firm), groundwater was contaminated, as was air and soil. Local citizens made this information available to their U.S. representatives, who called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for further investigation. In March 1978, New York's health commissioner saw the USEPA report, and decided that human testing would be necessary. Blood samples were drawn from Love Canal residents. A panel of physicians was assembled to evaluate the results of the tests, and they recommended drastic measures. As a result, the governor of New York declared a state health emergency. The elementary school on the Love Canal site was closed immediately and some families were relocated.
More studies were done in subsequent years. The only thing the tests had in common was that no matter how the results were interpreted, they always managed to be controversial. There continued to be a great deal of media coverage of Love Canal, and this, along with attention from Congress and the courts, only added to the controversy. To ensure that their concerns were properly represented, citizens began to organize the Love Canal Homeowners Association, the LaSalle Renters Association (representing a particular housing project), the 93rd Street Group (representing residents outside of the official study area) and the Concerned Area Residents Group.
Many recent developments in the Love Canal case have taken place in courtrooms. In June 1989, Hooker's parent company, Occidental Chemical Corporation, agreed to perform most of the necessary cleanup work (U.S. v. Occidental Chemical Corp., WDNY, No. 79-990C, 6/1/89). Property damage and personal injury lawsuits have also been filed against the Occidental Chemical Corporation and its parent company, the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, and against the board of education, the city, and the county. In 1983, the New York Supreme Court announced a settlement in favor of past and present residents of Love Canal, (some 1,337 of them) for $20 million. And in 1995, Occidental agreed to pay $129 million to USEPA to cover cleanup costs. It has now settled all of the claims brought by Love Canal residents, as well.
For years, city and state government tried to repopulate the Love Canal neighborhood, based upon USEPA data. In 1988 NYSDH produced a study suggesting that a majority of the neighborhood was satisfactory for people to live in. The study was lambasted by many, including scientists, ex-Love Canal residents, and environmental groups. But enough people apparently believed that the area was safe and a public agency, the Love Canal Revitalization Agency, took ownership of the homes and renovated them. Of the 239 homes in the area, now named Black Creek Village, almost all have been sold. The state health department has initiated a new study of the area's safety, the largest Love Canal study ever done. (For more current developments at Love Canal, see Recent Love Canal News.)
Love Canal was the first hazardous waste disposal case to draw national attention, and thus remains a landmark case. Congress drew on information from the Love Canal case when it debated and passed CERCLA, the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (known informally as the "Superfund" Act). The Love Canal court battles actually provided one of the first tests of the new law.
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The EPA took the site off the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in September 2004
Compiled by Laura M. Simna
Love Canal Removal from Superfund List 2004: Though Love Canal has been relatively clean for a few years, the former toxic waste site was only recently, in March of 2004, recommended by the EPA for removal from the Superfund list. This proposal opened the door to a 30 day period of public comment. If taken off of the list, Love Canal will be watched closely for any signs that the area needs further cleanup. Love Canal is fast being repopulated; about 250 of the surrounding homes have been sold. Many residents feel that Love Canal is now a clean, safe place; however to some people such as environmental crusader Lois Gibbs, Love Canal is still as much of a toxic waste dump as ever. Gibbs is quoted in the Buffalo Newsas saying "It's obviously not cleaned up, because there are still 20,000 tons of chemicals buried there and it's only a matter of time before it leaks."
Still others find the Love Canal cleanup to be conveniently timed by President Bush to coincide with an election year. Luella Kenny, a former Love Canal resident who believes her 7 year old son died as a result of the contamination, suggests in the Buffalo News that "it's (President) Bush's way of trying to correct a dreadful environmental issue by claiming his govenment cleaned up Love Canal." Environmental cleanup has decreased dramatically during the Bush administration, and it has been suggested that the removal of Love Canal from the Superfund list was facilitated to demonstrate how the Bush administration cares for the environment.
Occidental Corporation settles with the final 900 families who were seeking damages from their time at Love Canal. The final total for Occidental: 2,300 families, each receiving payments of $83,00 and $400,000.
Families continue to flock to the Love Canal area, now known as Black Creek Village. Of the 239 homes allocated to the Love Canal Revitalization Agency, 232 have been renovated and sold at 15 to 20 percent below market value. A waiting list exists for those homes not yet renovated.
The federal government agrees to pay $6.1 million to the State of New York as reimbursement for Love Canal cleanup. According to New York officials, the money had been sought for nearly 20 years. The money, in the form of a USEPA credit, will now be used for other environmental efforts within the state.
The decision was delayed by disagreement over the possibility of applying funds from the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or "Superfund") retroactively to a state's expenditures. This settlement indicates that it can be done; the $6.1 million was money spent by New York to clean up Love Canal before CERCLA had been enacted.