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Love Canal - An Introduction

Added04/07/2006

Updated01/11/2016

Author(s) Mark A. Zaremba
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Year 1998
Publisher provided Keywords ENGINEERING ENVIRONMENTAL ethics
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center

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Love Canal Health Studies

Numerous studies of Love Canal have been done since the late 1970s, involving both the site itself and the people who have lived there. The eight studies summarized below were among those on the health of the human subjects, also classed as "human monitoring."

NYSDH Pilot Study (1978)

Why was the study undertaken?

New York's State Health Commissioner ordered the (New York State Department of Health) NYSDH to initiate a study in May 1978 after receiving the results of the USEPA environmental monitoring. It was deemed necessary to obtain a detailed health profile of all those who lived or had lived in the Love Canal area.

How was it performed?

Investigators going door-to-door, in the Love Canal neighborhood administered a 29-page questionnaire. Blood samples were taken from each resident.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

It was found that women who lived at Love Canal were more likely to experience miscarriages than those who did not.

A state of emergency was declared on August 2, 1978; measures were taken to limit the spread of toxic agents, but some families near the Love Canal had to be relocated.

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Paigen-LCHA Study (1978)

Why was the study undertaken?

Residents were unhappy with the NYSDH Pilot Study, and some of their questions remained unanswered. Some felt that people outside the official "affected" area might have also been affected by the toxic waste.

How was it performed?

This study, led by Dr. Beverly Paigen, was done via telephone. People were again questioned regarding their health. The survey area was larger than that of the NYSDH Pilot Study.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

Many adverse health effects were found in greater frequency in "wet" areas than in "dry" areas. (Wet areas were those bordered by streams or swales -- low marshy areas-- both of which could form a transport system for harmful chemicals.) Miscarriages, birth defects, asthma, urinary disease, and suicide were all far more prevalent in wet areas. This study, however, was criticized by many scientists for weaknesses in design.

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NYSDH Expanded-Population Study (1978)

Why was the study undertaken?

Inspired by the Paigen-LCHA study, NYSDH basically repeated its pilot study, expanding the study area and adding a control group.

How was it performed?

A questionnaire of over 20 pages was administered by investigators who went door-to-door throughout the expanded Love Canal area. Blood samples were taken from each resident.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

This test found that some pregnancy complications occurred significantly more frequently in the Love Canal area than outside it, and also more frequently near swales and streams, as Dr. Paigen's study had found. This study also generated a great deal of controversy. Residents once again felt that they were not properly informed of the results, and many, including Dr. Paigen, criticized the design and administration of the study.

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NYSDH Low Birth Weights Study (1978)

Why was the study undertaken?

One problem with earlier studies had been their failure to account for illnesses, that can occur very long after exposure to toxins and thus cannot be reported in the short term. So, the NYSDH chose to do a study of infant birth weights over four decades, combining a factor that would indicate exposure to toxins with long-term data that could be gathered easily.

How was it performed?

Data from public records -- birth certificates for all babies born to women who had resided at Love Canal for at least nine months between 1940 and 1978 were examined.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

There was not a significant difference between the Love Canal birth weights and the New York average. However, there was a significant difference between "wet" and "dry" areas within Love Canal. Wet areas, those areas adjacent to swales and streams, had significantly lower birth weights than did dry areas.

This study was not published until 1984, however, its results did not have any significant impact on subsequent action.

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NYSDH Cancer Study (1981)

Why was the study undertaken?

It was feared that some of the chemicals dumped at Love Canal might be carcinogens, so NYSDH designed a study to determine whether there was an increased incidence of cancer among residents.

How was it performed?

Data was gathered from the New York Cancer Registry. The study went beyond the bounds of the "official" Love Canal area.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

Cancer rates in the Love Canal area were found to be in the top 20 percent of the fifty age-site groups examined. However, of those, most involved agreed that this study was relatively shaky and that not much could be taken from it. Even Love Canal residents did not care much for the study. No further cancer studies have been done on the Love Canal area.

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EPA-Sponsored Cytotoxicity Study (1980)

Why was the study undertaken?

The United States Department of Justice initiated this study. They wanted to find evidence of chromosomal abnormalities in the Love Canal population to use as ammunition in their lawsuit against Hooker Chemical. Their goal was to force Hooker to pay for Love Canal residents' relocation.

How was it performed?

Thirty-six Love Canal residents volunteered to be part of the study. Blood samples were taken from each, and the cells were analyzed for various types of chromosome abnormalities. Unfortunately, the EPA did not provide enough funding to cover a control group.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

Statistically significant differences were seen between the Love Canal sample and a historical control group. However, the study was criticized heavily for its failure to include a concurrent control group. Despite this flaw, it was documented that twelve of the thirty-six subjects showed chromosomal aberrations, and when the residents found out they became frightened and desired to move out immediately. The EPA announced only four days after the study's release that 2,500 Love Canal residents would be relocated. But the EPA denied that this was done merely because of the cytotoxicity study -- they claimed it was a result of the mounting evidence from many directions.

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Paigen Follow-Up Study (1980)

Why was the study undertaken?

Dr. Paigen still believed in her wet/dry theories. However, criticisms of her first study made it necessary to undertake another study if these theories were to become widely accepted.

How was it performed?

This study focused on children who lived in the extended Love Canal area. A questionnaire was administered to families by investigators; questions were designed to gather a wide variety of data about the health of the area's children. A similarly-sized control group was taken from the remainder of the Niagara Falls area.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

Seven specific health problems were found at a statistically significantly higher rate in the Love Canal population than in the control group. They were: seizures, learning problems, hyperactivity, eye irritation, skin rashes, abdominal pain and incontinence. Low birth weights were also noted in wet areas. These results confirmed some of Dr. Paigen's earlier findings, and many felt that this study proved that the evacuation had been necessary.

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CDC-Sponsored Cytotoxicity Study (1981)

Why was the study undertaken?

This study was inspired by the EPA cytotoxicity study. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) wanted to expand upon the EPA study and evaluate the support for its findings.

How was it performed?

As in the EPA cytotoxicity study, blood samples were drawn from area residents. However, this study differed fromt he EPA study using concurrent controls.

What were the results, and how were they significant?

No significant differences in chromosomal aberrations were found between Love Canal residents and non-Love Canal residents.The design of this study, as with all previous Love Canal studies, was criticized by some. The results had little impact.

[The information on this page was originally compiled by Mark Zaremba and drawn 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).]

Cite this page: "Love Canal Health Studies" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 4/7/2006 OEC Accessed: Thursday, July 18, 2019 <www.onlineethics.org/Resources/lcanal/studies.aspx>