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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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."
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.
Investigators going door-to-door, in the Love Canal neighborhood administered a 29-page questionnaire. Blood samples were taken from each resident.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inspired by the Paigen-LCHA study, NYSDH basically repeated its pilot study, expanding the study area and adding a control group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Data was gathered from the New York Cancer Registry. The study went beyond the bounds of the "official" Love Canal area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As in the EPA cytotoxicity study, blood samples were drawn from area residents. However, this study differed fromt he EPA study using concurrent controls.
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).]