photo-visit-at-own-risk-sig.jpgLove Canal may be one of the most unheard of disasters in American history. In the late 1970s, Love Canal became a national story because of an environmental hazard that put the lives of many that lived in the neighborhood at risk. Love Canal is a neighborhood that is located in Niagara Falls, New York. Before the neighborhood was ever developed, Love Canal got its name from a man named William T. Love. In the early 1890s, Mr. Love envisioned a canal connecting the two levels of the Niagara River. He wanted to help out the area’s failing industries. Before the canal was ever fully finished, the project was stopped because of a depression and new water technology that has been produced. The canal ranges over 70 acres. The canal eventually filled with water because the project was abandoned. In the early 1940s, the Hooker Chemical Company was granted permission by the Niagara Power to dump its chemical waste into the canal. The canal was drained and lined with clay. Barrels of chemicals were placed into the canal and surrounding area. The dumpsite was a rectangular landfill that only covered 16 acres of the canal, and went below ground level. The chemical company used the dumpsite until 1952. Over 21,000 barrels of chemicals had been discarded into the canal by this time. Two-hundred and forty eight assorted chemicals were found in the landfill: the pesticide Lindane, chlorobenzenes, chlorinated hydrocarbons, phosphorous rocks, and an estimated 130 pounds of dioxin. After 1952, the canal was covered with dirt and vegetation, and grass began to grow.

In 1970, the population of Love Canal was 85,615. The disaster of Love Canal started to develop when the population of the Niagara Falls area started to increase. The local school board needed land to build a new school. Even though they were informed about the dangerous land, they decided to buy the land from the Hooker Chemical Company for one dollar. The 99th Street School was built near the dumpsite. In 1957, low income houses were also built surrounding the canal. When the land was breached to build the houses, chemicals and goop began to seep up from the ground. The history of the canal was never mentioned in the housing contracts, so the residents had no idea of the danger. After the Blizzard of 1977, people started to report that they were having puddles of black goop appear in their basements and backyards. Corroding waste- disposal drums could be seen breaking up through backyards. Vegetation and trees started to turn black and die. One entire swimming pool had popped up from its foundation and had floating chemicals in the water. The air had a faint, choking smell. Children were coming in from playing with burns on their hands and faces. In 1976, two newspaper reporters tested several sump-pumps near Love Canal and found toxic chemical waste in them. A year later, reporter Michael Brown investigated potential health effects. He found many problems with the area including birth defects and other anomalies. In 1977, Lois Gibbs son began attending 99 street school. Michael got sick with symptoms such as asthma, liver problems, immune system problems, and a urinary tract disorder. He had to have two operations to correct some of these problems. Some symptoms that the chemicals caused in other children were cancer, liver problems, central nervous system issues, and birth defects. One major concern that was happening in the area was the increase of miscarriages. Reported miscarriages were confirmed through private physician’s and hospital records. Miscarriages per 100 pregnancies and birth defects per 100 live births were calculated. The percentages of miscarriages and birth defects were higher for pregnancies occurring on the Love Canal, particularly in women who were living on the southern portion of the canal. Lois Gibbs tried to have her child transferred out of the school, but the school denied her request. She started going around the community and gathering people to protest. The Love Canal Homeowners Association was established in August of 1978. This allowed the community to have a voice in the decisions made during the crisis. The LCHA membership consisted of 500 families, living within a 10-block radius surrounding the landfill. Most of the members were blue-collar workers that averaged an income of about $10,000-$25,000 dollars annually. The Love Canal Parents Movement was also established around that time by Lois Gibbs. She became increasingly disturbed when she realized that hundreds of families were being affected. Lois, along with other helpful volunteers, would go from door to door and ask questions. They plotted the results on a map and realized that there were clusters of disease in certain areas of the neighborhood. The elderly residents noticed that the clusters seemed to follow the path of old streambeds that had crossed the canal. The LCHA took aerial photographs and studied old geographic maps. They found that an old stream bed, which was 10-feet deep and more than 20-feet wide, had crossed the canal carrying water to and from the Niagara River. This provided an easy pathway for the chemicals to get in and out. There were many studies performed during the late 1970s to investigate the human health concerns. Some of the studies include NYSDH Pilot study in 1978, the Paigen-LCHA study of 1978, the NYSDH Expanded- Population study of 1978, and the NYSDH Cancer study of 1978. These studies included investigators going door to door and administering questionnaires, taking blood samples from each resident, some questions were done via telephone, and data from public birth records were also examined. Some of the results show that women who lived at Love Canal were more likely to have miscarriages, pregnancy complications occurred more frequently in the area then outside it, and cancer rates in the Love Canal area were found to be in the top twenty percent of the fifty age-site groups examined. One study also showed an increase of almost 300% in urinary tract disorders. The story gained national attention, and became the focus for the growing environmental movement. Eckhardt C. Beck, the EPA Administrator for that region visited the area in the late 1970’s stating: “I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces." In addition, The New York Health Commissioner, Robert Whalen, visited the canal and instructed the residents not to go into their basements and to not eat produce grown from their home gardens. This panicked the residents because they had been eating their home grown produce for almost two years. In one article from the Disaster News Network, dated September 21, 1988, one mother, Joan Hale, had two daughters affected from the chemicals grown in their backyard garden produce. Both of Hale’s daughters were born with benign tumors that, fortunately were removed with little side effects, but their youngest daughter has no enamel on her teeth. She was born with brittle bones and has broken more than 20 bones in her body. Her oldest daughter, only 23 that the time that the article was written, already has arthritis. "I can't tell you how hard my daughter's pregnancy was for me, knowing of her exposure," Hale said. "I grew a lot of our food in our garden, and I canned everything. I essentially spoon-fed my children toxins without knowing it." Even though Hale’s grandchild was born with no side effects, many of the children born to Love Canal residents have serious issues. Some of the children are born with no teeth, or three or four rows of teeth. Many have bone problems, tumors, or stomachs outside of their bodies. This is the Health Department Order that was issues to the state to investigate the site. “I, ROBERT P. WHALEN, M.D., Commissioner of Health of the State of New York, pursuant to the statutory authority conferred upon me, having conducted or caused an extensive investigation to be conducted in relation to that certain site known as the "Love Canal Chemical Waste Landfill" located in the City of Niagara Falls, County of Niagara, and State of New York, and having determined, by previous orders made and issued by me in this matter, that said site constitutes a public nuisance and an extremely serious threat and danger to the health, safety and welfare of those using it, living near it, or exposed to the conditions emanating from it, consisting, among other things, of chemical wastes lying exposed on the surface in numerous places and pervasive, pernicious and obnoxious chemical vapors and fumes affecting both the ambient air and the homes of certain residents living near such site and having directed that certain remedial action be taken with respect thereto and, pursuant to my order and direction, further inquiry and investigation of the said Love Canal Chemical Waste Landfill site having been made.” President Carter declared love canal a disaster area. This was the first time a non-natural disaster received federal emergency funds. Also in 1978, a professor from the University of Buffalo decided to visit the site after it was declared a national disaster. Adeline Levine describes what she saw: “Motivated by curiosity I visited the Love Canal for the first time nine days after it was declared a health hazard... The situation was very chaotic at that time. On that first visit I saw people moving out of their well-kept homes, met a pregnant woman convinced she was carrying a monster; spoke to another woman afraid that her daughter would be unable to bear children; saw worried men and women lined up to get information from newly established government offices; talked to some of the government workers trying to bring some order out of the chaos; and met the young woman (Lois Gibbs) who was suddenly thrust into prominence as the leader of a brand new citizen's organization. After eight hours, I came home, determined to do research at Love Canal.” Because of the national disaster declaration, those located nearest to the dumpsite were relocated, and a 10 foot fence was erected that surrounded the canal. President Carter had trenches built so that the waste could be transported to sewers and had home sump pumps sealed off. Two years later, another presidential declaration was made to allow 500 more families to be relocated. Love canal became a ghost town. According to New York Department of Health’s website, “Well before completion of the Department of Health's preliminary assessment of the scope of the health hazard posed by the Love Canal leach ate, the Governor's Office began making preparations to mobilize the expertise and resources of key State agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Health, Environmental Conservation, Housing, Social Services, Banking, Insurance, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Division of Equalization and Assessment. An initial step was a market survey by Department of Transportation real estate experts to determine availability of temporary and permanent replacement housing and to estimate the cost of relocating Love Canal residents and purchasing their homes.” Eventually over 800 families were relocated and reimbursed for their homes. It is estimated that only 10% of the 900 families decided to stay in the area, but only if they were guaranteed their homes were safe.

The recovery aspect of this disaster was led by the Environmental Protection Agency. They decided to address the situation in seven stages. The seven stages included initial actions, landfill containment with leachate collection, treatment and disposal, excavation and interim storage of the sewer and creek sediments, final treatment and disposal of the sewer and creek sediments and other wastes, EDA home maintenance and technical assistance by the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency (LCARA), the agency implementing the Love Canal Land Use Master Plan, and the buyout of homes and other properties in the EDA by LCARA. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s concern started in 1976, and with strong urging Niagara Falls hired a consultant to look at the conceptual pollution abatement systems. This led to the hiring of Conestoga-Rovers to develop the groundwater pollution abatement plan. In the years after the disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency makes a Superfund that forces responsible parties liable for cleanup of environmental hazards. Hooker Chemical Company pays the Superfund $129 million for the clean up of Love Canal. The implementation of the regulatory program by EPA and the States under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act should prevent new Love Canals. In 1999, the site was deemed construction complete. In 2003, the EPA issued a Five-Year Review Report that showed the site to be safe for human health and the environment. The next Five-Year Review is scheduled for Spring/Summer 2008. In 2004, Love Canal was finally taken off the National Priorities List. According to the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Research, “The cost of the Love Canal waste dump is not yet well documented. Many of the long-term health effects due to exposure to the chemicals are not yet known. Some short-term effects have started to show up, though. In one case, a woman's genes mutated so that all of her children, and her children's children, and so on, will be permanently blind. In another case, two brothers came into direct skin contact with some chemicals that had bubbled to the ground surface. One has chronic ear problems, the other respiratory problems. Other known problems are miscarriages, liver abnormalities, and rectal bleeding. 3 In at least one case, a health accident occurred in [which a child [oec]] collected some [pieces of [oec]] phosphorus lying on the ground, and put them in his pocket. There, they ignited and burnt much of his leg.” Lois Gibbs became the executive director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice which she founded in 1981 following the Love Canal struggle. The CHEJ is a national organization that assists local people to become empowered to protect their communities from environmental threats. Eventually, Louis Gibbs wrote her own personal essay in 1983 about the disaster and what she believed they could have done better about the situation. Even though the site was deemed clean, will it ever actually be completely clean? The chemicals will not decompose for over 20,000 more years. One interesting theory about the disaster is that Mr. Hooker, of the Hooker cleaning company tried desperately to not let the school board build their new school on the canal site. The city government needed to build school so badly, that they bribed Mr. Hooker to sell them the land for one dollar. One other Love Canal theory is that residents began suffering a health disaster in the late 1970s. No Love Canal residents complained of any exceptional illnesses until the environmentalist reporter for the local paper telling them that they were sitting on a toxic waste dump site. From then on every illness in the town was blamed on the chemicals from the canal. A New York Times editorial predicted correctly in 1981 when it said, "it may well turn out that the public suffered less from the chemicals there than from the hysteria generated by flimsy research irresponsibly handled.” The most positive aspect of this disaster is that America has finally realized the growing toxic waste problem. One other lesson learned is that the government will not protect you, unless you force them to. The government has established an 800 hotline to service communities in technological disaster crises. The first thing they say that residents should do, is identify the problem. Many churches around the country agree that they need to step up and speak out against environmental hazards in their community. One church leader says, "I don't consider these incidents disasters -- I consider them crimes, Churches have got to get involved. I recommend that churches think about what is happening and adopt a strong stance on environmental justice. Churches already protect and nurture vulnerable people. Well, vulnerable people -- especially low-income and minority communities -- are facing environmental justice. There is a place for churches here." With all of our new recovery efforts and environmental awareness programs, hopefully this disaster will never happen again in the future.

Works Cited:
Online Ethics Development Center-
Department of Health in New York-
Online Ethics Development Center-
Encyclopedia of the Earth-,_New_York
Disaster News Network-