The Love Canal site in 2012
Originally a planned dream community, Love Canal experienced growth as a model section for nearly a century. The area slowly declined before being bought out in the 1940s by the Hooker Company.
In the late 1970s, Love Canal received national attention for the ensuing problematic health development originated from disposal of 22,000 barrels of toxic waste. Numerous families were displaced from their houses, having been contaminated with chemicals and toxic waste. Many of the families suffered several health issues with common problems of high red blood cell counts and indications of leukemia. The entire neighborhood has since been demolished and a Superfund cleanup took years before wrapping up in 2004.
The Love Canal incident is remembered as a "national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations", as retold by New York State Health Department Commissioner David Axelrod. The Love Canal incident was especially significant as a situation where the inhabitants "overflowed into the wastes instead of the other way around".
- 1 Early history
- 2 Geography
- 3 Love Canal disaster
- 4 Popular culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Love Canal was named after William T. Love, an entrepreneur who, in the 1890s, planned a canal connecting the Niagara River to Lake Ontario. He envisioned a perfect urban area called "Model City" and prepared to construct a community of parks and residences on the banks of Lake Ontario. He believed it would serve the area's burgeoning industries with much needed hydroelectricity.
After 1892, Love's plan changed to incorporate a shipping lane that would bypass the Niagara Falls. He began digging the canal and built a few streets and houses. However, the Panic of 1893 caused investors to drop sponsorship of the project. In addition, Congress passed a law barring the removal of water from the Niagara River to preserve Niagara Falls. Only one mile (1.6 km) of the canal, about 50 feet (15 m) wide and 10 to 40 feet (3 m to 12 m) deep, stretching northward from the Niagara River, was dug. There is little information about those who worked for Love.
Love Canal is a neighborhood located in Niagara Falls, in the northwestern portion of the State of New York. The neighborhood officially covers 36 square blocks in the far southeastern corner of the city, along 99th Street and Read Avenue. 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 (400 m) to the south. The area covers 16 acres of land.
With the project abandoned, the canal gradually filled with water. The local children swam there in the summer and skated during the winter. In the 1920s, the canal became a dump site for the City of Niagara Falls, with the city regularly unloading its municipal refuse into the pit.
Love Canal disaster
Pre-disaster state of town
At the time of the dump's closure, (1944) Niagara Falls was entering an economic boom, and the population began expanding dramatically, growing by 33% in twenty years (1940-1960).
By the 1940s, Hooker Electrochemical Company (later known as Hooker Chemical Company) was searching for a place to dump the large quantity of chemical waste it was producing. Hooker was granted permission by the Niagara Power and Development Company in 1942 to dump wastes in the canal. The canal was drained and lined with thick clay. Into this site, Hooker began placing 55-US-gallon (210 l) metal or fibre barrels. In 1947, Hooker bought the canal and the 70-foot-wide (21 m) banks on either side of the canal. The City of Niagara Falls and the army continued the dumping of refuse.
In 1948, the City of Niagara Falls had ended self-sufficient disposal of refuse and Hooker Chemical became the sole user and owner of the site.
This dumpsite operated until 1953. During its 5-year lifespan, 21,000 tons of chemicals, products such as "caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons produced from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins", were dumped These chemicals were buried at a depth of twenty to twenty-five feet (6 to 6.5 m). Upon its closure, the canal was covered to prevent leakage. Over time, vegetation settled and began to grow atop the dumpsite.
The Niagara Falls City School District needed land to build new schools and attempted to purchase the property, most recently used as a toxic waste burial site, from Hooker Chemical.
Sale of the site
Hooker Chemical deeded the site to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 with a liability limitation clause. In the "sales" agreement signed on April 28, 1953, Hooker Chemical included a seventeen-line caveat that they believed released them from all legal obligations should lawsuits arise in the future. 
|“||Prior to the delivery of this instrument of conveyance, the grantee herein has been advised by the grantor that the premises above described have been filled, in whole or in part, to the present grade level thereof with waste products resulting from the manufacturing of chemicals by the grantor at its plant in the City of Niagara Falls, New York, and the grantee assumes all risk and liability incident to the use thereof. It is therefore understood and agreed that, as a part of the consideration for this conveyance and as a condition thereof, no claim, suit, action or demand of any nature whatsoever shall ever be made by the grantee, its successors or assigns, against the grantor, its successors or assigns, for injury to a person or persons, including death resulting therefrom, or loss of or damage to property caused by, in connection with or by reason of the presence of said industrial wastes. It is further agreed as a condition hereof that each subsequent conveyance of the aforesaid lands shall be made subject to the foregoing provisions and conditions.||”|
Analyzing the transfer of ownership, Craig E. Colton and Peter N. Skinner observed in 1991: "It is ironic that Hooker assigned the board with a continuing duty to protect property buyers from chemicals when the company itself accepted no such "moral obligation"."
Not long having taken control of the land, the Niagara Falls School Board proceeded to develop the land, including construction activity that substantially breached containment structures in a number of ways, allowing previously trapped chemicals to seep out. The resulting breaches combined with particularly heavy rainstorms released and spread the chemical waste, leading to a public health emergency and an urban planning scandal. In what became a test case for liability clauses, Hooker Chemical was found to be "negligent" in their disposal of waste, though not reckless in the sale of the land. The dumpsite was discovered and investigated by the local newspaper, the Niagara Falls Gazette, from 1976 through the evacuation in 1978.
Construction of the 93rd Street School and the 99th Street School
Despite the disclaimer, the School Board began construction of the "99th Street School" in its originally intended location. In January 1954, the school's architect wrote to the education committee informing them that during excavation, workers discovered two dump sites filled with 55-US-gallon (210 l; 46 imp gal) drums containing chemical wastes. The architect also noted it would be "poor policy" to build in that area since it was not known what wastes were present in the ground, and the concrete foundation might be damaged. The school board then moved the school site eighty to eighty-five feet further north. The kindergarten playground also had to be relocated because it was directly on top of a chemical dump.
Upon completion in 1955, 400 children attended the school, and it opened along with several other schools that had been built to accommodate students. That same year, a twenty-five foot area crumbled exposing toxic chemical drums, which then filled with water during rainstorms. This created large puddles that children enjoyed playing in. In 1955, a second school, the 93rd Street School, was opened six blocks away.
In 1957, the City of Niagara Falls constructed sewers for a mixture of low-income and single family residences to be built on lands adjacent to the landfill site. The school district had sold the remaining land, resulting in homes constructed by private developers, as well as the Niagara Falls Housing Authority. While building the gravel sewer beds, construction crews broke through the clay seal, breaching the canal walls. Specifically, the local government removed part of the protective clay cap to use as fill dirt for the nearby 93rd Street School, and punched holes in the solid clay walls to build water lines and the LaSalle Expressway. This allowed the toxic wastes to escape when rainwater, no longer kept out by the partially removed clay cap, washed them through the gaps in the walls. Hence, the buried chemicals could migrate and seep from the canal.
The land where the homes were being built was not part of the agreement between the school board and Hooker; thus, none of these residents knew the canal's history. There was no monitoring or evaluating of the chemical wastes stored under the ground. Additionally, the clay cover of the canal which was supposed to be impermeable began to crack. The subsequent construction of the LaSalle Expressway restricted groundwater from flowing to the Niagara River. After the exceptionally wet winter and spring of 1962, the elevated expressway turned the breached canal into an overflowing pool. People reported having puddles of oil or colored liquid in yards or basements.
In 1976, two reporters for the Niagara Falls Gazette, David Pollak and David Russell, tested several sump pumps near Love Canal and found toxic chemicals in them. The matter went quiet for more than a year and was resurrected by reporter Michael Brown, who then investigated potential health effects by carrying forth an informal door-to-door survey in early 1978, finding birth defects and many anomalies such as enlarged feet, heads, hands, and legs. He advised the local residents to create a protest group, which was led by resident Karen Schroeder, whose daughter had many (about a dozen) birth defects. The New York State Health Department followed suit and found an abnormal incidence of miscarriages.
By 1978, Love Canal had become a national media event with articles referring to the neighborhood as "a public health time bomb", and "one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history". Brown, working for the local newspaper, the Niagara Gazette, is credited with not only breaking open the case, but establishing toxic chemical wastes as a nationwide issue as well. Brown's book, Laying Waste, examined the Love Canal disaster and many other toxic waste catastrophes nationwide.
The dumpsite was declared an unprecedented state emergency on August 2, 1978. Brown, who wrote more than a hundred articles on the dump, tested the groundwater and later found the dump was three times larger than originally thought, with possible ramifications beyond the original evacuation zone. He was also to discover that highly toxic dioxins were there. On August 2, 1978, Lois Gibbs, a local mother who called an election to head the Love Canal Homeowners' Association, began to rally homeowners. Her son, Michael Gibbs, began attending school in September 1977. He developed epilepsy in December, suffered from asthma and a urinary tract infection, and had a low white blood cell count, all associated with his exposure to the leaking chemical waste. Gibbs had learned from Brown that her neighborhood sat atop the buried chemical waste.
In the following years, Gibbs led an effort to investigate community concerns about the health of its residents. She and other residents made repeated complaints of strange odors and "substances" that surfaced in their yards. In Gibbs' neighborhood, there was a high rate of unexplained illnesses, miscarriages, and intellectual disability. Basements were often covered with a thick, black substance, and vegetation was dying. In many yards, the only vegetation that grew were shrubby grasses. Although city officials were asked to investigate the area, they did not act to solve the problem. Niagara Falls mayor Michael O'Laughlin infamously stated that there was "nothing wrong" in Love Canal.
With further investigation, Gibbs discovered the chemical danger of the adjacent canal. This began her organization's two-year effort to demonstrate that the waste buried by Hooker Chemical was responsible for the health problems of local residents. Throughout the ordeal, homeowners' concerns were ignored not only by Hooker Chemical (now a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum), but also by members of government. These parties argued that the area's endemic health problems were unrelated to the toxic chemicals buried in the Canal. Since the residents could not prove the chemicals on their property had come from Hooker's disposal site, they could not prove liability. Throughout the legal battle, residents were unable to sell their properties and move away.
On August 7, 1978, United States President Jimmy Carter announced a federal health emergency, called for the allocation of federal funds and ordered the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency to assist the City of Niagara Falls to remedy the Love Canal site. This was the first time in American history that emergency funds were used for a situation other than a natural disaster. Carter had trenches built that would transport the wastes to sewers and had home sump pumps sealed off.
Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or the Superfund Act. CERCLA created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. CERCLA also created a National Priorities List, a shortened list of the sites that has priority in cleanup. Love Canal was the first Superfund site on that list. Eventually, the site was cleaned up and deleted off the list in 2004  Because the Superfund Act contained a "retroactive liability" provision, Occidental was held liable for cleanup of the waste even though it had followed all applicable U.S. laws when disposing of it. In 1994, Federal District Judge John Curtin ruled that Hooker/Occidental had been negligent, but not reckless, in its handling of the waste and sale of the land to the Niagara Falls School Board. Curtin's decision also contains a detailed history of events leading up to the Love Canal disaster. Occidental Petroleum was sued by the EPA and in 1995 agreed to pay $129 million in restitution. Residents' lawsuits were also settled in the years following the Love Canal disaster.
At first, scientific studies did not conclusively prove the chemicals were responsible for the residents' illnesses yet scientists were divided on the issue, even though eleven known or suspected carcinogens had been identified, one of the most prevalent being benzene. Also present was dioxin (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins) in the water, a very hazardous substance. Dioxin pollution is usually measured in parts per trillion; at Love Canal, water samples showed dioxin levels of 53 parts per billion. Geologists were recruited to determine whether underground swales were responsible for carrying the chemicals to the surrounding residential areas. Once there, chemicals could leach into basements and evaporate into household air.
In 1979, the EPA announced the result of blood tests showed high white blood cell counts, a precursor to leukemia, and chromosome damage in Love Canal residents. 33% of the residents had undergone chromosomal damage. In a typical population, chromosomal damage affects 1% of people. Other studies were unable to find harm. The United States National Research Council (NRC) surveyed Love Canal health studies in 1991. The NRC noted the major exposure of concern was the groundwater rather than drinking water; the groundwater "seeped into basements" and then led to exposure through air and soil:196 noted several studies reported higher levels of low-birth weight babies and birth defects among the exposed residents:190–91 with some evidence the effect subsided after the exposure was eliminated.:165 The National Research Council also noted a study which found exposed children were found to have an "excess of seizures, learning problems, hyperactivity, eye irritation, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and incontinence" and stunted growth.:196 Voles in the area were found to have significantly increased mortality compared to controls (mean life expectancy in exposed animals "23.6 and 29.2 days, respectively, compared to 48.8 days" for control animals).:215 New York State also has an ongoing health study of Love Canal residents. In that year, the Albert Elia Building Co., Inc., now Sevenson Environmental Services, Inc., was selected as the principal contractor to safely re-bury the toxic waste at the Love Canal Site.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, residents exhibited a "disturbingly high rate of miscarriages ... Love Canal can now be added to a growing list of environmental disasters involving toxics, ranging from industrial workers stricken by nervous disorders and cancers to the discovery of toxic materials in the milk of nursing mothers." In one case, two out of four children in a single Love Canal family had birth defects; one girl was born deaf with a cleft palate, an extra row of teeth, and slight retardation, and a boy was born with an eye defect.
When Eckhardt C. Beck (EPA Administrator for Region 2, 1977 – 1979) visited Love Canal in the late 1970s, he discerned the presence of toxic substances in the community:
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.
Robert Whalen, then-New York's Health Commissioner, also visited Love Canal and believed that the Canal constituted an emergency, stating: "Love Canal Chemical Waste Landfill 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 pervasive, pernicious and obnoxious chemical vapors and fumes affecting both the ambient air and the homes of certain residents living near such sites." Whalen also instructed people to avoid going into their basements as well as to avoid fruits and vegetables grown in their gardens. People became very worried because many had consumed produce from their gardens for several years. Whalen urged that all pregnant women and children under the age of two be removed from Love Canal as soon as possible.
The 99th Street School, on the other hand, was located within the former boundary of the Hooker Chemical landfill site. The school was closed and demolished, but both the school board and the chemical company refused to accept liability. The 93rd Street School was closed some two years later because of concerns about seeping toxic waste.
The lack of public interest in Love Canal made matters worse for the homeowners' association, which was opposed by two organizations that sought to disprove negligence. Initially, members of the association had been frustrated by the lack of a public entity that could advise and defend them. Gibbs met with public resistance from a number of residents within the community. Eventually, the federal government relocated more than 800 families and reimbursed them for the loss of their homes.
Houses in the residential areas on the east and west sides of the canal were demolished. All that remains on the west side are abandoned residential streets. Some older east side residents, whose houses stand alone in the demolished neighborhood, chose to stay. It was estimated that fewer than 90 of the original 900 families opted to remain. They were willing to remain as long as they were guaranteed that their homes were in a relatively safe area. On June 4, 1980, the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency (LCARA) was founded to restore the area. The area north of Love Canal became known as Black Creek Village. LCARA wanted to resell 300 homes that had been bought by New York when the residents were relocated. The homes are farther away from where the chemicals were dumped. The most toxic area (16 acres (65,000 m2)) was reburied with a thick plastic liner, clay and dirt. A 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in) high barbed wire fence was installed around the area. It has been calculated that 248 separate chemicals, including 60 kilograms (130 lb) of dioxin, have been unearthed from the canal.
In 1998, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, founder of American Council on Science and Health, wrote an editorial about the Canal in which she stated that when the media started calling the Canal a "public health time bomb", an editorial that created minor hysteria. She declared that people were not falling ill because of exposure to chemical waste, but from stress caused by the media. Besides double the rate of birth defects to children born while living on Love Canal, a follow-up study two decades after the incident "showed increased risks of low birth weight, congenital malformations and other adverse reproductive events". However, the same report found a slight decrease in the incidence of cancer rates, and cautions, "It is important not to over emphasize any single finding but instead to search for interpretable, coherent patterns of findings, since these are more likely to indicate valid and meaningful associations."
Love Canal, along with Times Beach, Missouri and the Valley of the Drums, Kentucky, are important in United States environmental history as three sites that significantly contributed to the passing of the CERCLA. Love Canal "become the symbol for what happens when hazardous industrial products are not confined to the workplace but 'hit people where they live' in inestimable amounts".
Love Canal was not an isolated case. Eckardt C. Beck, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the crisis, suggested that there are probably hundreds of similar dumpsites. President Carter declared that discovering these dumpsites was "one of the grimmest discoveries of the modern era". Had the residents of Love Canal been aware that they were residing on toxic chemicals, most would not have moved there in the first place. Beck noted that one main problem remains that ownership of such chemical companies can change over the years, making liability difficult to assign (a problem that would be addressed by CERCLA, or the Superfund Act). Beck contended that increased commitment was necessary to develop controls that would "defuse future Love Canals".
The free market environmentalist movement has often cited the Love Canal incident as a consequence of government decision-makers not taking responsibility for their decisions. Stroup writes, "The school district owning the land had a laudable but narrow goal: it wanted to provide education cheaply for district children. Government decision makers are seldom held accountable for broader social goals in the way that private owners are by liability rules and potential profits."
The legacy of the disaster spawned a fictionalized made-for-TV film entitled Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal (1982). An award-winning documentary by Lynn Corcoran entitled In Our Own Backyard was released in the U.S. in 1983. Modern Marvels retold the disaster in 2004. The film Tootsie has a character attempting to produce a play called "Return To Love Canal". Joyce Carol Oates has brought the story of Love Canal into her 2004 novel The Falls however setting the suspicions of harm to the 1960s. The latest history of Love Canal was published by Oxford University Press in 2016, titled "Love Canal: A Toxic History From Colonial Times To The Present", by Richard S. Newman:
In the movie Tootsie, Sydney Pollack tells Dustin Hoffman in response to a play that he pitches, "Nobody wants to produce a play about a couple that moved back to Love Canal. Nobody wants to pay twenty dollars to see people living next to chemical waste, they can see that in New Jersey."
- 102nd Street Chemical Landfill, a landfill located immediately to the south of Love Canal.
- Cancer Alley (in Louisiana)
- Landfills in the United States
- Spring Valley, Washington, D.C.
- Times Beach, Missouri
- Valley of the Drums
- William Ginsberg, member of New York State task force investigating Love Canal in 1979, and author of state report.
- Verhovek, Sam How (August 5, 1988). "After 10 Years, the Trauma of Love Canal Continues". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
- Colten & Skinner, p. 153
- Dickson, David (1982). "United States: Lessons of Love Canal Prompt Clean up". AMBIO (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) 11 (1): 46–50. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
- Berton, Pierre. Niagara: a history of the falls. McClelland & Stewart Inc. 1994.
- Blum 2008, p. 21.
- Levine, p. 9
- Blum 2008, p. 20.
- "Love Canal: A special Report to the Governor & Legislature". www.health.ny.gov. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
- Levine, p. 10
- Blum 2008, p. 22.
- Brown, Michael H. (December 1979). "Love Canal and the Poisoning of America". The Atlantic.
- Zuesse, Eric (February 1981). "Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-22.
- Colten & Skinner 13, p159
- Levine, p.12
- Stroup, Richard, Free-Market Environmentalism (PDF), The Library of Economics and Liberty
- Levine, p. 13
- Blum 2008, p. 25.
- The Love Canal Tragedy
- Brown, Michael, Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals. New York: Washington Square Press, 1981, ii.
- Heroism Project - Lois Gibbs
- Blum 2008, p. 26.
- Goldman Environmental Prize - Lois Gibbs
- Levine, p.14
- Blum 2008, p. 28.
- Beck, Eckardt C. (January 1979). "The Love Canal Tragedy". EPA Journal. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
- "EPA Superfund Program: LOVE CANAL, NIAGARA FALLS, NY". CERCLA. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- U.S. v. Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp., 850 Federal Supplement, 993 (W.D.N.Y., 1994)
- "Occidental to pay $129 Million in Love Canal Settlement". U.S. Department of Justice. December 21, 1995. Retrieved 2007-02-03.
- Blum 2008, p. 29.
- Cancer incidence in the Love Canal area. Science, v. 212, June 19, 1981: 1404–1407. "Data from the New York Cancer Registry show no evidence for higher cancer rates associated with residence near the Love Canal toxic waste burial site in comparison with the entire state outside of New York City."
- Ember, Lois R. Uncertain science pushes Love Canal solutions to political, legal arenas. Chemical & Engineering News, v. 58, August 11, 1980: 22–29. Relates the chronology of Hooker Chemical Company and the discovery of toxic chemicals at Love Canal and describes the medical research on the former residents to determine the health effects.
- Maugh, Thomas H., 11. Health effects of exposure to toxic wastes. Science, v. 215, January 29, 1982: 490–493; February 5: 643–647. This two-part series first addresses the question "Just how hazardous are dumps?" and then, in "Biological markers for chemical exposure", suggests alterations in chromosomes indicate exposure but long term studies will be necessary to determine the severity of effects of health.
- The Risks of living near Love Canal. Science, v . 212, August 27, 1982: 808–809, 811. "Controversy and confusion follow a report that the Love Canal area is no more hazardous than areas elsewhere in Niagara Falls."
-  Congressional Research Service, Report No. 83-160 L, LIABILITY FOR INJURY RESULTING FROM THE DISPOSAL OF HAZARDOUS WASTE: Preliminary Bibliography on the 1983-1984, Intercollegiate Debate Resolution, August 12, 1983
- National Research Council, Committee on Environmental Epidemiology, Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 1: Public Health and Hazardous Wastes (Washington: National Academy Press, 1991)
- New York State Department of Health - Love Canal
- Blum 2008, p. 27.
- Levine, p.29
- Levine, p. 215
- Jordan, Michael, Hush Hush: The Dark Secrets of Scientific Research. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2003, p.108.
- Levine, p.218
- Sidney Pollack (1982). "Tootsie".
- Blum, Elizabeth D. (2008). Love Canal Revisited : Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism. Kansas: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1560-5.
- Colten, Craig E.; Skinner, Peter N. (1996). The Road to Love Canal: Managing Industrial Waste Before EPA. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Levine, Adeline Gordon (1982). Love Canal: Science, Politics and People. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company. ISBN 978-0-669-05411-8.
- Love Canal Collections in the University Archives, University at Buffalo Libraries
- Adeline Levine Love Canal Papers at The Buffalo History Museum
- Love Canal Medical Fund, Inc.