Love Canal in Niagara Falls Was Built on Something Not Very Lovely

Love Canal near Niagara Falls is anything but lovely, despite its name. The folks are kind and truthful. However, behind-the-scenes pollution and neglect combined to make it one of America’s most frightening locations.

This welcoming community was notably established atop a deadly chemical waste dump. The exact extent of the damage was not known for decades and is still being argued today. How did this happen…?

A brief history of Love Canal, Niagara Falls

(Original Caption) Undated-Niagara Falls, New York- Hooker chemical plant complex, where the dumping of chemicals in Love Canal started years ago.

William T. Love was the impetus for New York’s Love Canal. He was an entrepreneur who founded the Niagara County hamlet of Model City in the late 1800s.

The canal was an important aspect of his vision for the area. He sought to develop a water source in order to provide a cheap power supply. It’d connect the upper and lower Niagara Rivers.

Love’s objective may have been hydroelectricity, but it never materialized. Why? Love desired to fill his canal with river water. One issue: the water was valuable to environmentalists, who effectively prohibited individuals from stealing it.

On top of that, the American economy was not working in Love’s favor. Work ceased in the middle of the project, leaving a mile-long area measuring 50 feet wide and 40 feet deep. According to EPA’s Eckardt C. Beck, the incomplete canal was housing chemical pollution within a few of decades. Hooker Chemical Company took over. They’d buried the canal and moved on by the 1950s.

The site was offered to the Niagara Falls School District for one dollar. According to Atlas Obscura, the agreement included “a 17-line disclaimer describing the history of the canal’s historical usage.” Hooker’s “responsibility for future difficulties” was therefore lifted. There was also suggestions to “close off the area.”

How the community of Love Canal was established on toxic waste

Four years after the Seveso catastophe, an entire AMerican city poisoned by chemical products. Seven families have already been evacuated from the area of Love Canal where dioxine is feared to have caused ravages like cancer and births of abnormal babies. (Photo by Michel Philippot/Sygma via Getty Images)

These suggestions were ignored. The new owners of the site intended to construct on top of a whopping 21,000 tons of hazardous trash.

The building of a school was an early challenge. When poisonous material was discovered when construction began in 1954, the structure was moved 80 feet to a presumably safer location.

A village developed on perilous terrain. People understood the sort of area they were going to, according to accounts, as houses were built and people settled there. They could not, however, have foretold the impending tragedies. In the 1970s, heavy rain agitated the poisonous substance beneath their feet.

How reckless was the choice to continue construction? Beck noted in 1979 that the use of landfills to dispose of such trash was acceptable as long as they were “fully sited, maintained, and controlled.” Love Canal, he says, is “a wonderful historical illustration of how not to manage such a business.”

Health crisis

(Original Caption) 8/9/78-Niagara Falls, New York- A Red Cross nurse takes a blood sample from Maureen Paonessa, 23, at a clinic set up in the 99th Street Elementary School. State Health officials are performing the tests to determine the effects of chemical contamination. Almost 100 families live in the area but officials say 37 families are the most directly affected.

There have been reports of strange-looking pools in basements. What exactly was in these pools? Something extremely noxious. In addition, additional concerning events were taking place. Children, for example, were returning home with strange burns. The air looked to be contaminated.

“People who stepped in the pools had their shoes burned through,” Jeremy Paxman of the BBC observed in 1979. He went because of recent international interest, sparked by articles in the Niagara Falls Gazette and a research by scientist Beverly Paigen.

The community’s birth abnormalities had been investigated, and the results were dismal. Slowly and frighteningly, an image of a suburb in the throes of an environmental and human disaster developed. Cancer and other diseases such as epilepsy and asthma would be connected to the region.

The “hysterical housewives” assemble

(Original Caption) Albany, N.Y.: Carrying caskets followed by signs reading “Is This the Future of Our Children,” residents of the Love Canal area of Niagara Falls told state officials they want New York to expand its relocation effort for persons living near the chemically contaminated site.

A total of 239 houses were reportedly evacuated, and the area was sealed off. Love Canal clearly had a disaster on its hands. What were the residents doing about it? The response came from a group termed the “hysterical housewives.” They were, in fact, the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association.

They participated in high-profile action, led by local turned activist Lois Gibbs. This includes holding EPA staff as hostages. The need for action on Love Canal at the national level was mounting.

President Carter and what happened next

(Original Caption) Niagara Falls, N.Y.: Joel Guagliano, 11, of Niagara Falls sits dejected Wednesday in the Love Canal section of Niagara Falls. Chemicals once dumped in the now-residential area are seeping through the ground and the New York State Health Department has urged some residents to leave the area until the problem can be resolved.

Purchasing a house in Love Canal means receiving a property death sentence. Nobody wants to invest in a place with such a bad image. The town has fallen into a deadly trap.

The state purchased properties under then-President Jimmy Carter. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a start. Former inhabitant Luella Kenny told the BBC’s Witness History that the event demonstrates that “you can truly battle government and win.”

Congress approved the CERCLA Act (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) in 1980. It was also known as the Superfund Act, because it was intended to answer voters’ concerns about hazardous waste. Love Canal cleanup took until 2004, yet disputes persist.

Unfortunately, Love Canal is not an unusual incident. Beck recalls further dumping sites, or “time bombs with blazing fuses,” even in the late 1970s.

Love Canal Today

Abandoned houses in the Love Canal district of Niagara Falls. The actual Love Canal, a failed 19th Century canal attempt, was used in the early 20th Century as a landfill for chemical waste by various parties. In the 1970s it became clear that it posed a serious health problem, forcing the state government to evacuate the entire neighborhood.

After being purchased by Occidental Petroleum, the Hooker Chemical Company went out of business in 1968. Following legal action by the EPA, Occidental paid $129 million in compensation in 1995.

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