The Love Canal is located near Niagara Falls in upstate New York. The Canal was constructed as a waterway during the nineteenth century, but was abandoned shortly afterwards.
The Love Canal story is essentially the story of the thousands of families who lived unknowingly amongst an abandoned toxic chemical waste dump. It wasnt the first time in U.S history where this has happened, nor was it the worst, but it did grab the publics attention.
In the 1930s before the Love Canal area was turned into neighborhoods, the Hooker Chemical Company purchased the area and used it as a burial site for 20,000 metric tons of chemicals. In 1953 the Hooker Chemical Company sold the land to the Niagara Falls Board of Education for $1.00. There was a stipulation in the deed, which stated that if anyone incurred physical harm or death because of their buried wastes, they would not be responsible. Shortly after, the land changed hands yet again and this time home building began directly adjacent to the canal. Families who bought homes here were unaware of the waste buried in their backyards.
With all the new homes in the area, an elementary school was opened near the corner of the canal in 1955. Soon after the opening, students and teachers began complaining of being burnt, nauseous odors, and black sludge (Gibbs 21). It wasnt till nearly thirty years later that the government finally decided to investigate the complaints.
Hooker admits to burying about 21,800 tons of various chemicals in the canal. There are at least twelve known carcinogens in the canal including benzene which is well-known for causing leukemia in people (Gibbs 22). The air, soil, and water tests have found chemical migration throughout a ten block residential area. The extent of the chemical migration is still unknown.
The health effects due to the toxic waste dump are numerous and fatal. There was a high incidence of miscarriages and birth defects in children in the 239 families that lived here. The incident rate was so high that in 1978 New York State of Health issued a recommended temporary relocation of ALL pregnant women and children under two (Gibbs 22). In May of 1980 President Carter declared a health emergency because of the abnormal amounts of chromosomal breakage in the Love Canal residents. In October of the same year the President signed a bill to evacuate all families permanently from Love Canal. He did this not because of adverse pregnancies, chromosome damage or high chemical exposures, but because of mental anguish(Gibbs 23).
There is data that has confirmed that children living in this area are 2.5 times as likely to get seizures, 1.5 times as likely of having learning disabilities and 3.0 times as likely of having eye irritations, skin rashes, abdominal pain and hyperactivity disorder. Women in this area are at 100% greater chance of getting lung cancer, while men have a 70% greater risk. These statistics are only a small amount of the medical problems these families faced.
The Love Canal now looks like a ghost town with houses boarded up, over-grown gardens and a high chain link fence surrounding the houses nearest the canal. There has been construction done around the canal to try and contain the chemicals. The construction was done to try and prevent water from soaking into the canal and to stop the outward flow of chemicals into the community. The containment consists of a drainage system consisting of eight-inch perforated clay pipes, laid twelve to fifteen feet deep, encircling the canal to intercept water. The contaminated water then flows into a steel holding tank and is treated on-site by an activated charcoal system. The system is then covered with a clay cap about six feet deep. Top soil and grass was then planted on the cap to finish the project (Gibbs 24).
Federal regulations allow new Love Canals to be built, possibly in your back yard. These new landfills must be monitored. The catch is that they are not monitored by a responsible agency, but by the guy who owns the dump. What are the chances that the guy who is making millions is going to report any problems? Government, for some unknown reason, refuses to use their authority to force the industries to properly dispose of their wastes. The underlying reason may be because they have the power and money.
There are new recycling, neutralizing and high temperature incineration ways of disposing of eighty percent of our wastes safely. It seems as though our government should stop ignoring our health issues and help put a stop to the industrial poisoning of our country.
Since the Love Canal has been deserted, the state and local governments are trying to resell the homes. They wont admit to the health problems at the canal. They will only acknowledge a concern for pregnant women and children under two. Because of this lack of acknowledgement families could be moving back into these homes and bearing the same medical and emotional problems that 500 families have already gone through.
Enger, Eldon and Smith, Bradley. Enviromental Science. New York: McGraw Hill Publishers, 2000.
Gibbs, Lois Maris. Love Canal The Story Continues.. Conneticut: New Society Publishers, 1998.
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