Essay Love Canal

Topics: Love

The case of Love Canal is one of the most tragic and well-known instances of environmental injustice in the history of the United States. Historically, blame has been placed upon the company that has since been held legally responsible for the wastes present in the area. Once one dives deeper into the issue, however, it can be seen that there are various deceptions that lie underneath what the media has reported regarding the disaster. In addition to discovering where true liability for the disaster lays, this can lead to developing strategies within the country to guarantee that this type of disaster does not happen again.

Ironically enough, this disaster began with a dream for a better future. In the late 1800’s, William T. Love, a wealthy businessman at the time, had a dream to build a model industrial city in his hometown of Niagara Falls. He wanted to provide the city with a source of cheap power, so he decided that he would dig a canal to connect the upper and lower banks of the Niagara River, to provide space for a hydroelectric power plant.

Unfortunately, an economic downturn caused abandonment of the project, and only about one mile of the canal was ever dug.

From 1920 to 1943, the city of Niagara Falls used the small amount of canal as a municipal waste dumpsite. In 1943, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Company bought the canal, and began dumping toxic waste chemicals into the water in big chemical drum containers. They continued to pollute there until 1953, when they filled the canal with earth and sold it to the city of Niagara Falls for just one dollar.

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The city built one hundred new residential homes and a public school there.

When residents began occupying the houses, they were oblivious to the toxic chemicals that were buried underneath the ground right in their backyards and directly underneath the school that their children attended. Eventually, the chemicals rotted entirely through the drum containers, and began leaching into backyards, basements, and even the school’s lower floor. Then the inexplicable increase in illnesses began. By the 1970’s, there was a massive rate of birth defects (5 of the 24 children born had defects), miscarriages (50%), and congenital defects being found in the residents of the town and their children (Regenstein).

Children who attended the public school were becoming very ill with symptoms stemming from neurological problems, some of which the doctors even had a hard time diagnosing. One housewife of the town, Lois Gibbs, began noticing that her 7-year-old son was coming home from school sick more than ever before, and discovered that he had developed symptoms while at school. She began doing research on the area, and discovered the Love Canal’s past. She pleaded for the city to evacuate residents.

Although ignored by officials, she drew up quite a large base of supporters, many people also noticing that their children had become ill since they began attending the school. Eventually, after many cases of illnesses and much public opposition, the city began evacuating young children first, and then families who lived in the residential houses. The media found Lois Gibb’s story very appealing. They followed her journey from starting as a housewife in a small town in New York State to becoming an outspoken leader for a movement to hold the Hooker Chemical Company responsible for what had happened there two decades before.

She felt that the Hooker Chemical Company should be liable for cleaning up the site and reimbursing families who had been affected by the pollution. Although Lois Gibbs shared an opinion with many people, there was just not enough concrete evidence to convict the company of being responsible. One person that found Gibb’s story worthy of public attention was Michael Brown, who wrote a book called Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals, in which he laid all blame directly on the Hooker Chemical Company for the disaster.

This book was adopted as the true story by most media outlets, so naturally the public was convinced that the company was to blame and no one else. As public knowledge increased due to Lois Gibb’s efforts, remediation became much more important. On August 7th, 1978, President Jimmy Carter approved emergency government aid for the area, which was the first time government funds were used for a disaster that was not considered to be “natural. ” This funding became the Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the “Superfund” program.

Over one hundred million dollars was used to clean up the canal. Efforts finally concluded in 2004, when the land was considered safe to once again live on. Residents have begun to fill the newly-renovated residential homes in the town that they have now officially renamed the Black Creek Village. With the case of Love Canal comes controversy over who is fully to blame for the issues at hand. Historically, the blame has been placed on the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Company because they were the company that was actively dumping toxic chemicals in the abandoned canal. Also, many people such as Lois Gibbs and her supporters) believe that the company sold the land for such a cheap price because they knew that there would be detrimental effects on the environment and human health due to the wastes. The government took this position on the matter as well. The U. S. Department of Justice, who acted for the Environmental Protection Agency, sued the company by filing four suits against it and its parent corporation, the Occidental Petroleum Corporation. The four suits requested that the company have to clean up the four sites in Niagara Falls that posed a danger to residents of the region.

After the case went to trial, it became clear that even the Judicial System agreed that Hooker Chemical Company was responsible for the damages that resulted from the dumping. The New York Times published an article on February 24, 1988 that was considered a great victory for those who viewed the situation as the Hooker Company’s fault. The article described the rulings of the federal trial against the Occidental Petroleum Corporation. John T. Curtin, the active judge on the case, ruled that the company was liable for the damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.

The judge also states that in addition to being responsible for the production and dumping of the wastes, they also stored the wastes in dangerous ways that would eventually lead to leaching straight through the storage drums. With this ruling, however, one has to ask why the U. S. Regulatory System would approve the company’s disposal techniques. It is also important to ask whether or not the chemicals would have actually leached if they were not disturbed by the construction vehicles that most likely punctured the drum containers.

The issue of repayment was not settled in the trial, although the government was asking for $117,580,000 to replace the money that they had spent. This problem was not settled until June 1989. On the morning of June 1, 1989, Thomas C. Jorling, Commissioner at the time of the New York State Department of Conservation, issued a public news release to announce that the Occidental Petroleum Corporation had signed a consent order for the storage and destruction of the wastes from the Love Canal cleanup. This was the company’s first acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for the cleanup efforts.

This was also a landmark agreement because the cleanup had previously been performed by government agencies, funded by taxpayers’ money. This was the first case that bound a company to pay for clean-up funds, rather than making taxpayers cover the costs. The agreement saved taxpayers more than $20 million that would have been used for construction, operating, and engineering costs. The company agreed to transport the chemicals that were brought up from the ground to their plant in Niagara Falls, store them in a newly renovated and safe storage building, and burn them in an incinerator that was set to be built at the plant.

Although in signing this consent order the company assumed responsibility, they still fought to ensure that they were not legally liable for the damages and public health effects of the wastes present in the canal. At this point, many people were pleased with the fact that the Hooker company was being held responsible for what they had done. A various perspective on the issue, however, can be seen in an article titled “Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out,” written by a long-time contributor of Reason magazine, Eric Zuesse, that was published in the February 1981 issue of the magazine.

In the article, Zuesse states that the Niagara Falls Board of Education is the party that should be taken to court by the Justice Department. He believes that “hardly ever has there been a more blatant example of Big Brother successfully hiding the skeletons in his closet or of a gullible investigative reporter and compliant media going along with the cover-up so that a bunch of bureaucrats can pass the buck to some bewildered private interest. He suggests that the case of Love Canal is an example of government keeping secrets from public knowledge so as to keep the real persons responsible safe and punish and destroy private interest corporations who are easily blamed for the problem. A “gullible investigative reporter” is Zuesse’s referral to Brown and his book that was adopted by the media. Zuesse states that his first indication that the true story was not being told was that there was little mention of the fact that the Board of Education had owned the land for 25 years prior to all of the uncovering of the land’s past usages.

He began doing research, and found the deed that was used in the transfer of property. There is a clause at the end of the deed that contains this statement: … The grantee herein has been advised by the grantor that the premises above described has been filled … with waste products resulting from the manufacturing of chemicals by the grantor … and the grantee assumes all risk and liability incident to the use thereof … As a part of the consideration for this conveyance and as a condition thereof, no claim, suit, or action or demand f any nature whatsoever shall be made by the grantee … against the grantor, for injury to a person or persons, including death resulting there from, or loss of or damage to property caused by … said industrial wastes. (1) In this excerpt from the deed, it is shown that the Hooker Company had warned the Board of Education of the risks associated with development and use of the land that was being sold to them. Also, they transferred all legal liability to the Board of Education for any property loss, injuries, or deaths resulting from the use of the land.

The fact that the Board of Education still agreed to buy this land, and then additionally decided to build a public school on it, cannot be overlooked in the issue of who is to blame for the destruction at Love Canal. Zuesse also believes that although at first it seems that the Hooker Company was anxious to rid themselves of the land, it can be interpreted that they were giving a clear warning to not only the Board of Education but to all future owners of the land that it is a dangerous place to develop on.

Zuesse states that it is tough to attribute this fact to the “reckless and negligent attitude” that the media was characterizing the company as having, which could be why it was overlooked by the general public. Zuesse also tried to contact various former members of the Board of Education that were involved in the purchase of the land, and not one of them would comment on the matter. They either hung up on him or ignored the situation completely. One member just said that “it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie,” and commented that the Board had no legal liability.

This is obviously false when you take a look at the deed itself. The Hooker Company did not want any of this to happen. They wanted the land to be left alone, or sold to someone who would take care of the problem. Zuesse has some concrete evidence to support the claim that although the Hooker Chemical Company may have been responsible for the chemicals, the Board of Education can be seen as the real perpetrator for building on land that they knew was not suitable for a residential area, and especially not for a school which young children attended.

The Board put their residents in danger by ignoring the various warnings they were provided with. With all of this information, the question must be asked as to whether the Justice Department was right in bringing a lawsuit against the company. Obviously, the company was easiest to blame for the disaster. Also, families who were affected by Love Canal were so distraught that they couldn’t fully comprehend the fact that there may have been other factors that contributed.

In New York State, it is illegal to transfer legal liability for land between parties, so technically it was acceptable for the Justice Department to bring the Hooker Company to court. However, it should be stated that in addition to punishing the company, they should also bring the Board to court and try them for negligence. This case is especially relevant still today because since the U. S. Regulatory System knew this practice was going on and still approved it, there could be many other sites in the same situation as Love Canal just waiting to be uncovered.

Because of this, new policies need to be enacted. First of all, there needs to be new standards of what constitutes a safe way of disposing of these harsh chemicals. Of course, this dumping began in the 1950’s, and since then we have adopted stricter rules on the matter, but companies continue to work around them, still dumping chemicals in waterways to this day. Also, there needs to be a citizen right to know policy enacted, in which citizens have the right to knowledge regarding all pollutants and chemicals that they come into contact with throughout their daily lives.

Perhaps if the Love Canal residents had known exactly what chemicals were present there, they would have demanded better standards for the land that they lived on and they would have demanded that the remediation be performed sooner, before they all came down with strange symptoms. Sometimes in our society, horrible circumstances have to take place in order to improve our standards of living. Sadly, the Love Canal tragedy occurred because basic human rights were overlooked in order to make a prosperous city. However, we can extract lessons from this to guarantee that it does not happen again.

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Essay Love Canal. (2017, Feb 24). Retrieved from

Essay Love Canal
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