Thirty-nine years ago, President Jimmy Carter declared a state of emergency in Niagara Falls. It was August 7, 1978 when the emergency was declared – related to the toxic materials found near the city’s Love Canal neighborhood.
Believe it or not, it was the first time that federal emergency funds were used for something that was not a natural hazard.
Love Canal was a man-made disaster. A 70-acre landfill that served as the epicenter of a massive environmental pollution disaster that affected the health of hundreds of residents. It was toxic waste seeping from the ground from that decades-old chemical dump. Folks living there and health experts reported an unusual number of illnesses among children born near the area. Experts warned people not to eat food grown locally.
The disaster was called a symbol of failure to exercise common sense. It was a massive failure that wreaked havoc for decades. Even now.
There were complaints of Leukemia, kidney disease, and miscarriages. In all – about 800 families were relocated.
It was the beginning of the Superfund program, a federal law designed to clean up toxic waste sites. It was the first, but there are more than a thousand Superfund sites across the country today.
What started as a dream canal for William Love back in the 1800’s has become a symbol of complete devastation. A decimated community.
One thing that still drives me crazy – is that sale from Hooker Chemical to the Niagara Falls School Board. It was a $1 sale that came with a dire warning NOT to build a school on the site.
The board didn’t. They built it off to the side of the side – by 80 or 90 FEET – but put a playground right in the bullseye of the poisonous ground. And then another school just blocks away. There are reports that after rainstorms, part of the crumbling concrete in the area would lead to puddles near the school grounds – where children would love playing and splashing.
Let that sink in.
Love Canal is still one of the most talked about chemical catastrophes. Ever. It’s hard to believe such a terribly bright and sad spotlight was on our community for such a disgusting and dangerous reason. Even now, nearly forty years later, there are still pending civil lawsuits, complaints of illness and worries of seeping chemicals in that now-cleaned up and capped area.
And, still a black eye for Niagara Falls.
I’ve done many stories over the years on Love Canal and it always blows my mind – how those who knew about the dump could allow schools and homes to be built on that site. Let alone those who dumped the tens of thousands of tons of chemicals there.