The Polluting of Love Canal, New York

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on April 25 2017 in Environment

 Abandoned Streets in Love Canal.
Abandoned Streets in Love Canal.

Love Canal, a neighborhood in the city of Niagara Falls, New York, was the site of the dumping of chemicals which ultimately led to a Superfund cleanup operation. It remains one of the most severe environmental disasters ever witnessed in American history. The pollution discovered in the Canal prompted the passage of the Superfund Act which empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to either hold polluters responsible for the cleaning up of dumpsites or to undertake the cleaning up exercise using the Superfund.


In the late 1800s, an entrepreneur named William Love envisioned a canal linking the Niagara River to Lake Ontario. He sought to create a perfect urban center referred to as the “Model City” complete with residence and parks on the lake’s banks. The Canal was to generate hydroelectricity for the industries. Construction was soon halted after nearly a mile of the canal was dug due to financial constraints and the passing of legislation criminalizing the removal of water from the River Niagara. In 1920, the city of Niagara Falls purchased the canal and subsequently began using it as a dumping site.

Hooker Chemical Company

A company known as the Hooker Chemical Company operated in the city, and it purchased the canal in 1942 for private use. The company then proceeded to dump toxic waste in the canal, including chemicals identified as carcinogens. The chemicals contaminated ground water and soil as they were dumped between 20-25 feet in the pit. By 1948, the company had become the sole user of the dumpsite which it operated until 1953. After the site was filled, the company covered the site and sold it to the Niagara Falls City School District which was looking to build new schools.

Developmental Activities In The Area

The Niagara Falls City School District, although aware that the site held toxic chemicals, proceeded to build two schools near the canal. Developers further constructed houses and streets establishing Love Canal as a suburban neighborhood. For more than ten years, residents lived in the area unaware of the dump site and the potential adverse effects of living close to one.

Discovery Of The Chemical Waste

In 1975 and 1976, heavy downpour triggered leaching of the chemicals as groundwater levels rose higher than usual in the area. Residents began to detect foul odors and witnessed unusually colored water bubbling in pools, cellars, and basements. Waste-disposal drums further broke ground and could be sighted in backyards. The unfolding catastrophe was investigated by the Niagara Falls Gazette. Health surveys revealed the gravity of the matter as it pertained to human life. The records showed that residents had been diagnosed with a series of inexplicable ailments from migraines, asthma, to epilepsy. Abnormally high rates of miscarriages and congenital disorders had also been recorded. Scientists were brought in to examine the air, soil, and water elements and concluded that the chemicals were responsible for the diseases plaguing the residents.

Aftermath Of The Disaster

The Media is credited with having given the story national limelight. Michael Brown, a reporter, extensively covered the issue and even informed and advised the residents to form a protest group. The homeowners were, however, repeatedly ignored by the city’s officials and the Hooker Chemical Company. Relief came to the residents in the form of a federal health emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and another one in 1980. The government bought the residential houses and demolished them as their occupants were relocated to other areas. A Superfund Program was created in 1980 which facilitated then cleanup of the site. The area contaminated by the dumpsite remains fenced off.

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