Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toxic Chemicals Kill!! Known for Decades, Yet ....

Residents of DuPont Factory Town Drop Like Flies
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 by: Kim Evans
(NaturalNews) A now-closed DuPont owned factory has contaminated the soil and groundwater surrounding a neighborhood in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. DuPont has admitted the plant's wastewater treatment was improperly handled and that the company was responsible for chemically contaminating the water and soil underneath hundreds of homes. Now, a disproportionately high number of people in the area are developing and dying from cancer. DuPont, a multi-billion dollar chemical company, is offering affected homeowners a free ventilation system - apparently in lieu of making proper amends to the affected persons.
Many of the residents are undergoing conventional medicine's therapies, and dying. One resident, Tim Carroll commented, "My wife died of lung cancer in June, my stepson died of throat cancer, my neighbor across the street has it, everybody is dying around here. I've never seen anyplace like this." Eight months ago, Carroll had a cancerous kidney removed.
Carroll used to work at the plant and now says, "It was a great job when we had it but we didn't know the ramifications would be this." He speaks from his living room; the table next to him holds no less than 11 different types of medication.
Another resident, Joe Intintola Jr., shares, "It's in my colon, they want to remove half of it, I've got a pre-cancerous mass in my stomach, a mass in my chest. If I had known about this I would never have moved here."
Unfortunately and understandable, residents are having trouble selling their homes. And that leaves many of them surrounded by the contamination and stuck breathing the toxic fumes each day.
It's a sad story, and it is an honest look at what happens when people and companies turn their heads and look the other way while the earth and our bodies are turned into toxic dump sites. Yet, both are happening far too often these days. In fact, for most people, it's hard to get through a single day without interacting with hundreds - if not thousands - of different man-made chemicals.
The fact that man-made chemicals cause cancer and other serious health problems isn't new. It's been known for decades and hundreds of thousands of existing studies confirm this - although most of these studies look at chemicals individually and hesitate to make larger, category-wide statements. But enough evidence is in that this hesitation is no longer necessary, or even prudent. In fact, it's becoming a bit reckless if we don't put the pieces of the puzzle together a little more quickly.
EPA: UF will pay a $175,000 fine
Improper disposal of a toxic chemical is cited. Risk of human exposure is low
By Thomas Stewart
Published: Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The University of Florida has agreed to pay a fine of $175,000 for alleged environmental violations that include illegally disposing of hundreds of gallons of a toxic chemical on campus over almost two decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.
The chemical, a solvent used to clean lawn mowers and weed eaters, has been found above levels allowed by the EPA in the soil and groundwater surrounding the UF grounds department on Radio Road east of Southwest 34th Street.
UF and EPA officials, however, agree the level of contamination is low and the risk of human exposure minimal. UF has since stopped using the chemical.
"As soon as UF learned of the EPA's concerns, we stopped using the product," said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes.
The disposal of the chemical and the other alleged violations were discovered during an unannounced EPA inspection in March 2008. Inspectors found that UF employees were spraying lawn equipment with a degreasing agent that was allowed to dry and then washed off with a hose. Though the washing occurred on a concrete pad, some of the chemical may have found its way into the soil and groundwater by seeping through cracks in the pad or making its way to a nearby stormwater drain, inspectors noted in their report.
Since the inspection, UF has spent about $67,000 determining the level of contamination, according to Sikes. Once testing is complete and a cleanup plan is in place, UF will be required to pay for its implementation.
The chemical in question, tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, is often used for metal degreasing and by dry cleaners, according to the Department of Health and Human Service's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
At high levels, exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, confusion, nausea, unconsciousness and even death, according to the agency. In animals, it has been linked to kidney and liver damage as well as tumors. Health effects at low levels of exposure are not known.
UF has tested for the contamination by drilling wells to monitor the groundwater and by analyzing soil samples taken from the area.
In one test, conducted in May, levels of the chemical were found to be more than 25 times the allowed levels, though UF questions the validity of the results.
Bill Properzio, director of UF's Environmental Health and Safety Department, said he believes the drilling methods were flawed.
"There was some contamination in the upper surface in the soil," Properzio said. "As they drilled the well, they pushed that contaminant down with it."
Subsequent tests seem to confirm that idea. A later test of the same well, done in August, shows the chemical is present at less than twice the allowed level.
Most soil samples fall close to or below the allowed levels of the chemical, though one sample from July shows a level five times higher than the limit. Tests indicate that levels of the chemical in the water and soil are decreasing or staying about the same over time.
According to UF and the EPA, there is little chance the chemical will come into contact with people. UF gets its drinking water from Gainesville Regional Utilities, not wells on campus, and the soil contamination seems to be limited to the area near the concrete wash pad at the grounds department.
Properzio said employees were simply following the manufacturer's directions when using the product and did not think they were in violation of EPA regulations.
"I guess the assumption had been made (that) if you followed the manufacturer's instructions, you were OK," he said.
The inspection report notes that UF may have used between 275 and 412.5 gallons of the chemical over an 18-year period at that site. Properzio said not all of that was deposited in the soil. Much of it simply evaporated as it was left to dry, he said.
As a result, the level of contamination isn't very serious, he said, especially when compared to a site like Cabot-Koppers, the Superfund site in north Gainesville.
"This is a little leak of cleaning agent," he said.
Davina Marraccini, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency takes any improper release of toxic chemicals into the environment seriously, which is why UF received the level of fine that it did. The length of time a violation has occurred is also taken into account, she said.
Since the alleged violations were discovered in 2008, UF has been accused of other violations by the EPA, though it is not clear if they will result in fines.
Many of the violations noted during a July 2009 inspection included waste materials, like paint, that were unlabeled, which would mean they were being stored illegally.
The EPA also took issue again with the way UF cleaned its lawn maintenance equipment. The possible violations resulted in a warning letter sent to UF in August, instructing UF to stop allowing runoff from the washing of its weed eaters, lawn mowers and dye sprayers used in the football stadium and on the practice football field to soak into the ground.
Violations were also found in a 2006 inspection that resulted in a fine of about $21,000 and a remediation cost of $5,000.
Morton’s practices questioned
By Kevin P. Craver - kcraver@nwherald.com
December 28, 2009
The safe limits for the industrial chemicals alleged in lawsuits to have caused brain cancers in McCullom Lake are measured in parts per billion.
In one evening in February 1978, an outdoor accident at one of the defendant manufacturers might have spilled enough to fill 20 bathtubs.
A railroad car valve at the Morton chemical plant in Ringwood was left open for about eight hours and leaked 1,000 gallons of pure vinylidene chloride into the ground, according to the final draft of a 1986 report commissioned by the company.
The chemical is one of several blamed in 30 lawsuits since 2006 for brain and pituitary cancers in the McCullom Lake area.
A gravel berm contained the spill, but workers recovered only 55 to 80 gallons of it, the draft report stated. But most of these details were omitted from the final version sent to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Omitted was the 1,000-gallon amount, the eight-hour spill length, and the fact that most of it entered the ground. The final report instead told the IEPA that the spill was “contained within a frozen bermed area and 55 to 80 gallons were recovered” – not that the amount accounted for 8 percent of it at best.
The report was one of many since 1983 commissioned by Morton, and present plant owner Rohm and Haas, to determine the extent and cleanup plan for a large plume of contaminated groundwater oozing from the plant’s closed 8-acre waste pit. The plant is enrolled in the IEPA’s voluntary remediation program, meaning that the company can supervise its own cleanup if it hires accredited outside consultants and meets set goals.
Rohm and Haas attorney Kevin Van Wart said the spill was far from a secret and that the details were omitted because they were speculative and not hard fact. But ultimately, state and county authorities’ grasp of the contamination relies almost entirely on information provided by Morton, Rohm and Haas or their consultants.
Documents obtained through legal discovery and the Freedom of Information Act indicate that:
• Morton executives wanting to avoid IEPA permit regulations withheld knowledge that their waste pit was leaking from their own attorney.
• Morton in the 1950s dumped its chemical wastes in an area gravel pit before it decided to dig its own disposal site, in part to stop the spilling of chemical waste on local roads.
Privileged information
Morton executives in December 1973 privately grappled with the fact that the 8-acre, 15-foot-deep waste pit at their Ringwood plant was contaminating groundwater.
It is a fact that they did not report to the IEPA until a decade later, a Northwest Herald investigative series revealed in 2007. But they also did not tell their attorney as he wrote a legal opinion that Morton’s pit did not require a state permit.
Earlier in 1973, the newly created IEPA had created regulations and permit requirements regarding the disposal of solid wastes. But the rules came with exemptions that plant safety and pollution control engineer Sid Martin concluded applied to Morton. Martin asked company legal counsel for a written opinion in a Nov. 27, 1973, memo.
Attorney Harvey Wienke delivered the favorable opinion in a Dec. 18, 1973, memo, based on the information that Martin shared with him: Morton did not need a permit to dump filter cake waste and other solids.
“I have assumed from your letter and also our telephone conversation … that there is no water pollution effecting [sic] surface, streams and rivers, or underground waters,” Wienke wrote. “That is to say, that there is no chemical alteration of any such waters as a result of the disposition of solids into the sludge pit.”
But Martin had told his supervisors two weeks earlier in a confidential Dec. 6, 1973, memo that the landfill was leaking. The company began investigating the possibility since February when it appointed Martin, who recognized that the plant had “pressing problems” regarding pollution, safety and health.
“It is felt … that if the seepage problem were brought to the attention of the state and federal regulatory agencies, we could expect action to be taken rather abruptly,” Martin wrote. “At this time, to the best of our knowledge, the problem has not been brought to their attention.”
The correspondence between Morton and the attorney accidentally was given to plaintiffs’ attorney Aaron Freiwald by the legal counsel for current plant owner Rohm and Haas. The company asked the Pennsylvania judge hearing the individual cases to rule it private under attorney-client privilege.
The person assigned to sift through legal discovery in the case ruled in Rohm and Haas’ favor, but the judge overruled the decision last month, concluding that the memos are not privileged because of the appearance that “incomplete or contradictory representations were made” to Morton counsel.
Rohm and Haas has asked the judge to reconsider, Van Wart said. He said that memos from the 1960s show that the state was aware that the landfill was leaking and had “fairly extensive knowledge” of it.
A 1968 report provided by Van Wart from the Illinois Sanitary Water Board, a regulatory agency pre-dating the IEPA, cited “seepage” as one of the reasons why there was not much water in the pit. But the report then stated that the pit appears to be an “excellent” disposal method due to “ ... the apparent lack of ground water pollution.”
Public relations
The lawsuits filed by Freiwald’s clients blame air and groundwater contamination from the closed waste pit for their brain and pituitary cancers.
Morton’s pit opened in 1961, a decade after Morton acquired the Ringwood factory. Before that, records reveal, the company pumped its waste into a nearby gravel pit.
A 1958 Morton memo laid out the company’s options as the pit filled up: Rent another one, or buy some land next to the plant and dig its own dumping area. Digging its own pit would cost Morton almost one-fifth as much as dumping in a rented gravel pit, the memo’s authors concluded.
Cost control was part of the authors’ argument for Morton digging its own, larger pit. An added benefit, the memo stated, would be that tanker trucks no longer would spill the waste on area roads on the way to the disposal site.
“Another item to be considered in this matter is that our relations with the general public would be improved,” the memo stated. “With our present system of hauling sludge away from the plant, small spills on the road are inevitable. When wet, this spillage creates a skidding hazard and in the hot dry summer months it creates a dusting nuisance.”
Neither the memo nor county land records obtained under FOIA identify the location of the gravel pit. But the Morton memo stated that the company had an agreement to cover the pit with topsoil so it could be re-used for agriculture. McHenry County is pockmarked with small “borrow pits” that farmers and other landowners dug for aggregate.
Van Wart said that only nonhazardous waste was dumped into the pit and that the plant did not begin working with the chemicals at issue in the lawsuits until years later. He said the farmers’ pit was about 3 1/2 miles from the plant, although the name does not correspond with any in a 1990 McHenry County inventory of gravel pits. The inventory identifies at least 16 borrow pits within 3 1/2 miles of the plant, and records for six of them state that they may have been used to dump trash or waste.
The whole story
The Illinois Department of Public Health last month sent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a packet of reports and data after the federal agency agreed to review the research done on the contamination and the alleged cluster.
The packet included a 2005 report from Rohm and Haas’ consultant that mapped the contamination. The report’s maps were a foundation of the McHenry County Department of Health and other agencies’ pronouncements that contamination concerns were unfounded.
The packet did not contain memos revealed in the Northwest Herald’s 2007 series, which the IEPA and the county had since 2006, that raised questions about the accuracy of the report. It did not contain memos showing that the plant’s owners knew about the contamination a decade before reporting it, nor did it contain the 1958 memo revealing that the plant was spilling its waste on local roads en route to dump in a gravel pit – the IEPA case manager for the site received a copy at his September 2008 deposition.
Freiwald has declined to comment on government’s efforts to examine the cluster – recent court rulings in his clients’ favor could mean that the first case could go to trial in the next several months. But he said documents “speak for themselves”.
Van Wart said that the plant, under both Morton and Rohm and Haas, has been open and transparent about its operations and their environmental impact.
“The company always made good-faith attempts to do what was required to comply with the laws and properly manage its waste,” Van Wart said.
The Worst Environmental Disasters Of All Time
By Mark Johnson
Thu, Oct 1, 2009
The Love Canal
In 1953, Hooker chemical sold a piece of land that was used as a chemical waste dump to the Niagara falls school district for the purpose of building a school on. Knowing full well of the risks, the school district bought the land for one dollar and agreed to release hooker of all liabilities from the contamination. With the soil disturbed by building, the entire property, along with residential neighborhoods around it become contaminated causing a plethora of health problems. The contamination at the love canal was the catalyst for the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
Minamata disease, Minamata Japan
Starting in 1908 The Chisso Corporation began producing fertilizers in Minamata, and later industrial chemicals such as acetylene and acetic acid. Unfortunately, like most chemical corporations of the era, they drained their waste into the closest body of water. In this case Minamata Bay. in 1956, after many years of dumping their waste, local residents started to come down with a myriad of symptoms ranging from numbness, loss of vision, comas, and even death. Upon investigating the cause of this outbreak, researchers identified mercury poisoning as the cause due to bio accumulation in local sea life that was the primary food source for the local population. Sadly it took 12 years for the Japanese government to finally admit the cause, by which time thousands had been exposed, and many had died. In 2001, the official total of victims had exceeded 2,100 with 1,784 already dead from exposure.
Hanford Nuclear Plant
Combine 1940’s environmental ignorance and the worlds first large scale nuclear power plant, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. As part of the Manhattan project, a secret facility was built in Washington State on the Columbia river to produce the Plutonium for the first atom bombs. During it’s early years, cooling water was drawn into the plant, then after only six hours was released back into the Columbia river. Releasing as much as 50,000 curies per day. On top of that, radioactive waste was released into the air in such large amounts that it spread as far as Oregon, Montana, and Idaho. During the cold war, Hanford was responsible for the majority of the plutonium used for the entire US nuclear arsenal, which resulted in 53 million gallons of radioactive waste that has still yet to be cleaned up.
Bhopal Disaster
In December of 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal India suffered a catastrophic failure that resulted in the release of 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas. Over 2,200 people died that night, with thousands more dying over the next 72 hours. Today, it is estimated that over 25,000 have died from exposure to the gas leak. After many lawsuits, Union Carbide still has not cleaned up the remains of the plant, and close to 400 tonnes of chemicals remain at the facility.
Three Mile Island
On March 29th 1979, a partial core meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant due to poorly trained staff. Over 13 million curies of radioactive gas were released into the air, making this the largest nuclear disaster in US history. Due to this event, nuclear power plant production in the US came to an almost complete halt, and to this day has not regained the popularity nuclear power once had.
Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill
On the night of December 22nd 2008, the Kingston fossil plants retention pond which contained 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry broke, covering over 300 acres with up to six feet of slurry. Much of it also went down local rivers contaminating the water supply and killing wildlife. As of June of this year, only three percent has been cleaned up, and it is estimated that it could take years, and billions of dollars to remove it all.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
In March of 1989 the Exxon Valdez, a one thousand food long oil tanker struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound Alaska resulting in release of 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. As many as 500,000 sea birds, 250 bald eagles, 1,000 otters, 22 orca whales, and billions of salmon died from the spill which in the end covered over 11,000,000 square miles. To this day, wildlife has not recovered, and tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil are still contaminating prince William sound.
Without a doubt the worst environmental disaster of all time. Chernobyl released so much radioactive material that it was recorded as far away as Ireland. 56 people died as a direct result of the blast, with conservative figures stating 4,000 will die from cancer. Parts of the ‘zone of alienation’ are the most polluted of any on earth, and can still give off fatal doses of radiation if one was to spend enough time in them. To this day, the reactor has not been decontaminated and poses a serious risk if it was to collapse.
The Tragedy of the Love Canal
Written by Marisa Brook on 18 October 2006
William T. Love came to 1890s Niagara Falls, New York, with hugely ambitious plans. The landowner and entrepreneur envisioned the creation of an enormous utopian metropolis. His city would be home to enviable industry, and housing for more than a million people. Thousands of acres would become “the most extensive and beautiful [park] in the world”. He planned to power the city using hydroelectric dams on a new 11-kilometer canal between the upper and lower Niagara Rivers. Within a year, however, Love’s plans failed, and would quickly have been forgotten if it weren’t for one problem.
The one part of Love’s city that had been built was a kilometer-long pit that would have been a part of the canal. After a few decades, this pit was purchased by the City of Niagara Falls, which had decided that it would make an ideal location for a needed chemical-dumping site. After the pit was filled with waste, a neighborhood was built directly on top of it. By the 1970s, the Love Canal became the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.
Back in 1892, it seemed inconceivable that Love’s plans would fall apart so dramatically. He was a driven and charismatic man, who filled his brochures with wild promises and other hyperbole. The idea of a new city “among the greatest manufacturing cities in the United States” drew many supporters and investors; the following year saw construction begin on the canal. Then Love’s ideas were quashed fairly quickly by a combination of factors. The fluctuations of the economy scared off the investors; the discovery of how electricity could be efficiently transmitted over long distances made Love’s canal seem unnecessary; and local politicians prohibited the diversion of the rivers’ water altogether. And thus Love’s ambitions evaporated almost overnight.
The pit remained, filling with rainwater and becoming a local recreation area: swimming in the summer, skating in the winter. In 1920 the land was sold to nearby Niagara Falls, a growing industrial town that immediately started using the pit as a dumping ground for chemical wastes. This continued for more than twenty years, after which the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation (now a part of Occidental Petroleum or OxyChem) purchased the land for their own chemical disposal. By 1953, the company had buried nearly 22,000 tons of waste, and the pit was virtually full.
At that time, the dangers of chemical wastes were almost entirely unknown. Far from being alarmed or even wary of living next to a major chemical producer, the city’s residents were delighted at the medical and other developments that the chemical industry was bringing in. No one thought that the same companies could engage in any potentially dangerous activities. The Love Canal was lined with clay and covered with dirt to supposedly seal it, and Hooker Chemical’s experts declared it safe. Only the occasional scientist recognized the dangers of chemical waste in the 1940s. One, a Dr. Robert Mobbs, had explored the link between insecticides and cancer; he would later strongly denounce Hooker Chemical as not just careless but also aware of the potential for danger in its dumping ground.
It is not certain whether Hooker suspected the potential effects of its waste products. However, the fact that the company sold the Love Canal land for a single dollar is suspicious. So is the carefully-worded disclaimer that Hooker included with the sale, disclaiming any responsibility for side-effects from chemical exposure.
Either way, these subtle warnings were not the red flag they should have been. The Niagara Falls Board of Education, which was in urgent need of more classroom space, eagerly purchased the land and began constructing a new elementary school. In 1955, four hundred children began attending the school, as about 100 homes were built in the surrounding areas. Although most of the residents of Niagara Falls knew what the land had been previously used for, they were not cautioned about living on it.
Unsurprisingly, the direct effects of the pit’s contents were soon felt. Strange odors and substances were reported by residents, especially those with basements. Pieces of phosphorus made their way to the surface; children in the schoolyard were burned by toxic waste. Local officials were alerted, but took no action.
In 1976, water from heavy rains and a record-breaking blizzard caused a significant amount of chemical waste to migrate to the surface, where it contaminated the entire neighborhood. In the following years the area was stricken with higher than normal rates of stillborn births and miscarriages, and many babies were born with birth defects. Informal studies at this time noted the frightening trend. One, by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, observed more than 400 types of chemicals in the air, water, and soil, with some of them – such as benzene – already known to be carcinogenic.
One particular family that was affected was that of local mother Lois Gibbs. After reading about the history of the Love Canal in a local publication, she realized that her young son Michael had been constantly ill since starting at the new school. Gibbs asked for her son to be transferred; when this failed, she went from door to door in her neighborhood with a petition to close the school. The situation turned out to be even worse than she had thought; her rounds made it clear that the entire neighborhood was ill. Gibbs went on to lead the campaign to call attention to the neighborhood; she was joined by many other local parents as well as the editors of the Niagara Falls Gazette.
Finally, in the spring of 1978, state health commissioner Dr. Robert P. Whalen declared the area around the Love Canal hazardous. The school closed, the land was sectioned off, and more than 200 families in the immediate area were evacuated. By August of that year, the hazardous site was receiving national attention. On 7 August, President Jimmy Carter called upon the Federal Disaster Assistance Agency for its help. In September, Dr. Whalen released an intensive report on the disaster, which read in part:
The profound and devastating effects of the Love Canal tragedy, in terms of human health and suffering and environmental damage, cannot and probably will never be fully measured…[w]e cannot undo the damage that has been wrought at Love Canal but we can take appropriate preventive measures so that we are better able to anticipate and hopefully prevent future events of this kind.
Evacuation from the Love Canal neighborhood.Lawsuits were quick to arrive, and Hooker Chemical found itself being sued for more than $11 billion. The corporation denied its involvement through this series, even when faced by the Federal Justice Department in 1979 and New York State in 1989.
Still, a great deal of damage had been done, and eventually more than 1,000 families had to be moved out of the Love Canal area. An EPA study revealed that of the thirty-six people tested, eleven had chromosomal damage; and that of fifteen Love Canal babies born between January 1979 and January 1980, only two were healthy. Agencies at the state and federal levels spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to clean up the pollution. Of that, Hooker Chemical has eventually been persuaded to contribute about $130 million.
One good thing that came out of the disaster was the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, more commonly known as the ‘Superfund’ law. Its aim is to collects taxes from gas and chemical corporations to be used directly to clean up any sites similar to the Love Canal. OxyChem now lists ‘making chemical plants safer and more environmentally sound’ as one of its goals.
Houses in the area today.There is a sad irony in the fact that the site of William T. Love’s “most perfect city in existence” became home to such a disaster. In the last fifteen years, however, there has been some gradual resettlement of the Love Canal site. In the early 1990s parts of the area were declared safe again, and now make up a neighborhood known as Black Creek Village. The area was taken off the Superfund list in September 2004 at the announcement that certain clean-up goals had been reached. Much of the Canal itself, however, remains sectioned off by a chain-link fence, which to any local passersby must serve as a poignant reminder of the whole catastrophe.
The Love Canal Tragedy
by Eckardt C. Beck
[EPA Journal - January 1979]
If you get there before I do
Tell 'em I'm a comin' too
To see the things so wondrous true
At Love's new Model City
(From a turn-of-the-century advertising jingle promoting the development of Love Canal)
Give me Liberty. I've Already Got Death.
(From a sign displayed by a Love Canal resident, 1978)
Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.
But that's not the most disturbing fact.
What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again--anywhere in this country--unless we move expeditiously to prevent it.
It is a cruel irony that Love Canal was originally meant to be a dream community. That vision belonged to the man for whom the three-block tract of land on the eastern edge of Niagara Falls, New York, was named--William T. Love.
Love felt that by digging a short canal between the upper and lower Niagara Rivers, power could be generated cheaply to fuel the industry and homes of his would-be model city.
But despite considerable backing, Love's project was unable to endure the one-two punch of fluctuations in the economy and Nikola Tesla's discovery of how to economically transmit electricity over great distances by means of an alternating current.
By 1910, the dream was shattered. All that was left to commemorate Love's hope was a partial ditch where construction of the canal had begun.
In the 1920s the seeds of a genuine nightmare were planted. The canal was turned into a municipal and industrial chemical dumpsite.
Landfills can of course be an environmentally acceptable method of hazardous waste disposal, assuming they are properly sited, managed, and regulated. Love Canal will always remain a perfect historical example of how not to run such an operation.
In 1953, the Hooker Chemical Company, then the owners and operators of the property, covered the canal with earth and sold it to the city for one dollar.
It was a bad buy.
In the late '50s, about 100 homes and a school were built at the site. Perhaps it wasn't William T. Love's model city, but it was a solid, working-class community. For a while.
On the first day of August, 1978, the lead paragraph of a front-page story in the New York Times read:
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.--Twenty five years after the Hooker Chemical Company stopped using the Love Canal here as an industrial dump, 82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens, have been percolating upward through the soil, their drum containers rotting and leaching their contents into the backyards and basements of 100 homes and a public school built on the banks of the canal.
In an article prepared for the February, 1978 EPA Journal, I wrote, regarding chemical dumpsites in general, that "even though some of these landfills have been closed down, they may stand like ticking time bombs." Just months later, Love Canal exploded.
The explosion was triggered by a record amount of rainfall. Shortly thereafter, the leaching began. I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces.
And then there were the birth defects. The New York State Health Department is continuing an investigation into a disturbingly high rate of miscarriages, along with five birth-defect cases detected thus far in the area.
I recall talking with the father of one the children with birth defects. "I heard someone from the press saying that there were only five cases of birth defects here," he told me. "When you go back to your people at EPA, please don't use the phrase 'only five cases.' People must realize that this is a tiny community. Five birth defect cases here is terrifying."
A large percentage of people in Love Canal are also being closely observed because of detected high white-blood-cell counts, a possible precursor of leukemia.
When the citizens of Love Canal were finally evacuated from their homes and their neighborhood, pregnant women and infants were deliberately among the first to be taken out.
"We knew they put chemicals into the canal and filled it over," said one woman, a long-time resident of the Canal area., "but we had no idea the chemicals would invade our homes. We're worried sick about the grandchildren and their children."
Two of this woman's four grandchildren have birth defects. The children were born and raised in the Love Canal community. A granddaughter was born deaf with a cleft palate, an extra row of teeth, and slight retardation. A grandson was born with an eye defect.
Of the chemicals which comprise the brew seeping through the ground and into homes at Love Canal, one of the most prevalent is benzene -- a known human carcinogen, and one detected in high concentrations. But the residents characterize things more simply.
"I've got this slop everywhere," said another man who lives at Love Canal. His daughter also suffers from a congenital defect.
On August 7, New York Governor Hugh Carey announced to the residents of the Canal that the State Government wold purchase the homes affected by chemicals.
On that same day, President Carter approved emergency financial aid for the Love Canal area (the first emergency funds ever to be approved for something other than a "natural" disaster), and the U.S. Senate approved a "sense of Congress" amendment saying that Federal aid should be forthcoming to relieve the serious environmental disaster which had occurred.
By the month's end, 98 families had already been evacuated. Another 46 had found temporary housing. Soon after, all families would be gone from the most contaminated areas -- a total of 221 families have moved or agreed to be moved.
State figures show more than 200 purchase offers for homes have been made, totaling nearly $7 million.
A plan is being set in motion now to implement technical procedures designed to meet the seemingly impossible job of detoxifying the Canal area. The plan calls for a trench system to drain chemicals from the Canal. It is a difficult procedure, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will yield some degree of success.
I have been very pleased with the high degree of cooperation in this case among local, State, and Federal governments, and with the swiftness by which the Congress and the President have acted to make funds available.
But this is not really where the story ends.
Quite the contrary.
Unlike Love Canal, few are situated so close to human settlements. But without a doubt, many of these old dumpsites are time bombs with burning fuses -- their contents slowly leaching out. And the next victim cold be a water supply, or a sensitive wetland.
We suspect that there are hundreds of such chemical dumpsites across this Nation.
The presence of various types of toxic substances in our environment has become increasingly widespread -- a fact that President Carter has called "one of the grimmest discoveries of the modern era."
Chemical sales in the United States now exceed a mind-boggling $112 billion per year, with as many as 70,000 chemical substances in commerce.
Love Canal can now be added to a growing list of environmental disasters involving toxics, ranging from industrial workers stricken by nervous disorders and cancers to the discovery of toxic materials in the milk of nursing mothers.
Through the national environmental program it administers, the Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to draw a chain of Congressional acts around the toxics problem.
The Clean Air and Water Acts, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pesticide Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act -- each is an essential link.
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, EPA is making grants available to States to help them establish programs to assure the safe handling and disposal of hazardous wastes. As guidance for such programs, we are working to make sure that State inventories of industrial waste disposal sites include full assessments of any potential dangers created by these sites.
Also, EPA recently proposed a system to ensure that the more than 35 million tons of hazardous wastes produced in the U.S. each year, including most chemical wastes, are disposed of safely. Hazardous wastes will be controlled from point of generation to their ultimate disposal, and dangerous pratices now resulting in serious threats to health and environment will not be allowed.
Although we are taking these aggressive strides to make sure that hazardous waste is safely managed, there remains the question of liability regarding accidents occurring from wastes disposed of previously. This is a missing link. But no doubt this question will be addressed effectively in the future.
Regarding the missing link of liability, if health-related dangers are detected, what are we as s people willing to spend to correct the situation? How much risk are we willing to accept? Who's going to pick up the tab?
One of the chief problems we are up against is that ownership of these sites frequently shifts over the years, making liability difficult to determine in cases of an accident. And no secure mechanisms are in effect for determining such liability.
It is within our power to exercise intelligent and effective controls designed to significantly cut such environmental risks. A tragedy, unfortunately, has now called upon us to decide on the overall level of commitment we desire for defusing future Love Canals. And it is not forgotten that no one has paid more dearly already than the residents of Love Canal.