Water is a necessity for life. Throughout the growth of civilization, communities sprang up near the edge of waterways. Running rivers and standing lakes provided clean drinking water, food, and energy for people. It was running water that set the gears working in the head of the charismatic entrepreneur William. T. Love. In the 1890s, Love saw a 20000-acre community in Niagara county as his plot for his utopian Model City.
Loves Model City would be located 7.5 miles away from Niagara River.
A power canal seven miles long would connect the town with the upper and lower levels of Niagara River The channeled water would be lead to the Lewiston escarpment which would create a mini Niagara Falls thus creating a major power source for the Model City.
This would create a great amount of hydroelectric power in a time which factories must be located near their power source. In January 1893, William Love went to Albany to politick for a charter for his model city.
He did so by addressing both the senate and the assembly in a joint session, a first for a private citizen. A very liberal charter was granted which gave him the right to acquire by condemnation any necessary properties. (27, Zweig) Love gained financial backing from banking giants in New York, Chicago, and London. (25, Zweig) With the charter now in hand, Love extensively promoted his model city through ads, circulars, and even brass bands playing his original ditty. (2, Love Canal Report) Manufacturers quickly lined up to open plants along the canal.
May 1894, construction in the LaSalle area began. The proposed canal would be 80ft widex30ft deep. 3,000 feet was excavated when Loves dream collapsed. A financial depression hit the country in 1896, discouraging the necessary financial backers. This was the most significant factor explaining the project's demise. Another factor had t do with the power source. Louis Tesh discovered a way to transmit electrical current economically over a distance using alternating current. Now factories did not have to pay for expensive plots of land near power sources. His backers deserted him; the remaining land was auctioned in 1910.
The only remain of Loves dream Model City was a partially built canal. Several decades afterward, it served as a swimming hole for the children of the La Salle district. (6, Love Canal Report) In the 1920s it became a dumping and municipal disposal site, chemicals of an unknown kind and quantity were buried at the site for 25-30 year period until 1953 (3, Love Canal Report)
Within fifty years, love canal went from being a charismatic entrepreneur's dream to a toxic human and environmental disaster and the fingers and legislation point directly at the dumpers. It is estimated that love canal received 22000 tonnes of chemical waste. (44, Zweig) The four main dumpers was the city of Niagara, Hooker Electrochemical Co, Niagara Power and Development Corp., and the Army, under the cover of a ceramics plant.
The Army owned the Niagara Falls Chemical Warfare Plant, which used the cover of a ceramics plant at the time. Production only of one single product that was a substance called impregnite. Once sprayed on clothes, the material was impermeable from chemical warfare emissions. Ironically, they were manufacturing a substance to protect human beings from toxic chemical contact while their dumping helped sow the seeds for another toxic chemical disaster. Even during the time the plant was in operation, pollutants from the plants were spewed out into the air. Chlorine and acetic acid was the main waste product that effectively defoliated all the nearby trees. Although in the 1940s emissions were largely unregulated, the community continued to complain. It wasnt until the factory operation was complete that smoke stack scrubbers were ordered.(122, Zweig)
The dump was then filled in with dirt and sold by the city of Niagara to contractors for a $1. (Stoss) In the late 1950s home building began. Thirty years after dumping, 100 homes were built around the canal and an elementary school was built on top. And then the rains came (2, Love Canal Report) In 1975-76, heavy precipitation drenched the area. Portions of the landfill subsided revealing 55-gallon drums. Basements began to ooze black oily liquids and a chemical odor seemed to permeate the town with origins from their basements. Corrosion was evident on concrete basement walls and managed to destroy most of the plumbing.
In 1977 complaints poured into the Health Department about chemical smells wafting through the walls for their basements. In the early spring of 1978, the State Department of Health and Environmental Conservation and the Environmental protection agency began an intensive sampling of the air, soil and groundwater. They concluded that Love Canal was a public health time bomb(6, Love canal report) April 1978; both agencies gathered enough data to call Love Canal an extremely serious threat to the health and welfare of the people (6, Love Canal Report)
The data gathered identified 80 chemical compounds in the site samples. Eleven of these are known or suspected of causing cancerous growth in laboratory animals, and one – benzene – is a well established human carcinogen.(11, Love Canal Report) The listing of chemicals has some sort of effect on all of mans physiologic systems. The chronic effects range from, anemia, blindness, deafness, respiratory distress, and liver tumors to death. Acute effects of most chemicals present include convulsions, central nervous depression, skin irritations, hepatitis, gastrointestinal damage and liver damage. (12, Love Canal Report)
The homes were categorized into ring 1 and ring 2 homes. Ring 1 being the homes at the edge of the canal and ring 2 homes around the perimeter. The basement testing reveals a lower chemicals level in the outlying homes. In the ring 1 homes, only 5% were contaminate free compared to 55% of ring 2 homes. The soil samples and progressive air samples show some migration southward. (15, Love Canal Report)
The Health Departments selected four health indicators: miscarriages, birth defects, liver function, and blood mercury levels. The mercury levels were normal in all results. Chemicals that were present in the area contribute to the role of cancer or liver damage. During the Pre-natal period, the babies had a unique susceptibility to the chemicals. Women in the south section especially had a high rate of birth defects, 3.4 times higher than the rest of the country. The children of love canal were hit the hardest. Many died of failed liver function, leukemia and being stillborn. To date 41 children have died to related chemical exposure.
The plan of action was to relocate the community. Even before the investigation was complete, the Department of Transportation real estate experts were finding new homes. In 1978, the subdivision of Love Canal had 97 families, 230 students and 134 children. The elementary school had an enrollment of 410 students. Within two years, the homes in ring 1 and 2 have alternate homes provided by the government, although some people chose to stay.
In 1980, congress passed the Superfund Act creating an agency to clean up toxic waste sites and penalize those responsible. Love Canal had a great influence over this act. Love canal may not be the worst toxic case or the first but it was the most publized. It grabbed headlines and stimulated the attention of scientists, industrial leaders, politicians, lawyers, government officals, homeowners and grassroots activists. (Stoss)
The quite unusual ending for Love Canal is that people are moving back into the area. The area had some remediation. Today the waterway is buried off under a plastic liner, clay and topsoil. Love canal itself is fenced off. The EPA has declared the area safe and homes are now being resold. The name of the town has changed to Black Creek Village. (Tuchman)
The new residences actually feel safe in the area, claiming they live in the most environmentally tested community. Resident Trudy Christmas said, This is the most tested piece of real estate in the United States. (Tuchman) She goes on saying that many people dont even know the health risks around them, at least she knows. The site of children running around troubles many former Love Canal residences that returns to visit. Many of them still have fresh wounds from watching their serious and fatally ill children trying to grasp on to life. Love canal may have a new name, it may be contained but plastic breaks. Soil caps have leaks. It may be true that we are living around chemicals everywhere but I would prefer to stay way from areas that contains 22000 tones of potentially lethal chemicals that are buried in my backyard. Its another time bomb waiting to happen.