Lessons Learned From the Love Canal Environmental Crisis Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2327 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Transportation - Environmental Issues

¶ … history of Love Canal, the lessons learned, and the movement toward a proactive response to environmental protection.

The tragic experience of the Love Canal served as a catalyst for the United States to develop public policies to protect the public against harm from toxic waste. Indeed, several lessons emerged from the Love Canal; and, nearly thirty years later, the Love Canal is still considered instrumental in starting the environmental protection movement. Several environmental protections can be specifically traced back to this tragedy. However, while lessons were indeed learned, it appears that perhaps with the passage of time that the poignancy of these lessons has been diminished. As a result, some of the initial protections that were provided as a result of this tragedy are no longer provided. As noted by the housewife turned environmentalist as a result of the medical complaints suffered by residents of Love Canal, Lois Marie Gibbs, in 2008 upon the thirtieth anniversary of the Love Canal case, the lessons learned from Love Canal will be lost unless the United States repairs Superfund. As such, this paper will provide a general background of the Love Canal, the environmental lessons learned from the Love Canal, and the legacy for the future of the Love Canal.

Background: History of the Love Canal

"It was like a Hitchcock movie where everything looks peaceful and pleasant, but something is slumbering under the ground."

-Adeline Levine, sociologist and author of Love Canal:

science, politics, and people.

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Today, at the site of the infamous Love Canal, flowers grow behind a chain-link fence. At first glance, one might never know that something hideous and horrific happened in this area of New York decades ago. In fact, the story of the Love Canal begins over thirty years ago and provides this generation valuable environmental lessons which we should heed today (Engelhaupt, 2009).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Lessons Learned From the Love Canal Environmental Crisis Assignment

Love Canal is anything but a love story. Love Canal is tragedy and, more literally, a region of land in Niagara Falls, New York. This area was named after William T. Love who in the latter part of the nineteenth century, possessed a utopian version of a neighborhood built along a canal wherein he could produce hydroelectric power from a plant to support the energy needs of the neighborhood. In the 1890's, he put his vision into action and began excavating a canal in a seventy-acre area of land (De Angelo, 2006).

Eventually, William T. Love realized that his dream community would not be fulfilled since he did not have the funding to continue. As a result, Love abandoned his utopian vision leaving behind a canal that was sixty feet wide and three thousand feet long. In 1920, Love's land was sold at public auction. From then on, the land became a dumping ground for wastes from a variety of sources: Hooker Chemical Corporation (today known as Occidental Chemical Corporation), the City of Niagara, and the even United States Army. In fact, the Army may have used the entrenchment to dump highly hazardous parts of the Manhattan Project as well as other toxic chemical warfare materials (Gibbs, 1983).

From approximately 1920 to 1952, it is estimated that 21,000 tons of chemicals were placed into the "Love Canal." These chemicals included, but were not limited to, alkalines, chlorinated hydrocarbons, caustics, fatty acids (Blum, 2008), pesticides, dioxin, and chlorobenzenes (De Angelo, 2006). Hooker Chemical Corporation purchased the land from the City of Niagara in 1947. In 1952, prior to selling the land, Hooker Chemical Corporation filled in what remained of the canal with dirt and within a year, vegetation grew over the canal hiding the toxicity underneath (Engelhaupt, 2008).

In 1953, the city of Niagara was expanding at a rapid pace and there was a need for land to keep up with the burgeoning population. Accordingly, Hooker Chemical Corporation agreed to sell the land to the Niagara Falls School District for a nominal dollar. Built into the sale of land was a limited liability clause waiving Hooker Chemical from any potential future liability as a result of dumping which occurred on the land. In 1954, the Niagara Falls School District built an elementary school on the property and a neighborhood of homes was also built on the land with one of the homeowners ever given disclosure of the land's toxic history. Moreover, there was nothing to lead the potential homeowners to discover what lay underneath since vegetation had grown over the original canal and the toxins that lay within. By 1978, the area had developed rather extensively with approximately 400 single family homes, 240 apartment units, and an elementary school on its land (Gibbs, 1983).

During the 1960's, strange odors filled the neighborhood. By the 1970's, the intrusion of chemicals showed itself in actual toxins appearing from below the ground and seeping into the basements and backyards of the families within Love Canal. Furthermore, toxins had also runoff into the sewer system and into the creeks around the Niagara River, which provided the drinking water for this community of approximately 80,000 people (De Angelo, 2006).

During this time period, people within the community began experiencing ill health such as unexplained illnesses, birth defects, and mental disorders. In 1978, in order to face the growing concerns, Lois Marie Gibbs, started the Love Canal Parents Movement because she knew that a landfill was close to the school (she did not know her house was on a landfill) and she had a child afflicted with illness. Once she began talking to other parents, she realized she was not alone and that this was a community problem. In August of 1978, the New York State Department of Health ordered pregnant women and children two years and younger to be evacuated and told residents to stop eating food from their gardens and to refrain from going into their basements. Within a week of the health order, the Love Canal Homeowners Association was formed expanding upon the Parents group (Gibbs, 1983). In 1979, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that residents had an alarmingly high rate of miscarriages, cancers, and nervous disorders, and consequently declared the area an environmental disaster (Blum, 2008, pp.26-28). In short, due to the effects of the toxicity of the land, a grass roots environmental action committee formed to help the residents of the Love Canal mobilize in order to tackle the issues associated with living on a landfill and foundation full of toxins.

Method of Inquiry: A Literature Review of lessons learned

A review of the literature in this area demonstrates that there is a general consensus in the environmental community that the Love Canal was not only devastating, but it served to provide several lessons regarding the power of citizen-mobilization, the protection of the public, laws regarding the disposal of hazardous waste, and how to effectively handle an environmental crisis.

While the public agencies initially mandated and funded the evacuation of 240 families, there were more individuals and homes affected by the toxins that needed to be assisted. Accordingly, in order for the government to understand the depth of their concerns and for the media to hear them, the Love Canal Homeowner's Association mobilized and protested in a variety of ways: marching on Mother's Day, carrying symbolic coffins to capital of New York, holding prayer vigils, and picketing daily even during wintertime. Finally, the pressure caused by the mobilization of the Association, the state addressed their concerns and gave them an extensive safety plan, a scientist to help them, and $200,000 to pay for some of the medical expenses incurred by the aggrieved parties (Gibbs, 1983). While the residents learned that their mobilization and collaboration with one another can lead to government response, they also learned from the information gained from the appointed scientist that even low levels of chemical exposure can have an effect on the human body. Moreover, in the words of the founder of this community and this grass roots community action group:

"The government will protect you from this when you force them to. If you think you're safe, think again. We can only count on ourselves to safeguard our families' health through vigilance, knowledge, and collective action" (Id).

In addition to providing insight regarding the power of grass-roots mobilization as well as governments' tendency toward lackluster response without it, Love Canal provides an important lesson for governmental public health agencies regarding how to effectively work with the public in such situations. In the Love Canal story, the people's relationship with the health agency began to deteriorate quickly as a result of several factors:

(1) officials could not or would not provide straight and honest answers;

(2) officials appeared condescending in their interactions with the public; and,

(3) officials did not know how to approach the collection of data (Engelhaupt, 2009).

Indeed, in short, the public health agencies' reaction to Love Canal's issues and the cries of the public were fundamentally flawed in that they failed to establish rapport and trust amongst the community, they treated victims in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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