Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Love Canal

When I think of the words Love Canal I can’t help but imagine a ride at an amusement park. ( I know you boys are thinking something ELSE)  You and your date carefully climb into a little wooden boat and slowly drift through the ever-romantic Love Canal. You look into each others eyes, hand in hand, and at that moment you realize you have fallen in love. Unfortunately, we have to put all preconceptions aside for this story, because there is nothing romantic about it. 

Sometime around the 1890s in Buffalo New York, William T. Love had a dream to build a “hydroelectric channel” through Niagara Falls. He also wanted to build a little city with schools and homes and parks around Lake Ontario. Unfortunately, all this wholesome dream left was a 50 foot wide and 1 mile long pit where part of the canal was to be. 

Around the 1920s, local kids used the pit as a swimming hole and  in the summer and as a skating rink in the winter. However, in the 1940’s the U.S. Army began offloading hazardous waste left over from World War Two and the Manhattan Project. Eventually a company called Hooker Chemical purchased it, and between 1942 and 1953 Hooker used this site to bury 22,000 tons of chemical waste barrels. Eventually the ditch was full, so they threw some dirt on it and grass grew over the dumpsite. To the naked eye this was just a field, no one would have imagined the disaster that waited beneath. 

Needing more space for kids, the Niagara Falls School Board asked Hooker Chemicals if they could purchase the land. After a carefully constructed deed Hooker sold it for $1.00 to the Niagara Falls School Board. The deed specifically stated that the land should not be used for building, and that they would not be held responsible for any health problems caused by the toxic waste buried only 25 feet from the surface. 

The school was built anyway, and it was only a matter of time before kids began complaining about burning rashes and unexplainable allergies. Babies in the area were born with deformities, adult were getting sick, mothers having miscarriages, and stillborn babies. The toxic waste even began seeping in through their basement walls in the form of a sort of black sludge. Apparently in the 1970s there was a period of heavy rains, which brought all the toxic waste up to the surface. It was even said that at one point the ground collapsed exposing the toxic filled barrels. The ditch filled with rain-water, and the local kids enjoyed playing in it.  A parents worse nightmare, their children were being born with tremendous health problems and deformities. 

“Baby Sheri Schroeder was born with an irregular heart beat and a hole in the heart wall, nasal bone blockages, partial deafness, deformed ears and a cleft palate. As she grew, her family realized she was mentally retarded. Her teeth arrived in a double row on her lower jaw, and she suffered from an enlarged liver.” – Wired.com

There was nothing done about this till 1978, when it was declared one of the worse environmental disasters in United States History. The school was shut down and the area of Niagara Falls was evacuated. It cost 250 Million dollars to clean that mess up. 

William T Love had a vision, to create a town that would grow and flourish, he had a vision for a town where kids could play without the threat of being burned by the toxic chemicals lurking beneath the surface. (During William T. Loves time, these chemical compounds didn’t exist) Not only did he never realize his dream, but the remnants of his project goes down in history as one of the worse environmental disasters. Poor dude.

The really frightening part is that this didn't take place THAT long ago. 

 Sources: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/11/dayintech_1121


  1. Pretty intense. More than 220 families had to move because of this.