2003.8.5 – love canal, revisited

2 August 1978 – The New York State Commissioner of Health declares a state of emergency at the Love Canal site in Niagara Falls, New York. All pregnant women and children under two are advised to seek shelter somewhere else, if possible.

The fated day. The day that we knew it was all real. That our fears had been realized. There were real chemicals bubbling under the ground in our backyards. There was toxic waste seeping through our basement walls. We were being contaminated by a substance that was decades old and the only solution was to run.

Being merely 4 years old, it was difficult to understand exactly what was taking place. My grandparents house was a nice vacation and that was all I believed I was taking. A vacation from home. A day at the pool. A fun time that would end when my mother would pick me up to go home. Little did I know, there no longer was a home. Home was where the toxins lurked and my mother made sure we were moved out that day.

2 August 1978 – The last day we saw our house from the inside. The rumours around the neighbourhood all came true on that day and the reaction was quick and severe. There was no time to waste and my mother would never let her child enter that home again. Even though I left a toy or two. Even though I wanted to go back in. My mother stayed strong and didn’t let me see her tears as she drove me away from the only house I had ever known.

Panic-stricken. Any 25 year old mother being evacuated from her home because of contamination within would have felt it. Any 65 year old spinster would have felt it. Anyone with any sense of fear at all would have most certainly felt it.

2 August 1978 – The day that my parents dreams were dashed. Their first home as a couple and family had turned out to be a toxic bomb. What would happen now? How would we be able to rent an apartment or get another mortgage if we couldn’t pay off the first one? Would the government come through for us?

7 August 1978 – The President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, declared Love Canal an emergency and provided funds to relocate the 239 families in the area. Our prayers were answered, for now. This was a great relief and my parents were happy to be able to not worry about the home, but what about the effects of the chemicals on our bodies? What would be the long term effects? Would my mother become sick because she spent much of her time in the basement doing laundry right next to the seeping sludge through the wall? Would I be effected as I grew because I was in the basement much of the time with my mother?

Health problems are never connected to chemicals. Doctors will not admit that a chemical substance could be attributed to any sickness. Why would they? Lawsuits are sticky and more trouble then anyone needs. You could have a chemical dumped on you while walking down the street and there would be a way for the doctors to turn it around on you. It would be your fault for walking down the street at that particular time and therefore, your sickness was caused by you.

This is not to say that some doctors may concur that certain illnesses can be attributed to chemical factors, they just don’t want to committ to that on a personal level with their patients.

Take a drive through Love Canal and notice the signs. “Deaf Child Area” on every street. Coincidence? Practically every home had a child or adult with a medical problem. Birth defects ran rampant for citizens in this small section of Niagara Falls.

This weekend there were several events involving the Love Canal mouthpiece, Ms. Lois Gibbs. She came back into town for a rare visit to give toxic tours of Love Canal and other dumpsites in Western New York. Ms. Gibbs fled from the scene after the evacuations, but her voice was still loud and clear. She continued to fight for the rights of the residents, she just did it from a safer place. Unfortunately, when Ms. Gibbs visits Niagara Falls, she brings negative attention to the area. She gets to go home, but there are still residents in other areas of the city other than Love Canal. This has become a downtrodden area and bad publicity is not the solution.

One Superfund site and the whole city gets a bad rap. Not to say that there are not other areas in Niagara Falls that needed cleanup, but they have been contained. It is not the best idea to move back to the Love Canal area, but other parts of the city are still habitable. Ms. Gibbs blows into town, makes a few headlines and then bolts back to her home far away.

In 1978, the lives of hundreds of people were changed. Upheaval was a daily occurance and there was nothing that anyone could really do about it. The city officials of the time were paying the price of city officials decades prior and the blame was falling squarely on their shoulders. They had to try and right the wrongs of the past. They had to see through the eyes of the families that were effected.

2 August 1978 – The officials saw. The people were set free from a life of contamination. The eyes of the world were opened and millions of people were exposed to something that they could not believe. The country was better for it. The citizens were united because of it. The world is wiser from it.


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