On the 13th of November 1974, Karen Silkwood, a union member and activist hero, was run off the road in a mysterious “one car crash”.
One day earlier, on the 12th, I was born in a sleepy suburban area of Niagara Falls, New York. At the time it was called LaSalle, but would come to be known, over the world, as Love Canal.
Was it coincidence or fate, that I would be connected in some way to both of these events in history?
Until now, I have been mainly an armchair activist. Doing research and complaining about the circumstances surrounding me, but not really making an effort to do anything substantial to change the world, as it were.
After some time searching and realizing that it may be destiny that I am connected to both a plutonium plant worker/union martyr and one of the most horrific incidents of toxic waste poisoning in history, I feel that it is now, finally, my time to stand up for what I believe and start doing something about it.
This piece (in 2 parts) is my first act of trying to put across to people who probably have no idea about the events of 1978 and 1979 in Niagara Falls exactly what happened and why we need to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
Let me begin first by giving you a small synopsis of the events in Love Canal. It seems odd to me (because I lived through this) that people don’t seem to know what love canal was. Many people on the internet (from extensive researching I have conducted) seem to think that it either never happened (ala urban myth) or that it wasn’t that serious.
Background: In 1898, William T. Love had the grand idea of digging a canal to connect the Upper and Lower Niagara River to use as a conduit for hydro-electric power. This was quite the undertaking for the time period and this canal would have brought great things to the city of Niagara Falls. However, as many projects ended up in this era, Mr. Love’s canal was never to be finished. Essentially, he ran out of dough. So, he decided to sell the canal to the chemical company in the area (Hooker Chemical) who would in turn use the canal to dump over 20,000 different types of chemical compounds. Being that the base of the canal was clay and the cap that Hooker placed on top was the same, there would have been no problem whatsoever with the dump.
Enter the Niagara Falls School Board.
During the baby boom era, Niagara Falls was growing faster than people could imagine. The school board needed more land and decided to acquire the canal property to build a grade school and several ranch house units. Hooker sold the property to the school board for a token $1 and stipulated in the contract that there was to be no digging deeper than 4 feet into the ground.
Let me pause here to state that although chemical companies are usually held culpable for their actions, Hooker was very thorough when looking at future problems and their involvement. Many times during construction at Love Canal, representatives from Hooker warned the city government of future problems, but the city wanted to build up the population and didn’t seem to care about future consequences. This, by no means, should be assumed to be an “okay” from me for the Hooker Chemical company policies. The problem with the situation is that in the early twentieth century, America was beginning to produce more and more chemicals to help us supposedly live better (“better living through chemistry”) and disposal tactics were not quite up to par.
Continuing the story…after the school and homes were built, families began moving in to these beautiful new residencies. This was a model community in the fifties and the residents had no idea what was lurking under the surface. However, soon enough strange things began happening. Brown sludge began seeping into basements. After large winter thaws residents could smell strange scents in the air that seemed to be of the chemical variety, but they didn’t think anything of it. After all, why would the city put it’s residents in any danger?
This is the big question? Why?
In 1978 everything came to a head. It was August and the cap was beginning to subside on the dump. This brought about large quantities of chemicals in our backyards, in holes which we presumed were “mole holes” but in reality were holes that had been eaten out from underneath the surface by such lethal agents as the dreaded dioxin.
To wrap up this portion of my posting, the state government became involved and evacuated 400 families in the area and closed down the 99th street grade school, which sat directly on top of the main dump area. We were forced to find alternate housing and were basically afraid for our lives.
My parents were shocked to find out that their idealic home and life was about to be ripped apart due to the travesties of the city government.
That is probably enough for now. I will continue with the story on my next entry, but until then please view the links below to see what you can do to help out present environmental problems.