In 1896 William Love began construction on a canal connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that bypassed Niagara Falls to be used to generate hydroelectric power. It was never completed and in the 1920s became a landfill for the city of Niagara Falls. Eventually, the U.S. military started dumping chemical warfare waste including some from the Manhattan Project. However, it was in 1942 that the main culprit, Hooker Chemical Company began dumping its toxic waste into the canal.
From 1942-1953 Hooker dumped more than 21,000 tons of carcinogenic and teratogenic chemicals into the canal. As early as 1945 the company was notified of the possible dangers of the site, and during the 11 years that Hooker used Love Canal as a landfill employees reported to management that children were playing in the unused and contaminated sections of the canal. Recommendations to build a fence were also rejected as Hooker looked the other way. When it came time to stop the dumping, the only precaution was a clay cover designed to prevent the chemicals from seeping out and into the ground.
However, Hooker's main reason for halting the dumping lies in the arrogant stupidity of the city of Niagara Falls. In 1953 the company was approached by the city to "donate" the land on Love Canal for a new school (it stands abandoned, the 93rd Street School). Hooker was obviously reluctant to do so over the blatant dangers of building a school on a toxic waste dump. Nonetheless, the school board simply threatened to take it over through "eminent domain." Hooker even took the school board on a tour of the property warning them of the dangers. But in the end Hooker was pressured into selling the land to the city for $1. However, as much as they were forced into selling the land, they still have share some responsibility, as they did accept a $2,382.96 tax deduction.
Early on in the construction of the school, Hooker's fears of health risks, not helped by the fact that neither they, nor the city was held responsible for any problems regarding the property, were realized. First the school's location had to be moved because there were two pits of chemicals dumped there. Then the city began construction of sanitary and storm sewers in 1957. The following year, children playing in the area were exposed to the open chemicals and developed skin irritation. Hooker again warned the board to stop digging, but the school board ignored them.
During all this homes were being built around the contaminated and leaking (due to the constant construction, the clay barrier had cracked). By 1977 the dangers were obvious and Love Canal was a disaster area as chemical odors filled the Love Canal neighborhood. Orange goo was oozing through sump pumps. Children and animals were getting chemical burns from playing in dirt and there were reports of chemical explosions throughout the area.
What had happened was that as a result of the cracking of the clay barrier and natural corrosion of the steel drums they were kept in, the chemicals had traveled form the dump site through underground passageways called "swales."
Today, the government has found more than 400 deadly chemicals, including dioxin, in the Love Canal region and the area is fenced off (though it isn't really guarded). More than 700 families were forced to move and many homes were demolished.
"They [the government] said, 'Don't go in your basement. Don't eat out of your garden. Don't do this, don't do that, but it's perfectly safe to live in Love Canal.'" -- Lois Gibbs
Peter Jennings. The Century