Accusations by some of the new residents of the infamous Love Canal neighborhood cry out for an independent environmental investigation.
As recently reported by News staff writers Charlie Specht and Dan Herbeck, three families have filed a $113 million state lawsuit alleging that the chemical landfill at Love Canal is leaking. The suit claims that people have become ill as a result.
It’s a familiar story, and one dating back to the 1970s. Back then, some residents in the Niagara Falls neighborhood fled their homes following the discovery of toxic chemicals blamed for sickening or killing children and adults.
Hundreds of families were evacuated after then-President Jimmy Carter declared portions of the neighborhood an environmental disaster area in 1979. Then came the cleanup and burial of the chemicals, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
There was solid optimism among many that this was once again a safe place to live. Homes in one area were refurbished and the neighborhood was renamed Black Creek Village. In 1998 a $100,000 playground and walking trail were built about 100 yards from the toxic landfill. A year later a senior housing complex with 80 units was built across from the landfill entrance. Finally, a $1 million baseball and softball complex was built in 2004 on the site of the former 93rd Street School, which was demolished along with 300 homes during two waves of evacuation.
Nearly 25 years after the state and federal governments declared that the neighborhood was safe, despite the 21,800 tons of toxic waste still buried in the ground, new questions have arisen.
Zachary and Melanie Herr live on 93rd Street in what they thought was their $40,000 dream house in a suburban-like and safe neighborhood.
But their dream has turned into a nightmare. First the pets got sick, and then the children. No assurances from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose spokesman told reporters, “People love it here,” or test results are likely to convince those who believe they were betrayed.
As reported, Glenn Springs Holdings, a subsidiary of Occidental Chemical, monitors the 70-acre toxic landfill 24 hours a day. And Glenn Springs pays another company, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, to run the landfill. Wastewater from the site goes to the multilayered system of cleaning before heading into the Niagara River.
While it is heartening to know that the state Department of Environmental Conservation works closely with Glenn Springs, the relationship between Glenn Springs and Conestoga-Rovers means the monitoring is not truly independent of the operation of the landfill. In the past the state DEC hired laboratories to do independent analysis of some samples, but independent testing hasn’t been done in the past two years.
And then there’s the poisonous waste discovered in a Colvin Boulevard sanitary sewer test outside the landfill in 2011. State and federal environmental officials want to chalk it up to residual material in an isolated section from decades ago, but given Love Canal’s history, the discovery has to raise red flags.
State and federal officials may be correct that the hazards have been thoroughly cleaned up and safely stored, but the fact that safety reports on the landfill are compiled by the very company running it cries out for an independent examination.
Like their predecessors in the 1970s, Zachary and Melanie Herr deserve answers by an objective, independent source trusted by all.