Nearly one-third of the people who recently applied to join a Love Canal lawsuit no longer live in Niagara Falls.
And at least one of those people, according to a Buffalo News analysis of court records, never did live in the Love Canal neighborhood.
“I anticipate that we’re going to see some derivative claims filed in this lawsuit. That is, claims filed by people who never lived at Love Canal but who had parents or grandparents who lived near the Love Canal,” said Douglas A. Janese Jr., an assistant corporation counsel who is defending the city of Niagara Falls against the $113 million state lawsuit. “At this point, we have no way of knowing if these claims are legitimate or not. We may not know the real truth until we get these people in front of a jury.”
Because of the size and complexity of the case, legal experts predict that it’s going to take one to three years of pretrial wrangling before the case goes to trial.
The lawsuit has raised new questions about public safety in the neighborhood surrounding Love Canal, a 70-acre toxic landfill site surrounded by homes, playgrounds, baseball fields and senior citizen facilities.
While state and federal government officials insist the neighborhood is safe, attorneys for more than 600 plaintiffs claim that dangerous chemicals have leaked from the landfill onto the properties of nearby homeowners, creating a “public health catastrophe.”
Buffalo News reporters examined 596 notices of claim filed by people – including current and former residents of the Love Canal neighborhood – who wish to join the lawsuit. The News also spoke to several of those people, including one woman who never has lived in the Love Canal neighborhood and a former neighborhood resident who hasn’t lived near Love Canal since 1981.
“I lived there from 1971 to 1981. I have health problems that I believe were caused by the chemicals and Love Canal, and my son does, too,” said Albert Herbert, 58, a bus driver now living in Charlotte, N.C. “I have had severe headaches for many years, and I had prostate cancer. My son is 10 years old, and he gets severe headaches. My doctor says he has no explanation for it.”
Herbert recently became a plaintiff in the case, and so did Kendra Baldwin, 29, who lives in Niagara Falls, but has never lived in the Love Canal neighborhood. Baldwin said her mother, Sharon Brown, grew up near Love Canal.
Baldwin said she recently petitioned to join the lawsuit because she is convinced that Love Canal chemicals caused numerous health problems suffered by her mother, by Baldwin and Baldwin’s three children. She declined to give details of the health problems.
Critics of the Love Canal neighborhood, including some people who live in the neighborhood, have claimed to The News that some plaintiffs are making a “money grab” by blaming health problems on chemicals at the landfill.
The city of Niagara Falls is one of 14 defendants named in the lawsuit. Mayor Paul A. Dyster said city officials are concerned about the lawsuit but are trying to prevent it from creating hysteria in the community.
Based on information he’s received from state and federal agencies, Dyster said he believes the landfill is functioning properly and that the neighborhood is safe.
“I don’t want to trivialize the concerns,” Dyster said of the lawsuit claims. “At the same time, I don’t want to create more concern than is warranted ... My office gets no phone calls from concerned citizens about Love Canal.”
City attorneys said the 596 notices of claim recently filed in the case contain mostly “boilerplate” language and contain little detail about what alleged illnesses were caused by Love Canal chemicals.
“So many details are lacking that it would be difficult for us to determine how to defend the case,” Janese said.
For that reason, the city probably will seek to “reject” the notices of claim, which could set the stage for a series of depositions of each of the people who filed the notices of claim, Dyster said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit could not be reached to comment on Friday.