NIAGARA FALLS – Fifteen new lawsuits were filed Friday on behalf of current and past Niagara Falls residents who say their health was damaged by toxic waste emanating from Love Canal.
Counting three previous lawsuits that included six families, Friday’s filings bring the number of plaintiffs in the new Love Canal litigation to exactly 1,000.
The new cases, totaling 994 plaintiffs, were filed in State Supreme Court in Niagara County against the city, Occidental Chemical Corp. and a variety of contractors who worked on Love Canal in some manner between 1978 and 2011.
The 18 lawsuits were triggered by a Jan. 11, 2011, incident that involved toxic chemicals allegedly spewing from a city sewer line on Colvin Boulevard near 96th Street, within sight of the fenced-off Love Canal containment area where thousands of tons of toxic chemicals are buried.
However, the litigation attempts to win damages for some health claims dating back before the declaration of the Love Canal state of emergency on Aug. 2, 1978.
William M. Mack, an attorney with the New York City law firm Phillips & Paolicelli, one of four firms involved in the litigation, contended that the 40-acre Love Canal containment area is leaking.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has strongly denied that, saying the chemicals that burst from the Colvin Boulevard sewer were trapped there for decades and were missed by previous cleanup efforts. The DEC said that no other evidence of toxic materials were found in any of the 16 other sewers repaired in 2011 in the LaSalle area of Niagara Falls.
Mack said many of the plaintiffs attended public meetings held in Niagara Falls to discuss health problems that allegedly resulted from toxic chemicals, although he denied that the law firms were recruiting plaintiffs at those events.
Besides Mack’s firm, the other attorneys for the plaintiffs are Waters & Kraus of Dallas; Fanizzi & Barr of Niagara Falls; and Christen Civiletto Morris of East Amherst.
Most of the 1,000 plaintiffs still live in Niagara Falls, although dozens are scattered throughout Niagara and Erie counties or elsewhere in New York. One is currently an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility.
Other plaintiffs live in 18 different states or Ontario. “To the extent they were all over the country, they are all former residents of Niagara Falls,” Mack said.
Some of the lawsuits are differentiated by the type of health problems the plaintiffs claim. There are two suits by plaintiffs who claim they or their children suffer from birth defects; two that emphasize heart ailments; and one that concentrates on cancer sufferers.
But most of the suits contain a wide range of health complaints, ranging from autoimmune disorders to soft or crumbling teeth.
The city and the Niagara Falls Water Board, formed in 2003, are accused of failing to properly maintain a sewer system free of toxic chemicals.
Occidental is being sued because its corporate predecessor, Hooker Chemical, dumped 21,000 tons of toxic waste in the former Love Canal, leading to the environmental disaster that resulted in the federal government buying scores of residents out of their homes.
Mack said plaintiffs with claims that predate 1978 will seek damages only from Occidental.
Other defendants include Sevenson Environmental Services of Niagara Falls, accused of negligence in the original Love Canal cleanup more than 30 years ago.
CECOS International is accused in the suit of doing substandard work in the construction of the containment area.
Glenn Springs Holdings, an Occidental subsidiary, is accused of negligence in its monitoring of the containment area since 1995.
Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, a local engineering firm working for Glenn Springs, is accused of failing to monitor the site properly since 2008, and also of negligence in responding to the 2011 sewer incident.
Its predecessor in the monitoring, Miller Springs Remediation, was accused of negligence in its work from 1998 to 2008.
Scott Lawn Yard, a Sanborn company hired by the water board for the 17 sewer projects in LaSalle in 2011, is accused of causing the mishap on Colvin Boulevard as it excavated a 50-foot section of sewer pipe.
Op-Tech Environmental Services, a contractor that worked on repairing the Colvin sewer after the leak, is accused of doing that job poorly, as is subcontractor Roy’s Plumbing. The latter is accused of trying to wash down the street with a high-pressure water jet that, according to the lawsuit, merely spread the chemicals farther.
Three companies carrying the name of John J. Gross Jr., the Niagara Falls plumber who has been sent to federal prison three times, also are named. They were accused of inspecting homes near Love Canal and telling the residents, allegedly falsely, that their homes were free of toxic chemicals.