By Lois Marie Gibbs
This year marks 35 years since residents in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls sounded the alarm on toxic chemicals. Over 800 families were relocated and the federal Superfund program was created to clean up the nation’s most polluted toxic waste sites.
During the last century, the U.S. side of Niagara Falls pursued industry, notably chemical processes, while the Canadian side pursued tourism. Ultimately, the chemical economy on the U.S. side largely went south, leaving behind the enormous financial costs of contamination and public health consequences.
Today the state is investing in Niagara Falls tourism, a smart and sustainable move. Sadly, the Dyster administration is not. Clearly the city hasn’t learned that tourism and pollution are just not compatible.
Several months ago, the City of Niagara Falls approved a rail plan for Covanta Niagara, the 13th-largest waste incinerator in the United States. The public was told Covanta would simply be swapping Toronto garbage by truck for New York City garbage by train. That’s not true. New York City garbage would predominantly displace most waste Covanta received from Erie and other area counties in 2012.
Moreover, the city also approved rail capacity estimated at 3 million tons of garbage annually, or six times Covanta’s current request. Covanta has not ruled out a future rail “transfer station” for off-loading garbage for landfills in an already overburdened region.
In a 2011 review of seven Covanta owned or operated waste incinerators in the state, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed that waste incinerators emit more harmful air pollution in producing energy than coal-fired plants.
Covanta rail access would all but ensure toxic incineration over the entire region for the next 30 years. It would be tragic for Niagara Falls to continue to be the garbage wonder of the world rather than the beautiful place people want to visit, spend money and enjoy Niagara Falls in all of its wonder.
Also troubling is the reported lack of two-way communication between the city administration and community stakeholders during the past 10 months.
After 35 years of progress, the perilous Covanta Niagara proposal shows there is more work to do in Niagara Falls and across the country.
As I make my travel plans to attend the 35th anniversary celebration event on Oct. 22 in Niagara Falls, I feel disappointed in the Dyster administration because lessons have not been learned from Love Canal and so many other environmental problems in the city. As a result, I am saddened that this great city may never reach its real economic potential.
Lois Marie Gibbs, a former Love Canal resident, is director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Falls Church, Va.