|Ten Worst Environmental Disasters: The Love Canal|
|Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps|
|Wednesday, 04 July 2012 07:54|
Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps
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The Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, gets its name from the man who had a vision of a “Perfect” city. William T. Love planned to dig a six miles long canal that would connect upper and lower Niagara Rivers and provide cheap electricity from water energy.
Love’s project was approved and started coming together. Work began in 1894. Factories were attracted to the region, appealed by the proximity to a cheap source of energy. But at one point, financial resources lacked due to the fragile economy, so the digging of the Canal stopped. In addition, Nikola Tesla discovered a way to generate cheap electricity through great distances, with the consequence that Love’s project was now considered irrelevant for industries.
By 1920, the 3000 feet long Canal became a chemical dump center for regional industries. About 20 000 tonnes of various chemicals were buried in the Canal. At the time, there was no law regulating the disposition of toxic wastes, so the dumping site was only covered with clay. Later in the 50’s, an elementary school was built over the Love Canal. Houses were built around the school, and people lived there without knowing about the dangerous toxic waste below their feet.
Then, some citizens noticed strange odors and substances emerging from the soils. The houses circling the Love Canal had toxic vapours emanating from their basement. Many children attending the Elementary school suffered from various health problems. In 1978, The Health Department analysed the air and soil near the Canal. In total, 82 chemicals were identified in the area. The most dangerous one was benzene, a harmful carcinogen.
In August 1978, after the results of the study came out, the government bough 239 houses situated in the risk zone close to the Canal. In 1980, the whole Love Canal community, a total of 900 families, were evacuated.
Birth defects and miscarriages had become common to the region. Many children were born with urinary and kidney problems, mental retardation or physical malformation. After analysing blood samples, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that citizens had chromosome damage, which exposed them to risks of cancer, reproductive diseases and genetic problems caused by exposure to chemical carcinogens. Benzene is known to inhibit cell division.
The clean up was long and costly. A tile drain system collected the contaminated groundwater that leaked out the Canal. Collected water is treated and almost all the chemicals are removed from it. A new reinforced clay cover is sealing the dump. The dangerous area is now only isolated by a fence and some families still live close to the Canal, aware of the risks, but attracted by the cheap rent.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
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