LOCKPORT, N.Y. (CN) - Mishandling of a toxic "stew" of chemicals from Love Canal caused birth defects, cancer and other illnesses after they were released during sewer repair work in 2011, hundreds of residents near Niagara Falls claim in court.
More than 500 plaintiffs claim that "negligent, reckless, and/or ineffective remediation" at the infamous hazardous waste site decades ago allowed the chemicals to remain in a sewer line and create a "public health catastrophe" for residents who resettled in the area after it was declared safe for habitation.
"Although both state and federal authorities ordered the Love Canal area to be environmentally remediated, at present the toxins that defendant Occidental/Hooker wrongfully dumped on the site continue to escape from the Love Canal containment area, continue to be present in and around the sewers in the Love Canal area (including the homes of the plaintiffs), and continue to systemically invade the adjacent neighborhoods," the residents claim in 15 lawsuits in Niagara County Supreme Court.
The Buffalo News counted "exactly 1,000" plaintiffs. Courthouse News confirmed more than 500 of them.
Occidental Chemical Corp., successor to Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corp., is named as a defendant in all of the lawsuits. Also named as defendants are the city of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls Water Board, and 11 entities involved at various times in remediation, maintenance and/or monitoring of the site.
Love Canal became synonymous with environmental disaster after long-buried industrial waste bubbled to the surface and contaminated a section of Niagara Falls. New York State and the federal government declared states of emergency for the site in 1978 and 1981, moving families out, razing homes and ordering a cleanup.
The complaints say Love Canal got its name from William Love, a local entrepreneur who in the late 1800s planned to dig a canal between the upper and lower sections of the Niagara River to create a waterfall that could generate cheap hydroelectric power for industry. The partially excavated project was abandoned after the invention of alternating current made it unnecessary for factories to locate adjacent to power sources.
In the 1940s, Hooker Chemical took over the site, and for the next decade dumped industrial waste into the canal, according to the lawsuits. Municipal waste also was dumped there by the city of Niagara Falls.
Occidental/Hooker "improperly dumped more than 21,000 tons of toxic waste on the Love Canal site, some of it loose and some of it in metal drums buried just beneath the surface," the residents say in their complaints.
Some 253 "distinct chemicals" have been identified in the Occidental/Hooker waste, according to the complaints, including benzene hexachloride, a component of the pesticide lindane, a carcinogenic neurotoxin; chlorobenzenes, used in the synthesis of DDT; and dioxin, also carcinogenic.
Occidental/Hooker sold the site in 1953 to the Niagara Falls Board of Education, which subsequently built an elementary school atop the capped dump. A residential building boom followed, according to the complaints, and by 1978, some 800 single-family homes and 240 low-income apartments were in the neighborhood.
Residents began complaining about noxious odors to state and federal environmental agencies in the 1960s; contaminated groundwater came to the surface in the 1970s, fueled by a series of wet winters that raised the water table.