Love Canal, New York, 1978

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an area called Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, became America’s most infamous toxic waste site. Media coverage at the time showed images of holes in backyards filling with thick, black, substances; toxic chemicals entering basements through sumps and walls; a grade school closing because of dangers to children; angry citizens screaming at local, state, and federal officials to do something; housewives taking officials hostage. Hundreds of families living next to Love Canal were evacuated because of the health risks associated with the over 20,000 tons of toxic chemical waste that had been dumped in the canal by a chemical company in the 1940s and 1950s.

The post World War II expansion of the American economy, including the chemical industry, provided not only many valuable products but also some very dangerous by-products that had to be disposed of somewhere.  A company dumped its chemical wastes in Love Canal and within a short time those chemicals surfaced on playgrounds, and migrated into people’s homes.  An entire neighborhood was destroyed.  The cleanup of the toxic waste site took over ten years and parts of the area remain uninhabitable.

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