On This Day

Love Canal, Hooker Chemicals, Love Canal Disaster
Associated Press

On This Day: President Carter Approves Emergency Financial Aid for Love Canal

August 07, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Aug. 7, 1978, President Carter approved $10 million in emergency aid to relocate families living above hazardous waste buried in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Aid for Toxic Love Canal

Between 1942 and 1952, Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corp. deposited more than 20,000 tons of chemical waste in a 16-acre site in upstate New York known as the Love Canal, a man-made canal that was constructed in the 1890s to provide water and hydroelectric power for a model industrial city

One year after Hooker Chemicals terminated use of Love Canal, the Board of Education of Niagara Falls, N.Y., purchased the site for $1. The Board intended to construct schools on the site, despite warnings from Hooker Chemicals of industrial waste located below the surface. Some of the land was also sold to build houses.

The problems associated with living near the hazardous waste became most evident in 1976, 23 years after the Board’s purchase. Uncommonly strong rains weakened the chemical landfill, and chemicals leaking from corroded barrels began to surface.
“Ponds and other surface water area became contaminated, basements began to ooze an oily residue, and noxious chemical odors permeated the area,” according to the University at Buffalo.

Air tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed the toxic vapors present in basements at Love Canal to be a serious health threat. The uncommonly high rate of miscarriages and birth defects reported among those living in Love Canal seemed to have a plausible explanation.

New York Health Commissioner Robert Whalen called the site “an extremely serious threat and danger to the health and safety of those living near it” and advised pregnant women and young children to leave the area immediately, reported Time.

On Aug. 7, 1978, President Jimmy Carter approved emergency financial aid to relocate residents living in proximity to the chemicals. New York state would use the funds to buy 236 homes in the area for $10 million.

Two years later, on May 21, 1980, President Carter declared Love Canal a national emergency, setting in motion the relocation of another 710 families. It was America’s first non-natural federal emergency.

Creation of the Superfund Program

In 1980, at the request of the Carter administration, Congress passed a bill creating the Superfund Program, an EPA-run initiative “designed to locate, investigate, and clean up the most hazardous sites nationwide,” according to the EPA.

In 2004, the Love Canal was removed from the Superfund’s list of sites in need of its help. The cleanup cost almost $400 million and took 21 years to complete.

Lawsuits Against Hooker, Occidental

In December 1979, the Department of Justice filed for lawsuits seeking more than $117 million from Hooker Chemical Co. and its parent corporation, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, for clean-up costs. It was, according to an Environmental Protection Agency press release, “one of largest environmental complaints ever lodged by the Federal government against a major corporation.”

In 1995, the lawsuit was settled. Occidental Chemical Corporation agreed to pay $129 million to cover the $101 million cleanup and $28 million in interest. The money was paid to the EPA’s Superfund and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

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