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#133 - EPA Wants To Rename Love Canal 'Sunrise City,' Move People Back Into Contaminated Neighborhoo, 12-Jun-1989

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will move
families back into homes in contaminated neighborhoods at Love Canal,
near Niagara Falls, New York, this summer. WE ARE ASKING OUR READERS TO
letters. Here's why it is important:

The EPA plans to rename Love Canal "Sunrise City," so "Love Canal" will
disappear from America's vocabulary. It is a move calculated to
eradicate the major symbol of corporate stupidity and greed that
launched the grass roots movement for environmental justice back in
1980, when housewife Lois Gibbs gathered her courage, rallied her
neighbors, fought a bitter struggle for her children's lives, and
forced the phrase "toxic waste" onto evening TV news screens across

As a direct result of a terrific fight waged by Lois and her neighbors
in the late '70s, President Jimmy Carter in 1980 responded to pressure
in a human way, and the federal government bought 235 homes and moved
the families out. Now the federal government, and many state
governments, are facing similar demands all across the country: people
living near toxic chemical dumps are demanding to be bought out and
relocated. After nearly a decade of eyewash and promises, it has become
clear that the Superfund program to clean up 1000 chemical dumps isn't
going anywhere. The EPA has not been able to clean up Superfund dumps
because cleanup technology really doesn't exist, at least not for the
sums of money the EPA is willing to spend, so people are demanding to
be moved out, relocated, resettled. They want the terror to stop, they
want their children's health given back, they want peace of mind. In
short, they want environmental justice.

For its part, the federal government hopes to dig in its heels and
stonewall. If they succeed, thousands of families across America will
be the losers. It will become harder and harder to argue for
relocation. More and more people will find themselves trapped
permanently next to toxic dumps, their children suffering rashes and
abdominal pain and seizures and headaches and diminished ability to
learn, the measurable effects of chemical exposures. It is a cruel
prospect, hardly American at all--more in line with public policies we
associate with totalitarian societies.

To pull off this cruel shift in public policy, the EPA must rewrite
history and declare Love Canal habitable. (We note that the EPA never
refers to Love Canal as "safe." They say only, in carefully-worded
press releases, that it has been declared "habitable.")

Without exactly saying so, the EPA wants to establish a precedent, that
people poor enough and unlucky enough to live near a dump are just out
of chips, that's all. Too bad. The implication is that real Americans
will learn to live with chemical dumps; only wimps and cry babies would
even WANT to be relocated.

And what more important place to establish this precedent than at Love
Canal itself? Love Canal is a place where human babies were sacrificed
to the chemical industry. The health damage to those children has been
documented more than once. The first health study completed by the
state of New York revealed that 56% of the children living along Love
Canal itself were born with birth defects. Longer-term studies of a
larger number of children have shown that the effects of the Canal
extended into other neighborhoods besides the homes fronting directly
on the dump. These studies have shown that low birth weight babies were
2.3 times as likely to occur among homeowners living near Love Canal,
compared to a control group living elsewhere in Niagara Falls (11.1%
vs. 4.8%). Serious birth defects were twice as likely to occur among
those living near the Canal (12.1% vs. 6.2%). These studies found
seizures 2.5 times as prevalent among Love Canal kids as among
controls; learning disabilities were 1.5 times as prevalent;
hyperactivity was almost 3 times as prevalent; eye irritation was twice
as prevalent; skin rashes occurred twice as often; abdominal pain was
twice as prevalent; incontinence occurred three times as often. Thus by
seven health measures, living near Love Canal is associated with
sickness among children. (For more details, see RHWN #104.)

But Love Canal has been cleaned up, hasn't it? LOVE CANAL HAS NOT BEEN
CLEANED UP AT ALL. A clay cap has been placed over the worst
contamination, but the chemical wastes that seeped into Lois's basement
are still in the ground, a toxic time bomb waiting to kill and maim
future generations of children. The EPA is unwilling to spend the kind
of money it would take to clean the place up. Worst of all, they are
not even willing to force industry to spend the money to clean up its
own mess. Instead, they want to "solve" the problem by linguistic
trickery--declare the place "habitable," give it a new name that makes
it sound like a Florida resort, and hope that no one remembers the
awful truth about what happened there.

This is a dark day indeed. The EPA is even using bastardized science to
justify this public relations stunt. The agency hired scientists who
compared the Love Canal neighborhood to two inner-city neighborhoods in
Niagara County, which are themselves contaminated. One of these
"control" neighborhoods is actually contaminated by some of the same
wastes as Love Canal, presumably dumped by the same company--Occidental
Petroleum. These scientists found few differences in the levels of
chemicals measured in the three neighborhoods, and on that basis they
have declared Love Canal "habitable." GIVEN THE HEALTH DATA FROM LOVE
NEIGHBORHOODS "UNINHABITABLE." But what would the Mayor, the Board of
Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce, and Occidental Petroleum have said
about that? The scientists reached the conclusion that EPA, local
boosters and the polluters needed.

Worse yet, these scientists compared Love Canal to two other
neighborhoods outside the area and found Love Canal significantly more
contaminated than these other two "control" areas, BUT THEY CHOSE TO
IGNORE THESE DATA ENTIRELY. This is science in the service of

Now the EPA plans to move poor and blue collar families into the homes
that were originally abandoned. (The most contaminated of those
original homes were bulldozed; the remaining ones are less
contaminated, but health damage has been recorded among some of the
families who inhabited the homes EPA now wants to open up again.) New
families will be sacrificed to the god Progress Through Chemistry.

Lois herself is now leading the fight to stop this travesty. Lois is
asking--and we are asking--everyone to write two letters, one to
William Reilly, Administrator of U.S. EPA [401 M Street, SW,
Washington, DC 200024], and one to Governor Mario Cuomo [State Capitol,
GENTLEMAN--mail them to Lois Gibbs, P.O. Box 926, Arlington, Va 22216.
Lois will get them into the hands of Mr. Reilly and Mr. Cuomo in some
creative way this summer, as part of a strategy to stop the
reinhabiting of Love Canal.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: love canal; epa; ny; niagara falls, ny; health
effects; birth defects; children; developmental disorders; skin
disorders; occidental petroleum;

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