In 1978, toxic chemicals leaking from an old landfill thrust an upstate New York community called “Love Canal” into the national headlines, and made it synonymous with “environmental disaster.”
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Toxic Waste in the Neighborhood: The Love Canal Disaster of 1978 is an Ongoing Mess

This week’s Retro Report unpacks the story behind this dark tale, examines how it transformed the small suburb of Niagara Falls, and why it raised questions that still resonate today.

In the spring of 1978, Lois Gibbs, a local housewife, read a local newspaper story and discovered she was living a few blocks way from some 20,000 tons of toxic waste buried in an old landfill, located in the center of the Love Canal community.

That waste had been dumped and covered up in an old canal in the 1940s and 1950s by a local chemical company, and was now leaking into backyards and basements of nearby homes. Some residents claimed those chemicals had given them a gamut of health problems.

Gibbs soon organized a grass roots movement that eventually compelled the state to evacuate some 900 families. It laid the groundwork for Superfund legislation in 1980, which aimed to prevent future “Love Canals”—and provide funds to remediate those that had already happened. Love Canal was among the first to be addressed.

By 1990, the state of New York declared portions of Love Canal inhabitable, and put some 200 refurbished homes up for sale at below market prices. Nearly all the homes found a buyer.

But now, 35 years later, the battle over Love Canal has resurfaced. 

Transcript

More on the Story

Flint’s water crisis reveals government failures at every level The Washington Post
JP Olsen: “Love Canal: A Legacy of Doubt” Chris Riback's Conversations with Thinkers
Revisiting the Dark and Toxic Tale of Love Canal The Takeaway
Related Coverage
Love Canal and Its Mixed Legacy The New York Times