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The Dangers of Superfund Sites and Lessons from Love Canal

By December 19, 2012Blog, Member News

Superfund sites, which are government-designated locations of hazardous waste, pose no small threat to surrounding ecosystems and its citizens. Looking back at Love Canal, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called “one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history,” the danger to communities is apparent.

Through the efforts of community, government and private contractors such as theSevenson Environmental CEO, Michael Elia, and his cleanup crew, Love Canal was restored to its former state after decades of diligent work. By learning from this unprecedented environmental disaster and becoming aware of Superfund sites, citizens can avoid contamination and perhaps join the effort to restore toxic waste sites to their former unsullied splendor.

A Brief History of Love Canal

In 1894, a Niagra Falls developer by the name of William Love proposed the construction of a model city powered by canal-generated electricity, as stated by TimesUnion.com. Love vigorously began building the city, but economic depression soon caused funding to deplete. Technological innovation and private-infringement prohibition laws only added to the project’s rapid demise. The model city failed, leaving behind a sole remnant — Love’s canal.

The hydroelectric channel was relegated to a chemical waste dumping ground after it was sold to Hooker Chemical in 1942. In a little more than a decade, Hooker buried 22,000 tons of chemical waste drums, according to Wired.com. The toxic site was sealed with heavily packed clay soil, the industry standard at the time. In the next 20 years, Niagra County sprouted several more chemical-producing companies as the population boomed.

The local school district sought land, and bought the site — aware of the buried chemicals — from Hooker Chemical for $1. The late 1970’s brought torrential rains that decimated the feeble clay-soil barriers, and toxicity overtook the community. Myriad health issues, birth defects and death ravaged the community leading to a state of emergency and evacuation.

Superfund Sites

Superfund has identified and analyzed tens of thousands of hazardous-waste sites for more than 20 years to mitigate contamination and protect communities, according to the EPA. By viewing the EPA’s website, you can learn of the ten Superfund regions in the nation and the sites where cleanup is underway. Using a Hazard Ranking System, the EPA assesses three factors relating to risk: the likelihood of hazardous substances being released, the toxicity and quantity of waste, and people affected by the the release.

Folks looking to relocate should be mindful of moving within proximity to a Superfund site. At its worst, contaminated topsoil and drinking water from Superfund sites — as in the case of Love Canal — foment physically and mentally deformed infants, miscarriages, strange illnesses and allergies, burns, chromosomal damage, noxious odors and even cancer, according to Wired. In addition to cleanup, the Superfund Enforcement program pursues companies responsible for the area’s contamination and holds involved parties legally responsible.

Contributed by Yasmine Rotterdam.

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