The Lost Lessons of Love Canal

Thirty years ago Thursday, President Jimmy Carter declared Love Canal
a federal disaster area. The decision came after the discovery that
the Niagara Falls neighborhood was built on top of 20,000 tons of
toxic waste that had been dumped by a chemical company.

The Love Canal contamination tragedy is very personal to me. In 1978 I
was living there with my husband and two children when I began to
wonder whether the kids’ recurring illnesses were connected to the
chemical waste. Research conducted by myself and several of my
neighbors, coupled with our complaints, eventually led the New York
State health commissioner to declare a state of emergency and close
the area’s 99th Street School (where my son Michael attended). That
was followed by the evacuations of mothers and children under the age
of 2.

Then, Carter stepped in and the federal government was ordered to
provide funds to relocate more than 200 families living within the
first two rings of homes encircling the Love Canal toxic waste site.

As one of those living beyond the first two rings of homes, I was told
my family was not at risk. As if toxic chemicals which had leaked from
their “protective” drums into my son’s schoolyard could never cross
the streets into our own yards.

I remember the feelings of disgust and anger and fear when I learned
that this toxic reality was likely the cause of my son’s illness. I
remember the looks on the faces of my neighbors as I went door to door
and learned that they, too, had children with rare health issues or
had lost a child over something so preventable, so cruel and

That was in 1978, and sometimes a colleague or someone in the media
will now ask me when I am going to “let Love Canal go?” After I shake
my head in disbelief, I tell the person that no mother could ever let
go of something that threatened her children and the children of those
living around her. Worse, even today children continue to be at risk
to toxic chemical threats simply by living in communities and
attending schools that are located within 1 mile of a site considered
toxic by the EPA.

What good mother could let that go?

All these years after the tragedy that happened at Love Canal, the
creation of the Federal Superfund cleanup program is in jeopardy.
Superfund — started by Carter in 1980 — makes polluting companies
and industries pay to clean up their mess. A tax on toxic chemicals
that are found in contaminated sites creates the trust fund, which
grew to $1.6 billion at one point.

My neighbors and I were relieved that the government had finally taken
responsibility for protecting people and land from toxic pollution.
The source of the program’s funding, “polluters pay fees” was the most
important aspect of this legislation. It held the polluters
accountable, and was a major victory for communities fighting toxic
and chemical threats everywhere.

But in 1996, Congress chose not to renew the polluters pay principle.
This means the trust fund dried up of polluters’ fees in 2003.

So who foots the bill now? You guessed it. Taxpayers, not polluters. I
always told my children, “you make the mess, you clean it up.” The
rules should not be different for companies who bring toxic or
chemical threats into the communities where our children play and
attend school. How can Congress side with the companies who cause
toxic contamination instead of the people threatened by that very

Now, the responsibility falls entirely on the taxpayers, to the tune
of $1.2 billion. Something smells funny and it’s not just the toxic
odors. We need to make sure Congress makes the polluters, not the
taxpayers, pay for the Love Canals of today.

Let Love Canal go? Never. I continue the battle for all of our
children. For me this journey started at Love Canal. And I need
everyone to continue on this journey with me.

Lois Gibbs is founder and director of the Center for Health, Environment
and Justice
. She lives in Falls Church, Va.




More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy