Mar 24, 2020 in Research

Environmental Consequences of the Love Canal

Abstract

The Love Canal disaster is among the worst environmental disasters in the USA. This essay aims at outlines a brief history of the Love Canal while critically analyzing the health and environmental issues that emerged as the result of the disaster. Some of the problems taken into consideration include spontaneous miscarriages, abortions, and health issues, such as cancer, due to the exposition of the population to the toxic wastes. Furthermore, the issues of environmental pollution will be considered as well as the chances of the reoccupation of the region after the years of clean-up activities. Lastly, measures put into place to prevent similar occurrences will be considered.

The Love Canal

The Love Canal project performed near the Niagara Falls led to an environmental disaster that had various health effects to the population that lived in the area. The project conducted by Hooker Chemical Company involved the dumping of the company’s chemicals into a partially dug canal off the Niagara River. The government sanctioned the project done from 1942 to 1953, and during this period of operation, the canal had up to 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals. This led to environmental risks to the neighborhood. The attempts by the chemical company to fill the canal were fruitless as pollution had already affected the population.

The issue was made public by investigative magazines that conducted surveys on the neighborhood during the 1970s. Public activism led the President to declare a state of emergency in the Love Canal neighborhood and the eventual evacuation of over 800 families. The Love Canal project resulted in various health issues, including birth defects, spontaneous abortions, and crib deaths among other effects of the chemical pollution of the neighboring population. This essay will critically analyze the environmental risks posed by the environmental disaster and the chances of the safe reoccupation of the Love Canal neighborhood, taking into considerations the measures that have since been taken to prevent the reoccurrence of a similar disaster.

 

Effects of the Disaster

Health Effects

The chemical wastes from the Love Canal found their way to the neighborhoods when the rains began, thus causing overflows and the leaching of chemicals. Consequently, the incident had negative health effects for the population around the area. For example, various surveys conducted around the neighborhood showed that the local community experienced higher rates of spontaneous miscarriages as compared to other locations around the state of New York. Furthermore, numerous abortions and birth defects were registered, and children were born with deformations at a higher rate than in the surrounding regions. Thus, the rate of children born with defects was 13 defects per 100; this was high as compared to two defects per 100 births before the Love Canal incident. On the other hand, the rate of abortions in the Love Canal increased to 24 abortions per 100 pregnancies if compared to nine abortions per 100 pregnancies before the incident. Crib deaths were also found to be prevalent in the area. Thus, the health issues experienced by the people living in the area were the result of exposure to contaminated underground water from the canal.

The EPA also indicated chances of high cancer cases in the area. Thus, the research showed a one out of 100 people chance of getting cancer for the people who resided in the neighborhoods of the Love Canal. However, this research has often been criticized since not many cases of cancer death have occurred for the residents of the Love Canal since the incident. Other health research conducted by the EPA indicated chromosomal damage among the people, who volunteered to be tested as well, since high counts of white blood cells were an indication of leukemia among the residents of the area. Apart from the high health risks and concerns for the locals, people also experienced minor health issues, for example, abdominal pains, eye and skin irritations, and epilepsy conditions. All these effects were associated with the exposure to the contaminated water in the Love Canal.

Environmental Issues

Newman reported that the examination of the Love Canal landfill revealed that over 400 chemical types had been present in the area. Some of the chemicals could not be decomposed, and they posed an environmental effect, especially to the fertility of the soil around the Love Canal (“The world's worst man-made accidents”, n.d.). Some chemicals take many years to be decomposed completely and until then, they may be a source of pollution to the ground. A reduction in soil fertility around the Love Canal could have resulted in a decline in the green cover that could lead to the desertification of the area. In addition, these chemicals posed a significant risk to the underground water around the area. This is due to the contamination it could cause if the water from the canal reached some of this underground water sources. For example, during rainy season, contaminated water found its way to the neighborhoods through seepage and lead leaching. This indicates that the canal posed a threat to the nearby water sources such as lakes, dams, and rivers. Thus, toxicities in the water could have posed a threat to the marine life in these water bodies.

Current Environmental Conditions

Reoccupation Safety

Since the evacuation of the Love Canal residents in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the area has been under environmental cleaning. The Superfund by the environmental protection agency (EPA) was initiated to fund the cleanup. Thus, the cleanup included the removal of chemicals dumped in the canal or containing the chemical in one area that could not allow their leaching. This cleanup exercise has been capped with drainage systems that treated the canal. For better reoccupation, some of the abandoned homes have been renovated, while the homes nearest the canal have been sold to investors to build light industries in the area. However, in 2012, the area was reclassified as a Superfund area after traces of soil and air contamination had been found in the area. These have not stopped reoccupation of the area by people. Today, many of the people, who live in the Love Canal, help in the cleaning of the canal.

Prevention of Reoccurrence

Following the environmental disaster that happened in the Love Canal, various prevention measures were put in place to ensure that similar occurrences did not happen anymore. One of the notable measures included the laws such as comprehensive environmental response enactment, and the Compensation and Liabilities Act, for example, the Superfund. The comprehensive environmental response is instrumental in identifying areas and projects that may result in an environmental disaster, hence curbing it early enough. The Superfund, on the other hand, is essential in funding environmental clean-up processes in the areas that pose an environmental threat to the public. For instance, after the terrorist attacks on the world Trade Center, the Superfund was critical in ensuring the resulting debris did not result in an environmental disaster.

Apart from the laws enacted by the government, the cleanup process in the Love Canal provides that the chemicals dumped in the area do not cause any further environmental threat. This is achieved by containing the recovered debris in impermeable holes that could not allow the contents to leak. These measures are crucial since the area has not been declared safe after its reclassification into the Superfund by 2012.

Conclusion

The Love Canal disaster was human-made, and it resulted in various health effects among the residents and environmental effects in the region. Thus, adverse health effects included birth defects, crib deaths, and miscarriages in the region, and high rate of cancer threat among other issues. Environmentally, the disaster led to the pollution of soil and water in the surrounding areas. Furthermore, toxic wastes also contributed to air pollution. The relocation of the residents was significant to pave the way for cleanup exercises. The incident considered as health hazard was placed under the Superfund from the federal government. However, although various cleanup activities have been done in the area, it is still considered not completely safe for reoccupation. The area was again placed under the Superfund in 2012 as residents’ health issues were believed to be the result of the effects of incident.

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