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Love Canal dump site at Niagara Falls, USA

One of the best known cases of environmental injustice in the US: houses and schools built upon a dump site and heavy incidence of diseases and respiratory illnesses take residents to reclaim justice


Back in the XIX century, Modeltown Development Corporation, under William T. Love, planned to construct a power canal that would connect the upper and lower levels of the Niagara River as well as open business opportunities. After securing funding support, the canal was started in 1884. Before the completion of the canal, the United States fell in to an economic depression that halted funding sources. The loss of funding and the loss of potential business support led to the down fall of Love's Company leaving only a partially dug canal left. In the 1920's the canal was bought by Hooker Chemical Company and used as a site for chemical and municipal disposal for several chemical companies and the City of Niagara Falls. This site was used as a disposal site until 1953, when it was bought by the local community and completely covered with dirt. In the late 1950's this land became the new site of over 100 homes and an elementary school. In the late 1970s, after several years of high precipitation, the chemical waste began making its way to the surface causing terrible odors and oozing waste. On August 2, 1978, Lois Gibbs, a local mother who called an election to head the Love Canal Homeowners' Association, began to rally homeowners. There was severe pollution by dioxins, which lead to grave health effects especially the high percentages of birth defects in the Love Canal area. This required all residents to be vacated and the risks to be mitigated, however the health and environmental effects had already affected much of the communities residents.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Love Canal dump site at Niagara Falls, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New York
Location of conflict:Niagara Falls
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Urban development conflicts
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Land
Chemical Waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Love Canal dump site accumulated 22,000 tons of toxic waste (total) by Hooker Chemical Company and other chemical companies. The waste consisted of 82 different chemical compounds at the landfill, including 1 human carcinogen, 11 animal carcinogens

Project area:81
Level of Investment:$82,668 Local, State and Federal Costs, 7.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, 400 million for total clean up (from litigation against Hooker Chemical and Superfund)
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:6000
Start of the conflict:1978
End of the conflict:2004
Company names or state enterprises:Modeltown Development Corporation from United States of America
Hooker Chemical Company from United States of America
Relevant government actors:United States Environmental Protection Agency, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Health Department
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Lois Gibbs- Leader of Love Canal Parents Movement, Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsDioxins
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents
Other Health impactsBirth Defects
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Specific impacts on women, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:This was one of the first environmental problems that was able to receive a lot of attention and provided a launching point for other communities to ensure the safety of their neighborhoods as well. The community was compensated and relocated. Additionally, actions were taken to mitigate the environmental effects.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

L.M. Gibbs, Love Canal: My Story, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1981.

L.M. Gibbs, Dying from Dioxin: a citizens' guide to reclaiming our health and rebuilding democracy, South End Press, Boston, 1995

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Colgate University First Year Seminar 39: Earth Resources - The Love Canal by Kate Wolfe, December, 2000
[click to view]

Love Canal: A Special Report to the Governor & Legislature: April 1981
[click to view]

Love Canal Declared Clean, Ending Toxic Horror
[click to view]

Living on Earth - Love Canal & Lois Gibbs 35 Years Later
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Some updates to this case were provided March 30, 2018, by Saachi Kuwayama, [email protected], Masters Candidate, School for Environment & Sustainability, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Meta information
Contributor:Sara Orvis, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update04/07/2018
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