Remembering Love Canal, 30 years ago

November 26, 2008

Hell-raising site called Red State Rebels remembers that the Love Canal disaster came to a head 30 years ago, with the evacuation of the homes surrounding the toxic dump site.

Your students probably don’t know about it, and the textbooks will do the story no justice, if they mention it at all.  While this article is written from a biased perspective, it’s a solid recounting of the history — and your AP kids need to read stuff with viewpoints, anyway.

Adeline Levine, a sociologist who wrote a book about Love Canal, described to me the scene she had witnessed exactly 30 years earlier, on Aug. 11, 1978. “It was like a Hitchcock movie,” she said, “where everything looks peaceful and pleasant, but something is slumbering under the ground.”

That “something” was more than 21,000 tons of chemical waste. The mixed brew contained more than 200 different chemicals, many of them toxic. They were dumped into the canal — which was really more of a half-mile-long pond — in the 1940s and 1950s by the Hooker Electrochemical Co. In 1953, the canal was covered with soil and sold to the local school board, and an elementary school and playground were built on the site. A working-class neighborhood sprang up around them.

“The neighborhood looked very pleasant,” says Levine, who was a sociology professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, in 1978. “There were very nice little homes, nicely kept, with gardens and flowers and fences and kids’ toys, and then there were young people who were rushing out of their homes with bundles and packing up their cars and moving vans.”

Love Canal was in the midst of an all-out panic when Levine arrived; just nine days earlier, the state health commissioner had declared an emergency and recommended that pregnant women and children under the age of two evacuate the neighborhood. A week after that, the state and federal governments agreed to buy out homes next to the canal.

See the entire piece.


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