Heavy Metal Stew

"The [sewage] sludge being spread on our crop fields is a dangerous stew of heavy metals, industrial compounds, viruses, bacteria, drug residues, and radioactive material."—Center for Food Safety.

Center for Food Safety, "Sewage Sludge." www.centerforfoodsafety.org/sewage_slu.cfm.

In 1953, after filling the canal and covering it over with soil, Hooker sold the land for one dollar to the Niagara Falls Board of Education, which constructed an elementary school and a playground nearby Homes were also built along the canal, and by 1978 the area had 800 single-family homes and 240 low-income apartments, and about 400 children attended the local elementary school.

Residents of Love Canal became alarmed as trees and gardens started dying, drums of chemicals began surfacing and leaching into backyards and basements, and children experienced recurring infections and leukemia. Residents also exhibited lesions and burns and had high rates of miscarriages and birth defects; later, blood tests showed precancerous conditions in many adults. The community eventually discovered that their neighborhood was sitting on a massive industrial dump, and local activists began an uphill battle to show that the chemicals buried in the canal were responsible for their health problems.

Both Hooker and the local government at first denied any responsibility, but finally in 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency at Love Canal. After more investigation, a second emergency was declared in 1980. Ultimately, the federal government relocated more than 900 families and reimbursed them for their homes. In 1995, after the EPA sued Occidental Petroleum, the company agreed to pay $129 million in restitu tion. The events at Love Canal marked an awakening of the American public to the health consequences of environmental contamination with industrial chemicals and led to federal legislation regulating industrial hazardous wastes.

Today, according to the EPA, "American industrial facilities generate and dispose of approximately 7.6 billion tons of industrial solid waste each year . . . from 17 different industry groups."29 Of this total, the EPA reports that approximately 46.7 million tons (42.4 million metric tons) consists of hazardous wastes as defined by the U.S. government. However, the actual amount of industrial hazardous waste produced in the United States is probably much larger, because the EPAs data consist only of information obtained from companies that generated large quantities of industrial hazardous wastes; smaller producers of hazardous wastes are not counted by the government. In addition, environmental advocates assert that an unknown number of companies engage in illegal dumping of hazardous wastes in order to avoid the costs of proper disposal.

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