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Love Canal got its name from William T. Love, an entrepreneur and developer in Niagara Falls in the late 1800s. The electrochemical industry was drawn to the waterfall because it generated cheap hydroelectric power to feed its electricity-hungry manufacturing processes. And Love had a deal for them. He would build an industrial city, called "Model City" in the optimism of the day, centered on a canal connected to the Niagara River. He started digging in the 1890s.
Love's dream collapsed after the inventor Nikola Tesla came up with alternating-current electricity, which could travel farther by wire than direct current and obviated the need for factories to locate near the falls. The canal Love left behind became a half-mile-long swimming hole. But later, Elon Hooker decided to locate his electrochemical company near the canal, and the business eventually became the largest industrial enterprise in town, making chemicals and plastics.
In 1941, Hooker Chemical (which underwent various name changes and was later bought by Occidental Chemical Corp.) decided to use Love's canal for waste disposal. The canal was nearby in what was then a sparsely populated area, and the soil was largely composed of impermeable clay that Hooker's engineers thought would contain the chemicals well. From about 1942 to 1953, Hooker disposed of thousands of tons of chemical waste there, some of it loose and some in metal drums.
No one knows exactly what Hooker dumped, but perhaps one-quarter of the waste was benzene hexachloride, the main component of the pesticide lindane, a neurotoxin. There were chlorobenzenes (used in the synthesis of DDT) and dozens of other organic chemicals, many of which were known to be toxic. The waste also contained an estimated 120 lb of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, commonly called dioxin, which is a by-product of trichlorophenol manufacture. At the time dioxin was buried at Love Canal, it was not thought to cause disease, but it is now known as one of the most carcinogenic chemicals in the world. In those days, Hooker's landfill methods were legal and quite common; companies were allowed to dump waste in almost any manner, as long as they owned the land on which they dumped.
We kids would go over [by the canal], and you would see a bubble form—oh, I would say about 9 to 12 inches in diameter," she says. Kids would quickly gather up stones to throw into the chemical-filled hole. They didn't know it, but the bubbles formed when a metal drum of chemicals rusted through and broke underground. The soil above it would collapse into the drum and force chemicals to the surface; then the sides of the hole would close back up after a minute or two. "It would open up sort of in slow motion, and then it would break, like a bubble would, and then you would throw the stones in. It was a game we played." The kids didn't think about whether it was dangerous. "As a child, you shouldn't have to."
A notorious — and noxious — part of U.S. history is being moved to Canada.
At least 80 truckloads of toxic waste left over from the infamous Love Canal are being trucked to a facility in Corunna, Ont., near Sarnia, to be burned and buried.
The Love Canal is a U.S. neighbourhood built on a chemical dumping ground from the 1940s and 50s in New York state. The site contained chemicals and toxins dating from the Second World War. The waste coming to Canada, truckload by truckload, is from a smaller dump a few kilometres from the Love Canal. The smaller dump contained material that had been moved from the Love Canal site.
Days after it began arriving, toxic waste will no longer be shipped from the infamous New York state Love Canal to a waste processing plant in Ontario.
Clean Harbors, based in Massachusetts, said it has reversed its decision to burn and bury up to 100 truckloads of waste that was to be shipped to Corunna, Ont., southeast of Sarnia.