Air Date: Week of December 13, 2013 stream/download this segment as an MP3 file
Children and babies were the most at risk for health effects from chemical exposure. (Fierce Green Fire)
Love Canal was a toxic dump for chemical waste used by the Hooker Chemical Company in the 1950s in Niagara Falls, New York. In the next 20 years two schools and 900 homes were built on or near Love Canal. A young housewife, Lois Gibbs, lived there, and tells host Steve Curwood that more than half the children had birth defects. She organized the community and led a precedent-setting fight against the federal government to get all the families relocated.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. 35 years ago, a charmingly named community in Niagara Falls, New York became synonymous with environmental disaster.
Love Canal was a 36-block neighborhood built directly on top of 21,000 ton of toxic waste dumped there by Hooker Chemical company. Two schools were built on the site, and families experienced the effects of this toxic stew first, and they started to hold angry meetings.
MOTHER1: I carried the child for 9 months. The baby weighed three pounds and it was a stillborn birth.
Young residents in Love Canal joined the protest. (Center for Health and Environmental Justice)
MOTHER2: Our little Julie was stillborn. The loss of our child may be a direct result to the chemicals. Please don’t let this happen to anyone else before you get them out. Don’t let it happen to yourselves.
ANGRY MOTHER: You are murderers. Each and every one of you in this room are murderers.
[CROWD CHANTING “WE WANT OUT”]
CURWOOD: They all wanted to get out, and they wanted answers. One of the principal organizers was a young housewife named Lois Gibbs. As head of the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association, she researched the history of the toxic dump, rallied the protests and demanded state and federal action. At one point in 1978 when EPA officials visited the community, Lois Gibbs led the activists that refused to let the officials leave until the federal government promised to relocate the families.
GIBBS: Just pass the word around…nobody…we’re not going to do anything violent, we’re just going to keep them in the house nothing more than that. Body barricade the doors. OK? OK, pass the word. And don’t let ’em out. C’mon guys, sit! If I was to let the two EPA representatives come out this door, does anybody know what would happen to them?