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America's 10 worst man-made environmental disasters

June 14, 2010, 12:50 p.m.
Love Canal cleanup

Photo: NOAA

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Love Canal

Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., that gained environmental notoriety when it was discovered that 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried beneath it. The area became a dumping ground in the 1920s after William T. Love abandoned his attempt to dig a canal, and in the 1940s, Hooker Chemical began dumping industrial waste in the canal and covering it with dirt.

In 1953, the company sold the land to the local school board for $1, and the 99th Street School was built. Two years later a 25-foot area crumbled, exposing toxic chemical drums that filled with rainwater and created puddles that children played in. The situation worsened when the city began constructing sewers for low-income housing — the construction broke canal walls and released more toxic waste.

Love Canal residents reported exploding rocks, strange odors and blue goo that bubbled up into basements, but it was the high rates of asthma, miscarriages, mental disabilities and other health problems that brought Love Canal into national headlines in 1978. More than 80 toxins had seeped from the canal, and a survey found that 56 percent of the children born from 1974-1978 had birth defects. The federal government relocated area families and declared Love Canal the first federal disaster area due to man-made causes. The event started the EPA’s Superfund program.