The 20th century in America was a time of rapid industrial expansion with little regulation. This was fantastic for the economy, but a costly blow to the environment. Businesses were allowed to dispose of waste in whatever way they saw fit, which translated to as cheaply as possible. The result was rampant unrestricted air and water pollution, unregulated dumping sites, and a number of disasters waiting to happen. One such disaster that did happen, the Love Canal Disaster, is what lead to the creation of The Comprehensive Environment Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. This act is commonly referred to as the Superfund.
About the Love Canal
The origins of this story date all the way back to the 1890s. The Love Canal was a project intended to funnel water between the upper and lower Niagara Rivers, thus providing a source of inexpensive energy for an ambitious planned community project headed by William T. Love. Unfortunately, due to a rapidly changing economy and a lack of funds, the project was never seen all the way through, leaving behind nothing but a large partially excavated piece of land.
With no other use for the land, it was eventually converted into a municipal dumping ground, being utilized by Hooker Chemical Corporation, the City of Niagara, and the United States Army to dispose of hazardous waste. Without regulation, the chemicals were poorly sealed, and the land was eventually developed into a small community with over 100 homes and a public school. The improper handling of the waste lead to groundwater contamination which seeped up through the ground as water levels in the area rose. This exposed the entire community to contaminated water, odors from harmful chemicals, and direct contact with chemical residue all over the area. This lead to horrific health effects on the community, including chemical burns, birth defects, and increased rates of cancer.
Solving the Problem
The story began to attract coverage in the late 70s, and when it finally broke on a national level, there was obvious outrage. Jimmy Carter, the president at the time, enacted two emergency declarations in order to evacuate the community and begin cleanup. The CERCLA Act was eventually enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980, in response to the disaster, which outlined a number of regulations for hazardous waste disposal, held parties responsible for mishandled dumping of hazardous waste, and established a trust fund that would finance cleanup efforts for affected sites. With the help of this legislation, as well as a number of follow up actions to address the pollution at Love Canal, the site was eventually deemed safe in 2004 and removed from the Superfund National Priority List.
More About Superfunds
While it was an unimaginable tragedy for the residents affected in Love Canal, the severity of the contamination forced the government to take hazardous waste disposal seriously and presented a major milestone in environmental protection and the health of our communities. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of sites on the Superfund list, and the effort to keep our environment clean is a battle that must continue to be fought. According to the EPA, as of May 26, 2020, there are 1335 active superfund sites on the National Priority List, and 51 more proposed.
Go online to learn more Superfund site info.