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Love Canal Revealed a National Problem; Superfund Provided a Solution

EPA’s Superfund Task Force Continues to Ensure Cleanups Remain a Top Priority

08/06/2018
Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov)

WASHINGTON  — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commemorates the 40th anniversary of Love Canal, a tragedy that spurred a law to clean up hazardous waste and give voice to communities across the country. The federal Superfund law gave EPA the power to ensure that parties responsible for contamination pay for or perform the cleanup and, if there was no viable responsible party, to use public funds. Forty years after the first Presidential Emergency Declaration was signed, the cleanup at the Love Canal Superfund site remains protective of people’s health and the environment, and the Superfund program continues to provide environmental, public health, and economic benefits to communities nationwide.

“The 40th anniversary of Love Canal is a reminder of both the devastating consequences of environmental disasters and the power of concerned citizens to spur change nationwide,” said Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “The Superfund program is a top priority at EPA, and we are making tremendous progress cleaning up contaminated sites, protecting public health, and ensuring a tragedy like Love Canal never happens again.”

“The Love Canal tragedy shook the Niagara Falls community, and it is in large part due to the hard work of community members to demand action, that brought about the passage of the then unprecedented Superfund law.” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “None of us want to see another community go through what this community has endured, and a strong Superfund program is an essential part of safeguarding the public.”

In August 1978, President Jimmy Carter issued the first of two emergency declarations at Love Canal after learning of reports from the community of strange odors and residues, basements flooded with contaminated groundwater, and health issues, including miscarriages and birth defects. Less than two years later, on December 11, 1980, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which would become known as Superfund. Today, the Superfund program continues to make a visible and lasting difference in communities cleaning up the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites, tackling threats to public health and our natural environment, supporting local economies and enhancing quality of life, preventing future releases of hazardous substances, and leading to new advances in science and technology.

Under the Trump Administration, the Superfund program has reemerged as a priority to fulfill and strengthen EPA’s core mission of protecting human health and the environment. On May 22, 2017, EPA established the Superfund Task Force to provide recommendations on how EPA could streamline and improve the Superfund program. Just two months later, on July 25, 2017, EPA issued the Superfund Task Force Report, which included 42 recommendations in five goal areas:  

  • Expediting Cleanup and Remediation; 
  • Re-Invigorating Responsible Party Cleanup and Reuse; 
  • Encouraging Private Investment; 
  • Promoting Redevelopment and Community Revitalization; and 
  • Engaging Partners and Stakeholders. 

In the first year of Superfund Task Force, EPA made significant progress in carrying out the report’s recommendations and stands to complete all 42 recommendations by the end of 2019. These achievements will provide certainty to communities, state partners, and developers that the nation’s most hazardous sites will be cleaned up as quickly and safely as possible.

Background:

Love Canal was originally intended to be a hydroelectric power plant. In the 1890s, William T. Love began excavating the original canal but later abandoned the project. From 1942 to approximately 1953, Hooker Chemicals & Plastic Corp. (now Occidental Chemical Company) used the area as a landfill, disposing of an estimated 21,000 tons of chemicals and hazardous waste. Community residents first began reporting odors and residues at the Love Canal site in the 1960s. In the 1970s, groundwater contaminated with more than 80 industrial chemicals – including heavy metals, pesticides, and dioxin – had migrated through sewers and creeks and began seeping into people’s properties. Several presidential emergency declarations were issued and approximately 950 families were evacuated from a 10 square-block area surrounding the Love Canal landfill. 

After decades of extensive cleanup work by EPA and New York State, Love Canal was deleted from EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites in 2004, but the Agency continues to actively monitor the site. Because groundwater is the pathway through which contamination could move, more than 100 groundwater monitoring on-site and off-site wells gather data quarterly. The data, which is evaluated by EPA and New York State, continues to show that the leachate collection system, the barrier drain, the landfill cap, and the monitoring wells are all intact and working properly. EPA also conducts comprehensive reviews of all data and information every five years to ensure that the remedy remains fully protective. These reviews will be conducted into perpetuity.

After an extensive habitability study conducted by health and environmental experts was completed, some areas of the site were reopened and new homeowners have moved into the habitable areas of the site.  More than 260 formerly evacuated homes in the affected area were rehabilitated and sold to new residents, creating a viable new neighborhood. For information and images, visit EPA’s Love Canal website

On the one-year anniversary of the EPA’s Superfund Task Force Report, EPA announced significant progress in carrying out the report’s recommendations.  These achievements will provide certainty to communities, state partners, and developers that the nation’s most hazardous sites will be cleaned up as quickly and safely as possible.

EPA’s new “Superfund Task Force Recommendations 2018 Update” is available at: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-task-force-recommendations-2018-update

Listen to EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez talk about the 40th anniversary of Love Canal on our podcast: https://www.epa.gov/podcasts
 

Superfund Task Force. In May 2017 EPA established a task force to restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the Agency's core mission to protect health and the environment. epa.gov/superfund/superfund-task-force.