It was a Bill Murray punchline in Tootsie, the title of a play, meant to draw laughs, “Return to Love Canal.” But now The New York Times has literally done it with a video report on what happened more than three decades ago at the most famous US toxic dump disaster ever, with brief updates to recent years.
This literally hits me close to home. I hail from Niagara Falls (site of the middle-class Love Canal neighborhood), wrote one of the first major magazine pieces on the subject in early 1979 and then featured it in my 1981 book on whistleblowers, Truth and Consequences. Dumping of chemicals by huge local factories in the abandoned canal, then covering it up in the 1950s, led to seepage into the basements and backyards of dozens of families, who claimed widespread health defects.
Lois Gibbs, the fiery leader of the homeowners’ group and featured in the video, was one of the stars of that book, along with Hugh Kaufman—who is still around causing trouble (by exposing such tragedies) at the EPA. I covered Hugh not long ago here at this blog because of his work and media appearances around the explosion at the Texas fertilizer plant.