Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. It officially covers 36 square blocks in the southeastern corner of the city. Two bodies of water define the northern and southern boundaries of the neighborhood: Bergholtz Creek to the north and the Niagara River one-quarter mile to the south.
The nickname Love Canal came from the last name of William Love who in 1896 began digging a canal connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (bypassing Niagara Falls) in order to serve as a water power conduit. It was never completed. In 1942, Hooker Chemical (a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum) began using the abandoned canal as a dump, burying 19,000 cubic yards of toxics in the long trench.
Once the canal was filled with waste, the land was covered over and sold to the Niagara Falls city school board for $1.00 and a school and subdivision of homes was built right on top of the waste.
According to residents who lived in the area, from the late 1950s through the early 1970s repeated complaints of odors and "substances" surfacing in their yards brought city officials to investigate the area, but no action was done.
In 1976, Lois Gibbs, the president of the Love Canal Homeowners Association, led a community of housewives concerned about reports of chemical waste in their neighborhood. As she began to investigate and organize other community members, Gibbs discovered that their neighborhood sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried chemical waste. That disturbing discovery spurred Gibbs to lead her neighbors in a three year struggle to protect their families from the hazardous waste buried in their backyards. Gibbs went door to door with a clipboard and a petition saying, "My name is Lois Gibbs. I'm concerned about the 99th Street School. I want to know if you are concerned as well."
In that fight, Lois discovered that no local, state or national organization existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and technical assistance. Frustrated by official inaction, resident's tempers became so heated that at one point, a mob held two Environmental Protection Agency officials hostage for hours.
Throughout their ordeal, Gibbs was opposed not only by Occidental Petroleum, but also by government at all levels which argued that their health problems had nothing to do with the toxic chemicals buried beneath them
By 1978, Love Canal became a national media event with articles referring to the neighborhood as a "a public health time bomb."
By 1979, a scientist with Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo claimed to find a high rate of birth defects and miscarriages among Love Canal residents and urged an evacuation.
Eventually, the government moved out more than 800 families and reimbursed them for their homes. Occidental spent more than $200 million to clean up the site, and Congress passed the Superfund law holding polluters accountable.