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A Case Study Of Love Canal Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3939 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Abstract- This paper is prepared to fulfill the requirement of subject Engineering Ethic (BENU 4583) which is included in Bachelor Degree of Electronic Engineering (Telecommunication). The case study is conducted on the Love Canal contamination issue which triggered the environmental alarm of United State at 1970s. The significant effect of Love Canal concern was the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.


Love Canal, located in Niagara Falls, New York. It had its attention on a national scale as well as international scale at 1970s for the matter of toxic waste been buried beneath the neighbourhood by Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation. In year 1953, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation sold a land which was used for chemical waste dump to the Niagara Falls School Board for the use of building school on it. Figure 1 shows the location the 99th Street Elementary School in the centre of Love Canal. The agreement has been done with the full knowing of the risks. The Niagara Falls School District bought the land with the cost of one dollar and granted Hooker Chemical will release from all liability from the contamination. The nearby area was then built with residential neighbourhoods without declaring the hazardous of the place to the residents. With the disturbance by the building on the soil, the entire property was contaminated, causing an excessive of health problems occurred.


William T. Love was an ambitious entrepreneur who conceived a canal which will link the two levels of Niagara River separated by Niagara Falls for the generation hydro electricity. Due to the barring of Congress and Panic of 1893, the plan was changed. The canal was dug for the purpose of shipping lane which will bypass Niagara Falls reaching to Lake Ontario. He managed to dig a canal for a length of 1.6 km, width of 15 m and the depth of 3 m to 12 m, stretching northward from the Niagara River before he went bankrupt. [2]

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The project went idle and the canal became a dump site for City of Niagara Falls. By 1940s, Elon Hooker who owns Hooker Electrochemical Company bought Love Canal with the granted permission by the Niagara Power and Development Company in 1942 for chemical wastes dumping. The canal was chosen due to the soil characteristic – impermeable clay and the small population at the neighbourhood. Other than the wastes from Hooker, The U.S Army disposed the toxic chemical wastes there during and after World War II as well, also the unloading of the city of Niagara Falls municipal refuse into the Love Canal.

Under pressure of Canal property been expropriated by the Niagara Falls School Board, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation had to sell on the condition of the company will be fully freed from the future liability for the chemical dump. Figure 2 shows that approximately 21,800 tons of company’s wastes been dumped into the pit before the property been legally transacted to the Niagara Falls School Board of Education in 1953. Before the agreement was done, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation did cite the safety concerns of the property.

The architect had risen up the issue of relocation of building location to the Board due to the dump sites which filled with 55-gallon drums of chemical wastes he discovered during the construction. The construction of 99th Street School was immediately started after relocation to further north from the top of the canal. By neglecting of the exposure of chemical wastes residues, the school was completed and been offered to students in year 1955, followed by the 93rd Street School in year 1958 which was built 6 blocks away. Incidentally, both sites had approval from the Niagara Falls Planning Board on December 30, 1952. [3] In year 1957, the remaining land was sold and rapid developments were held for homes. The Niagara Falls Authority also planned to build Griffon Manor housing project.

C:UsersJ’aeDesktopLove Canallove_canal_modern_aerial_thumb.jpg

Fig. 1: Location of 99th Street School on Love Canal. [1]

C:UsersJ’aeDesktopLove CanalLove-Canal.jpg

Fig. 2: Dumped Chemical Wastes in Love Canal [1]

In year 1978, the State Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation launched sampling and analysis of the homes adjacent to the Love Canal. The analysis had identified 82 different chemical compounds at the landfill, of one is known as human carcinogen and 11 are known or presumed anima carcinogens. [4] The Commissioners of Health and Environmental Conservation took every remedy available of the State to protect the public’s health and safety. Dr Whalen, the Public Health Specialist in Health Department termed Love Canal is an extremely serious threat to the health and welfare. The Niagara Country Health Commissioner had been summoned to eliminate the visible chemicals and restrict access of the site.

Extensive analyses showed that the chemicals seeped into the basement and contaminated the groundwater. The resident of Love Canal started to concern about the health issue and thereby Lois Gibbs, the head of the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association made complaints about the surfaced chemicals substances in their yards. However, it was in vain as the local politicians were not assisting the residents. The dumped site was declared as an unprecedented state emergency on August, 1978. The residents were urged to evacuate the neighbourhood for good sake. United State President Jimmy Carter called for allocation of federal funds to remedy Love Canal site. The toxic area has been reburied with a thick plastic linear clay and dirt. The area is restricted from the public today while the issue has become a catalyst for future environmental laws creation.

C:UsersJ’aeDesktopLove Canalflipper.jpg

Fig 3: Flipper [1]

Most of the buildings on the east and west sides of the canal had been demolished. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the chemicals were responsible to the residents’ illness in year 1979. Some of the important chemicals and the human biological hazards are shown in Table 1. The health studies that done by the United States National Research Council (NRC) in 1991 showed that the exposed unborn babies were stunted growth, for e.g. flippers case as shown in Figure 3.

Table 1: List of Important Chemicals identified at Love Canal


Acute Effects

Chronic Effects



Skin irritant

Acute leukemia

Aplastic anemia


Chronic lymphatic leukemia

Lymphomas (probable)


Narcosis (more powerful

than benzene)

Anemia (possible)

Leukopenia (possible)


Central nervous depression

Skin irritant

Liver damage

Paralysis of fingers

Respiratory and cardiac arrest

Visual defects


Views of Engineers

Code of Ethics

In this case study, National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics has been used as reference. As a Professional Engineer, the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation has violated NSPE Code of Ethics, Section II.1 which states that Engineers, in the fulfilment of their professional duties, shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. The corporation have to aware with the injury and danger that could lead to fatal in the future before they dispose of

chemicals. Despite of it, the Niagara Falls School Board has to responsible to the construction of the schools and homes as stated in the agreement with Hooker. Hooker did acknowledge the hazardous of the land before they sold it. They should not build other than park on the Love Canal otherwise the property will revert to Hooker.

The Niagara Power and Development Company and Niagara Falls Planning Board did not obey the statement in Section II.1.b where Engineers shall approve only those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards. The disposal of wastes by Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation was approved by Niagara Power and Development Company where no health concerns were showed for the future. The construction of 99th and 93rd Street Schools by Niagara Falls Planning Board were approved without any investigations on the land.

Engineers having knowledge of any alleged violation of this Code shall report thereon to appropriate professional bodies and, when relevant, also to public authorities, and cooperate with the proper authorities in furnishing such information or assistance as may be required as stated in Section 1.II.e. The architect and contractors of the schools building did not report to the authorities other than the Board when they found out the truth that the superintendent covered from the view of public.

In Section II.3.a, engineers may express publicly technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter. Hooker Chemical did not reveal everything to the public regarding on the chemical wastes beneath the land of Love Canal although pressure was laid on Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation. On the other hand, the Niagara Falls School Board hide the facts which has been cited by Hooker Chemical and just let the sleeping dogs lie.

Implementation of Engineering Society Codes

Tragedy Love Canal 1978 is a dangerous and the worst tragedy in U.S. history. Love Canal tragedy resulting from the pile of chemical waste has caused environmental degradation and diseases such as defects, fetal loss and cancer. Negligence of some of the parties was the main factor to the disaster. The tragedy can be prevented if the parties involved concerned about the environmental importance and apply the appropriate code of ethics in the particular case. The NSPE Code of Ethics is referred in this task.

First of all, as to hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in Section II.1, the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation who uses the Love Canal as a chemical waste disposal site should not be sold for residential development purposes although under pressure of the Canal property will be confiscated by the government.

The parties that involved such as Niagara Falls Planning Board in the project should be concern in approving the development projects as stated in Section II.1.b. They shall approve those engineering documents that are in conformity with applicable standards and appropriate contents and details. Thus, the atmosphere of the area used for disposal of the chemicals specified in the document and might be aware of the threat when developing residential areas.

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In order to prevent the tragedy, the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation should also issue public statements in an objective and truthful manner. They should clarify earlier that the area was not suitable for settlements before being sold. Section II.3.a states that all relevant and pertinent information in their reports, statements or testimony, which should bear the date indicating when it was current should included in the public statements. Engineers who involved in the project should be concerned about the conditions of the soil and environment before approving the project to proceed. They may express publicly their technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the particular subject matter. Therefore, the development could be revoked, and prevent the tragedy.

Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation sold Canal property with a token of dollar, hopping that the cooperation will be freed from the liability in the future contamination. It shows a deceptive act of Hooker and they concern more about own priority even though they knew the consequences that can be struck out of their actions which can be stated in Section II.5.b. They shall not put the consideration in order to secure themselves only but to concern the public in the future.

In addition, the leakage of chemical waste disposal drums is one of the factors that caused the eruption. This leakage occurred due to chemical reaction after heavy rains. However, the parties involved in the construction of the disposal drums shall not approve plans or documents dealing with the construction without prior concern about the quality and endurance towards the chemical reaction. The Love Canal tragedy could be avoided if the authorities involved showing a reasonable ethical behaviour in the particular cases.

Ethical Theories

The case has been analyzed in different perspectives. There are no specific theories that can be chosen to solve the problem but the result will be the same as the ethical theories will lead to the same conclusion.

Utilitarianism seeks to produce the most utility, defined balancing of good and bad. The theory holds the actions that maximizing the well-being of the society rather than individual’s. The Niagara Falls School Board had to build schools and homes due to the economic boom of population in Niagara Falls after World War II. However, the hazardous of the land was not taking into account. The act utilitarianism is the main ideology in this case. The Love Canal was chosen by Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation for the chemicals disposal due the soil condition of the land and the plethora population at the nearby area. Plus, the dumping of chemical wastes was legal until year 1980.

Right ethics and Duty ethics hold actions that respect the rights of the individual as well as the good consequences to the society. Love Canal residents have the right to know the past history of the Love Canal. John Locke (1623-1704) said that humans deserve the equal right to life, liberty and property with the others, although in this case, most of them are the mixture of low-income and single family residences. The residents who live at Love Canal have the right to live without fear of harms due to hazardous wastes. Ironically, the whole nation will benefits from the safe disposal of these wastes.

Hence, Duty Ethics indicates the overall advantages to the society compared to that of the right ethics of the residents at Love Canal. Other than the chemical wastes by Hooker, the disposal of wastes from the U.S Army during and after World War II and the municipal disposal from neighborhoods of Niagara Falls City are part of contribution of the hazards to the public. After the declaration of emergency, the Occidental Chemical Cooperation (OCC) and U.S. Army show their responsibility on the disposal of wastes. They reimburse the residents loses in terms medical checking and lodging. Later, they remediate the Love Canal and restricted the land to the public.

Virtue Ethics says that discharging wastes is irresponsible and harmful to individuals and so it should not be done. The honesty in declaring the facts to the public should have carried out by the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Cooperation and the Niagara Falls School Board. They are responsible in acknowledging the residents on the hazard issue of the land. Hooker should hold public-spirited action in the consideration of the selling of Canal property to the Board. The health concerns of the public should come first compared to that of the freed of liability for the future contamination.

Factual, Conceptual and Moral Issues

A canal was created in year 1890 with hopes of generating the hydro electricity. It was meant to generate power inexpensively to fuel the area’s industry and homes. However, the project failed due to limitations and in 1942 the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation bought it and buried 22,000 tons of toxic waste in the area. The proper sited, managed, and regulated landfills were approved by the Niagara Power and Development Company. Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation sold this site to the Niagara Falls School Board with a deed explicitly detailing the danger contained within the site, and including a liability limitation clause about the contamination. The schools were built on the Love Canal without concerning Hooker’s warnings.

Wastes that buried beneath the Love Canal seeped out and polluted the air, water, or soil. The analytical tests were then carried out. The tested result on several sump-pumps near Love Canal and found toxic chemicals in them where potential effect to health such as cancer, blood diseases, epilepsy, miscarriages and others. The Superfund law was created to protect communities from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites that have been abandoned. Remedial works started after the order from the U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Clean-up by with the built of drainage trench and the clay was placed over land. Congressional acts developed to face toxics problem and EPA making grants for programs to specialize in safe handling and disposal of wastes. [5]

Flow chart is used often by the engineering students. Flow chart is chosen as it can emphasize the different aspects of the same problem. For solving an ethical problem, all possible outcomes and scenarios has to be determined. Thus, flow chart is the best choice in solving the Love Canal case

study problem.

Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation wish to use Love Canal as the site of chemical wastes disposal.

Are local laws strict for health safety?

Choose another location to be dump site.

Is health safety of the public taken into account?

Provide remedies for future contamination.

Dump the chemicals wastes into the canal with shielded drums.





Fig. 4: Application of simple flow chart to the Love Canal case, emphasizing potential decisions made during consideration of dumping the wastes into the canal.

Niagara Falls School Boards would like to build schools and homes at Love Canal.

Is the land free from hazards of the wastes buried beneath?

Relocate for the location of construction.

Is the health safety of the residents been guaranteed?

Acknowledge the risk of staying at that area to the residents.

Continue the construction plan.





Fig. 5: Application of simple flow chart to the Love Canal case, emphasizing potential decisions made during consideration of schools and homes building on the canal.

As illustrated in Figure 4, it presents the decision making process of the Love Canal as the dump site of chemical wastes. The Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation should ensure that there is no leakage of the chemicals to the ground. Remedies such as restriction of constructions on that area should be implemented if they have foreseen the effect of contamination in the future. The Niagara Falls School Board neglecting the issue of health safety on the contamination land speeds up the level of exposure of the chemicals to the public.

While for Figure 5, it shows the decision making process that might have gone by the authorities involved, for instance, The Niagara Falls Planning Board and The Niagara Falls School Board. They decide on the construction of the schools. It is obviously shows that the Boards only relocate the constructions 6 blocks away from the original plan due to the statements of the architect, saying that concrete foundation might damage if constructing the building on top of the dump site. The tragedy happens because the removal of protection clay cap and holes punching into the impermeable clay walls to build water lines.


The Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation should plan the proper way to dispose the hazardous waste properly without effecting the environment. Besides, they should identify the hazardous waste and manage it differently. Since in this case, they put them together in the same place. Dioxin is the most hazardous substance together with benzene; carcinogen and other make the very worst impact to the society health.

Furthermore, the government should survey and should expect the effect of build La Salle Expressway that crosses the canal. It makes the buried chemical beneath the land to migrate and seep from the canal. Effect of this construction, it restricted groundwater from flowing to Niagara River. It turns the breached canal into overflowing pool.

Management of the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation should alert their hazardous waste is very harmful to the human and environment event in long term. They should not sell the property to the government. Otherwise they should manage the waste properly until it may not affect to environment.

In addition, the management of private developer, for example Niagara Falls Housing Authority builds the housing project without knowing the history of the canal and the agreement between the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation and the school board.

The local authorities or especially local politicians were trying to deny the problem. The Mayor of Niagara Falls, Micheal C.OLaughlin state that there is nothing wrong in Love Canal. As the mayor or the local authority, he should take this problem as serious thing. He should study the history; survey the health report that obviously shows that there has something wrong with that area. Also, he should observe the area himself to prove it. Then take the precaution and final way to avoid the problem.

In this disaster, the government has make a big mistake by wedged the Hooker Corporation to sell the properties even thought the Hooker has demonstrate that there have hazardous waste underground. The government should know the long term effect of this waste and not to build the school or any housing.

Last but not least, the local government also went against all repeated warnings by the Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation and tried to profit off of the contaminated land. The government knows the chemical contain but they removed part of the protective clay cap to use as fill dirt and punched holes in the impermeable clay walls to build water lines and the La Salle Expressway. At the beginning they should conscious about the environment and society. They cannot take in pawn of human life rather than for their sake.


There is a remaining question- who has the liability regarding accidents occurring from wastes disposed of previously? Although taking into the account of these aggressive strides to make sure that hazardous waste is safely managed, it becomes a questionable issue. Relating to the liability, if health safety is detected at dangerous level, what are the authorities that willing to correct the situation? Are they willing to accept the after risk? Who’s going to pick up the tab? However, undoubtedly this question will be taken in hand effectively in the future. One of the main problems which against is that the shifting of the land’s ownership. It is difficult to determine liability. It is within power of human to work out effective controls designed to significantly lower or even cut off the environmental risks. Justifications in decisions that made are crucial in solving the dilemma. The tragedy is not over and done that the residents of Love Canal have given more than others.


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