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The recent furor created by the proposed dumping of radioactive waste from
the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant into the Susquehanna River has raised
some frightening questions concerning the storage and safe disposal of toxic
Through their genius, modern alchemists brew as many as 1,000 new
concoctions each year in the United States alone. At last count, nearly 50,000
chemicals were on the market. Many have been an undeniable boon to mankind,
mitigating pain and disease, prolonging life for millions and expanding the
economy in myriad ways by stimulating the creation of new products. There is,
however, a price to pay for an industrial society that has come to rely so heavily
on chemicals: almost 35,000 of those used in the United States are classified by the
federal Environmental Protection Agency as being either definitely or potentially
hazardous to human health; their danger is clearly growing.
After we have dealt with the horrific realities of Love Canal, after we have
removed the endangered residents and relocated them, compensated them for
their property and suffering, we can begin to unravel some of the whys and
wherefores, and set a pattern for the future. Love Canal seems to have become
the prime example, and in many ways it is an excellent one.
Before the Love Canal scandal is over, it could prove to be the most costly--in
terms of both money and human life--ever to dirty the Empire State's name. The
very phrase has become synonymous with the deadly fruits of an irresponsible
technocracy. Love Canal was the first of many dangerous toxic chemical dumping
sites discovered around the United States. Some are legal, many are illegal. But
they all point out our past failings in a way that we can no longer ignore.
A little history: The Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corp. had a large operation
in Niagara Falls, New York. One plant, located by a dry, man-made gully named
"Love Canal," used 15 acres of the canal area as a dumping site for -the hazardous
byproducts of its chemical production. This dumping occurred between 1947 and
1952; when the Love Canal dump was full, more than 21,800 tons of toxic
chemicals had been left.
Hooker apparently complied with all of the federal and state regulations
existing at the time concerning disposal of hazardous chemicals. The regulations
were woefully inadequate, as we now see quite clearly.
Volume 14, No. 4
cec. reader May 14, 1981
Published biweekly by the students of The Capitol Campus of The
Pennsylvania State University in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
The C.C. Reader has the following four-fold purpose: [l] to keep students
informed about their campus community;  to provide editorial comment on
issues facing the campus community;  to serve as a forum for student poetry,
photographs, graphics, and other creative endeavors;  to serve is a learning
mechanism for all students interested in the journalistic process. This includes
reporting, editing, layout, typesetting, and paste-up.
Activities Editor - Keith N. Gantz
Photography Editor - Mark W. Clauser
Staff - Kathy Kern, Yvonne Harhigh, John G. Harvey
Faculty Advisors - Dr. Donald Alexander, Monica O'Reilly
The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and are not
necessarily the opinions of the students, faculty, staff, or administration of The
Pennsylvania State University.
The C.C. Reader welcomes letters from readers. Letters intended for
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The Assistant Editors shall serve as Editorial Editors for the remainder of the
Pennsylvania State University
Middletown, PA 17057
Office - W-129
Phone - (717) 944-4970
Editor in Chief
Harry H. Moyer
David J. Caruso
William J. Neil
Sports Editors Darrell Reider
Thursday, May 14, 1981
The dispos4e, abandoned and covered with earth, was sold to the Niagara
School Board far e ll in 1953. The deed contained a disclaimer of responsibility for
any injuries that might occur because of the buried chemicals. The school board
built an elementary school on a portion of the land and sold the rest as residential
lots. Houses sprang up.
A key issue involves the exact point at which Hooker Chemical officials began
to suspect the disposal site was dangerous to human beings because of the toxic
chemicals, which began noticeably leaking from their storage drums and bubbling
to the surface not 20 years after the land was sold. Residents of the Love Canal
area began complaining about the peculiar smells percolating into their
basements; their lawns died, their gardens withered. Their pets developed bald
patches and chronic respiratory problems. Their water tasted odd, they had
miscarriages, their health seemed poor. They Complained: Wi)en did Hooker
listen? When should have Hooker listened? Local and state (MY.) health
departments didn't listen either, until 1978.
A House subcommittee produced documents that indicated Hooker knew
about the toxic seepage as early as June 1958 and failed to notify residents
because the company feared "a substantial legal liability." The Justice
Department filed a $124.5 million lawsuit in 1979 and state Attorney General
Robert Abrams filed a $635 million lawsuit against Hooker's parent company a
few months later. Hooker also faces more than $2 billion in private damage claims.
The Justice Department, in filing the civil suits, made clear that it will try to
force companies to clean up dumps that pose a public danger, even if those dumps
have been unused and out of a company's hands for years.
The suits--against Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp., Occidental Petroleum
Corp. (its parent), Olin Corp., and the City and Board of Education of Niagara
Falls--make up the "first major salvo" in the battle waged by Justice and the
Environmental Protection Agency to clean up abandoned dumps, according to
Anthony Z. Roisman, chief of Justice's new hazardous waste section.
The suits broke new legal ground by seeking to pin responsibility for a current
hazard on a company that long ago ceased the practices that may have caused the
hazard. The $124 million is an estimate of the remedial work that must be done at
the four sites used by Hooker, including one that was shared with Olin. Justice
has made a list of the specific actions it wants each company to take. At Love
Canal, for instance, Hooker would have to build a deep underground wall to
enclose the site and pay for complete medical studies of all families in the area.
The Hooker Corporation's role in the Love Canal incident, however, is not the
first instance of a company being made to pay for damages it has created. After
being convicted of polluting Virginia's James River with Kepone, a toxic chemical,
Allied Chemical Corp. was assessed an unprecedented fine of $13.2 million--a fine
later reduced to $5.2 million after the company made an $8 million contribution to
an environmental foundation. But even if it were possible to rid the James of
Kepone, it would probably cost several hundred million dollars. New York State
extracted $3 million from General Electric Co. after it was charged with polluting
the Hudson River with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). But one estimate of the
cost for a total cleanup of PCBs is more than $2OO million. And in the fall of 1979,
the Hooker Corp. itself made a $2O million settlement with Michigan over a dump
site at Montague which spelled out a plan for cleansing groundwater.
As far as Hooker is concerned, though, the Love Canal issue is quite another
story. And the company has a legitimate defense: It no longer owns the property;
it claims it warned the Board of Education of potential hazards; and it claims that
migration of the chemicals was caused by subsequent disruption of a clay cap over
the dump site. The defense, confronting the government's determination to force
a cleanup,has kept the case in courts for years.
In light of the lawsuits filed against Hooker, the best that could come of
them--besides monetary compensation for the 710 innocent Love Canal families
who face cancer, birth defects, and life-long health troubles from their ordeal--is
this precedent: When must a company act on reports of injury from its products
or its practices? Even though it may be complying with existing regulations, when
does the company become bound by a responsibility to society? What is the
penalty for not having a social conscience? Under what circumstances can we
reasonably expect a company to protect us from itself? When it fails to do so, what
is a fitting punishment?
It will have cost the New York State and the federal governments millions in
relocation expenses, cleanup costs and detoxification efforts before Love Canal
becomes safe enough to fence off and ignore. Hooker Chemical will bear some
portion of that burden; the courts will decide how much.
But we're probably creating the next generation's Love Canals now,
manufacturing the time bombs that will lie in wait to explode in 20 or 30 or 40
years. We can only do the best we can, right now, with the technology we have.
But we must make sure that it is the best and not merely the cheapest or easiest.
In the case of the Three Mile Island proposed disposal of conceivably deadly waste
materials into the Susquehanna River, we must be very cautious. Haphazard and
careless disposal of radioactive or chemical wastes must cease. Companies that
produce the waste must bear the responsibility for its continued safe disposal. No
future Hookers can be allowed to ignore threats to health and safety because of
the fear of a "substantial legal liability."
--William J. Neil