Industrialized cities around the world feature derelict factories, mills, warehouses, and refineries. Once behemoth structures at the social and economic heart of industrialization, these buildings now lie in ruins... old industrial sites are invested with more than cultural meanings: they are the remnants left behind in the wake of deindustrialization. Despite their state of disuse, abandoned industrial sites remain connected with the urban fabric that surrounds them: with communities; with collective memory; and with people’s health, livelihoods, and stories.-Alice Mah, Industrial Ruination, Community and Place: Landscapes of Urban Decline
During the 1960s, the city of Niagara Falls, as well as the surrounding region and much of the Rust Belt, were hit by an economic decline as industries started to relocate. The exodus of affluent families to the suburbs had already begun, leaving vacancies throughout the city. These areas were among the earliest in the United States to feel the ripple effects of globalization, which were largely unforeseen.
"We remember the bomb going off; we remember the Love Canal; we remember the plants closing; we remember our parents being out of work; that’s what people remember. They remember all the fallout of the plants closing, the fallout from Love Canal."- Interview w/ anonymous resident collected by Alice Mah
The story of Love Canal, a toxic waste disaster that affected a New York neighborhood during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a powerful reminder of the importance of environmental regulations and the need for corporate responsibility. Lois Gibbs, a resident of the affected community, spoke about her experiences at the RemTech conference, an industry event where professionals can share information and gain perspective.
In 1978, Gibbs learned that her son's elementary school and the surrounding neighborhood had been built on a 21,000-ton toxic waste dump. Investigations confirmed the presence of strange odors and black substances in people's basements and yards. The waste was linked to various health issues, including birth defects, miscarriages, and illnesses. Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association fought for the rights of the more than 800 affected families, facing resistance from local, state, and federal officials.
Eventually, investigations confirmed the link between waste and health issues in the community. President Jimmy Carter declared an emergency and ordered the affected families to be evacuated. The Superfund Act of 1980 was passed in response to the disaster, providing for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and the recovery of funds from corporations that released hazardous substances.
The Love Canal disaster highlights the importance of environmental regulations and corporate responsibility. It also demonstrates the power of community activism and the need for government officials to take action to protect their citizens. The lessons of Love Canal continue to resonate today as communities worldwide face environmental challenges and work to create a safer and healthier world for future generations.
"Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces."
"I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards."
"Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds."
-Eckhardt C. Beck,
EPA Administrator for Region 2, 1977 – 1979
"Love Canal will be long remembered as a national symbol of failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations."
- David Axelrod, NY State Health Dept.