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What can you do if your property is filled with toxic chemicals?

After 35 years, history in Niagara Falls’ Love Canal neighborhood seems to be repeating itself. Residents had been assured that the 21,800 tons of industrial hazardous waste once dumped in the Love Canal, which had sickened hundreds or thousands of residents in the 1970s, had been fully cleaned up.

A $230-million cleanup had been undertaken, after all, and the site is continually monitored even now by Occidental Petroleum Corp., which bought the company responsible for the spill. After the disaster, 900 area families were given compensation for conditions ranging from kidney problems to miscarriages and mental disabilities among their children.

Now, however, a series of unfortunate events has many convinced that toxic chemicals still plague the site. Six homeowners have already sued, seeking desperately-needed compensation for health issues. They believe their health problems are the result of negligence by the property owner Occidental, the city and its water board, and other parties who failed to fully clean up the Love Canal. Attorneys familiar with the situation estimate that some 1,100 additional claims may be filed.

The Love Canal cleanup involved capping the canal and installing a plastic liner to keep hazardous waste from reentering the soil and groundwater. As early as 1977, cold weather forced chemical waste through that cap and into groundwater and even to the surface, contaminating residents’ homes and basements.

In 2011, a sewer excavation project turned up yet more chemical waste. Crews used power-hoses to flush out the chemicals, only worsening the contamination. One resident who is suing says that his basement was flooded with waste-water, which left behind residue that tested positive for the chemicals.

The EPA concluded that the chemicals, which were found 20 feet below ground, represented only an isolated pocket of previously-undiscovered waste -- not new waste leaking from the Love Canal. Both the EPA and New York agencies assert the area is safe, but residents say they’re experiencing health problems eerily similar to those the chemicals caused decades ago.

If Occidental and the city have falsely claimed the property was save, or if negligence by those tasked with cleaning up and monitoring the property resulted in serious harm to residents, those responsible must be held liable.

Source: The Washington Post, "After 35 years, new generation of Love Canal residents claims illnesses from buried chemicals," Associated Press, Nov. 2, 2013

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