Exposure to pollution is no joke, particularly when it is in the form of hazardous or toxic waste. Today, the United States federal government has many restrictions and regulations in place that manage the disposal of hazardous waste. However, this was not always the case; earlier in history, companies could pollute without control or repercussions. The results were devastating, with citizens of nearby towns experiencing terrible health consequences as a result.
Victims of Pollution: Love Canal, New York
The most infamous example of hazardous waste causing detrimental effects to nearby surroundings is the case of Love Canal. Love Canal is both the name of a canal that began construction in 1942 (when the Hooker Chemical Company decided to build the canal as dumping grounds for chemical waste created by their factory) and the name of a nearby town. Sadly, the construction of the canal was authorized by the US government. By 1953, the canal consisted of nearly 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals. The canal was left unfinished, covered, and sold to the Niagara Falls School Board by the Hooker Chemical Company with hopes of avoiding any legal consequences.
In 1970, members of the small town began experiencing unusual and inexplicable health problems. Miscarriages and birth defect rates became unusually high, and citizens complained of frequent migraines and asthma attacks.
The truth soon came out: not only were the citizens of Love Canal living above a toxic waste dumping site, but large amounts of precipitation in the previous years had caused the waste to leak into sewage systems, creeks, and even the school’s playground. Pleas for evacuation and recognition of disaster ensued. In 1978, 239 of 939 families were evacuated from Love Canal. The remaining families weren’t evacuated until 1981, despite tests conducted by the New York State Department of Health which claimed that toxic levels were still leaking into the remaining families’ homes.
The disaster resulted in the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The act held corporations like Hooker Chemical Company liable for cleaning up and covering damages covered by toxic waste sites.
Disposal without Consideration: Emelle, Alabama
Around the same time as the Love Canal disaster, Chemical Waste Management Inc. purchased land near Emelle, Alabama to be used as a landfill. Ironically, 40 percent of waste disposed of under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act was placed in the new landfill, and approximately six million tons of hazardous waste polluted the area. Six offsite and twelve onsite spills of hazardous waste occurred between the years of 1983-84. While no known victims of the disposal of waste have been reported, there’s no doubt that the pollutants greatly changed the face of the land and could have unforeseen health consequences for citizens in the future.
In 1991, the Supreme Court of Alabama heard the case of Chemical Waste Management Inc. v. Hunt, in which the governor of Alabama attempted to impose a tax for hazardous waste disposal upon the company. Chemical Waste Management’s side was upheld, and it was decided that taxing the company more would constitute a form of discrimination.
The above are only two of many cases involving hazardous waste, and both resulted in legal action taken by the US government. It is possible that in cases such as these, victims of pollution may claim damages against the government or the company responsible for the hazardous waste. To protect the health of citizens and to ensure that these legal battles don’t ensue, proper waste management, cleanup, and storage of dangerous waste is crucial.
Byline: Andrew Burke realizes that reckless waste disposal can cause a myriad of troubles for business and society. For that reason, he carefully keeps track of his business’ waste using storage material from Go-To-Tanks.