updated 3/18/2004 10:59:28 AM ET 2004-03-18T15:59:28

Cleanup work at a former chemical dump that gave rise to the Superfund list has been completed, more than two decades after the environmental disaster forced the evacuation of an entire neighborhood, federal officials said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that the Love Canal should be taken off the Superfund list now that its cleanup work is done.

“By taking the Love Canal site off the Superfund list, we will mark a turning point for the nation,” said Jane Kenny, EPA’s regional administrator. “This was the site that really started Superfund.”

The Niagara Falls neighborhood had been built on and around a former chemical dump, and by the 1960s and ’70s contaminated groundwater was leaching into back yards and school grounds.

Evacuations 25 years ago
President Carter declared a federal emergency in 1978 and 1980, which led to the evacuation of some 900 families and the bulldozing of an elementary school and two streets built on the canal and the 21,800 tons of World War II-era chemical byproducts it holds.

Passage of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as Superfund, soon followed.

The cleanup at Love Canal has centered on containing the waste under a thick clay cap and high-density polyethylene liner and surrounding it with a barrier drainage system. Areas deemed safe again have since been resettled as “Black Creek Village.”

Under the new EPA proposal, the 70-acre site would continue to be monitored and remain eligible for any cleanup that might become necessary. The EPA’s recommendation started the clock on a 30-day comment period.

Activist questions timing
Lois Gibbs, a former Love Canal homeowner and environmental activist, questioned the timing of the EPA proposal. Gibbs said the Bush administration was seeking to deflect criticism after a March 11 Senate vote against reauthorizing an expired user fee on corporations to fund environmental cleanup.

“This is a way for them to talk about how this is a turning point and that we’re cleaning up these sites when in fact there’s no money to clean up these sites,” Gibbs said. “We have less cleanup and I think it’s a big (public relations) thing and they’re using Love Canal to cover their tracks.”

EPA spokesman Mike Basile said that the proposal’s timing was related to last year’s dissolution of a government-created agency that completed its mission to refurbish and sell off abandoned homes, and the completion last September of a five-year review of the site.

“This is very typical for EPA to delist sites once we’ve completed our work at the sites,” Basile said.

Health study still in works
Former Love Canal resident Barbara Quinby doubts the area is safe to inhabit.

“If it was safe I’d be living there,” said Quinby, who grew up in Love Canal. “How much longer before what they’ve contained leaks back out?”

Occidental Chemical Corp., formerly Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corp., used the abandoned canal for its waste in the 1940s and 1950s. The company has paid more than $233 million since 1995 to cover cleanup costs and medical expenses for victims of the contamination and continues to pay for the site’s monitoring.

Exactly how the crisis has affected the long-term health of former residents remains unknown. The results of a five-year state study tracking birth defects, illness and deaths are expected in the near future.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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