30 Years Later: Happy Birthday Love Canal

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In the middle of an abandoned suburban neighborhood, a long grassy mound pokes up a few feet higher than the cracked streets surrounding it. A green chain-link fence surrounds the small hill, which is covered with wildflowers in summer -- lavender chicory and small yellow daisies. The fence has no warning sign -- not anymore -- but this is Love Canal, the toxic waste dump that became synonymous with environmental disaster 30 years ago.

Adeline Levine, a sociologist who wrote a book about Love Canal, described to me the scene she had witnessed exactly 30 years earlier, on Aug. 11, 1978. "It was like a Hitchcock movie," she said, "where everything looks peaceful and pleasant, but something is slumbering under the ground."

That "something" was more than 21,000 tons of chemical waste. The mixed brew contained more than 200 different chemicals, many of them toxic. They were dumped into the canal -- which was really more of a half-mile-long pond -- in the 1940s and 1950s by the Hooker Electrochemical Co. In 1953, the canal was covered with soil and sold to the local school board, and an elementary school and playground were built on the site. A working-class neighborhood sprang up around them.

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