The Love Canal is named after William T. Love, the man who envisioned the idea of creating an 11-km canal between the two sections of the Niagara River to produce electricity for powering his planned city in the 1890s. However, his plan failed and the pit filled with water over the years.
In 1940, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation purchased the land for use in disposing chemicals. Nearly a decade later, the company had disposed more than 22,000 tons of toxic wastes, and the Love Canal was almost full. The land was later used to build schools and residential homes, and soon, residents started reporting strange odors and the presence of heavy metals. In 1976, heavy rains caused a large amount of chemicals to move to the surface, contaminating the whole area.
In the years that followed, the area reported abnormally high rates of stillbirths and miscarriages, and a similar number of babies born with defects. Eventually in 1978, more than 1,000 families were evacuated from the area, and an EPA study found out that of the 36 people tested, 11 had deformed chromosomes, and that of 15 babies born in the area between 1970 and 1980, just 2 were well.
In the early morning of August 19, 2006, residents of Abidjan city of Ivory Coast observed trucks with freshly painted logo dumping liquid wastes at various locations within the city, this went on for more than three weeks. A few weeks later, several residents began reporting a fowl smell, and tens of people were said to have died.
After several investigations by foreign journalists and the Ivorian government agencies, it was discovered that a Dutch company, Trafigura, had contracted a ship to dispose chemical wastes from its plants in Ivory Coast. The wastes consisted of over 500 tons of a mixture of fuel, caustic soda (Sodium hydroxide), hydrogen sulfide and phenols that Trafigura had failed to dispose in the Netherlands due to high costs. The waste had come from the process of stripping coker gasoline to obtain naphtha.
The company had then contracted a ship, Probo Koala, to deliver the wastes in Abidjan, and collaborated with a local company to dispose the wastes throughout Abidjan. The disposal is estimated to have caused the deaths of more than 17 people while close to 40,000 suffered various illnesses after inhaling the harmful gases released by the wastes.
Hooker Chemical factory was solely responsible for the Love Canal Tragedy, however, the government was also responsible for failing to carry out conclusive studies on the long-term effects of the wastes on the area as had been done by Dr. Robert Mobbs. Dr. Mobbs had investigated the relation between insecticides and cancer and made his reports public, but the government failed to take it up. Eventually, millions or dollars were used to clean up the area, with Hooker Company contributing almost $130 million and the rest by the government.
In the Ivorian case, Trafigura was at fault, however, the Dutch government through the port of Amsterdam was also at fault for allowing Trafigura to move the waste back into the Probo Koala after realizing that the disposal fee was too high. Eventually, the Ivorian government and Trafigura paid for the victims’ hospital bills, the clean up exercise and other related expenses.
The ‘Superfund’ was created in 1980 to collect funds from gas and chemical companies for use in clean-up processes identical to the Love Canal. A second legislation, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed in 1976 in the US to monitor the disposal of solid wastes and toxic wastes. Superfund is implemented under the EPA and has been successful in cases such as the Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation v. Catellus Development Corporation and Kaiser Ganton Technologies v. Quadion Corporation in California (1992) and Illinois (1993) respectively (Zoltowski, 1998). The RCRA has monitored waste disposal in areas such as in the Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc. incinerator near Kimball, Nebraska.
The Basel Convention failed in Ivory Coast since Trafigura failed to disclose the contents of what it was carrying to port officials, besides, it worked in secrecy with an Ivorian company, Compagnie Tommy, to dispose the wastes in Abidjan without anyone’s knowledge. Corruption must have played a role too.
The desire to build more schools and residential areas instigated the Love Canal tragedy. Later, Lois Gibbs, a woman whose family had been affected by the harmful wastes mobilized the Love Canal community and led a campaign to draw the government’s attention to the matter. This led to the closure of the school. Further studies by the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry put pressure on the government and Hooker Corporation to act appropriately. Finally, people were moved out of the area and the company and the government worked together in the clean-up exercise and compensation.
The Ivorian scenario also had its own set of pressures, mainly from media companies, but beginning with the company’s desire to make huge profits. Trafigura’s actions were exposed by a host of journalists, among them David Leigh (The Guardian), Meirion Jones and Liz Mackean (BBC Newsnight).
The Ivorian public also protested, amidst mass resignations of top government officials. Further pressure came from the Dutch Parliament and the High Court in London, which filed a ? 100 million lawsuit, eventually, after much denial, Trafigura paid a ? 100 million for clean up and a further ? 46 million to people who were affected.
Trafigura vehemently denied ever depositing toxic substances, instead insisting that the waste was from the regular washing of the ship’s tank and could not cause human deaths in any way. The company only agreed to pay for the clean up and compensation due to pressure from media stations, the Dutch Parliament, and the arrest of its executives in Ivory Coast. Occidental also denied any involvement in the disaster, but eventually paid the settlement and clean-up fees. Hooker Corporation did not know the long-term effects of their actions while Trafigura knew the effects of their waste and engaged in unethical practices. I would choose to invest my money in Hooker Corporation.
Environmental Justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (Miller & Tyler, 2003). Trafigura flouted this concept since they opted to dispose their wastes without involving all people of Ivory Coast.
Source reduction refers to any alteration in the planning, manufacture, acquisition, or use of objects or products to lower their levels of toxicity before they become municipal waste. Companies can reduce the toxic nature of their wastes by adding certain chemicals to the wastes to react with the toxic elements, or to pass the wastes through chemical processes that lower their toxicity, e.g. heating under very high temperatures to break down harmful compounds. Some companies have adopted industrial processes that produce very little toxic wastes while some recycle their wastes.
Miller, Jr., and Tyler, G. (2003). Environmental Science: Working With the Earth (9th Ed.). California: Brooks/ Cole.
Zoltowski, C. (1998). Superfund Liability: Is it too strict? VA: National Society of Professional Engineers.