After learning of the toxic waste that surrounded their homes, Love Canal residents began protests that captured national attention. Historian Richard Newman believes their efforts have had a lasting impact on the environment.
"Love Canal was a poster child for toxic waste hazards in the late 1970's," Newman said during an interview with WBFO.
Newman will discuss his book "Love Canal: A Toxic History" at the Buffalo History Museum tonight. A reception starts at 7, followed by the talk at 7:30. Both events, co-sponsored by the Humanities Institute and the UB History Department, are free and open to the public.
"I think the residents deserve to be recognized as world class reformers." Their story, Newman argues, sparked interest which led to the discovery of nearly 30,000 toxic waste dumps around the country.
"I think they need to be saluted."
Newman examines the history that led to Love Canal. He reviews the regional and national "mindset about using and transforming the land for commercial gain."
That attitude extends back to Colonial times in the Niagara region.
"Few people (were) asking about the impact on land or health or environment."
It took a tragedy to reverse course.
Without Love Canal, we "wouldn't have the consciousness about the problem that exists from previous land use and the production of hazardous chemicals."
Though Newman honors residents as eventual heroes, he doesn't shortchange their suffering.
Love Canal families reported "elevated levels of miscarriages, birth defects."
Children playing baseball at the neighborhood school suffered "chemical burns from just playing on the grass."