Niagara Gazette — It's been 34 years since the state and federal government evacuated families from the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls.
But now, the specter of chemical contamination has bubbled back to the surface.
"We predicted this would happen," said Richard Lippes, a pioneering environmental defense lawyer who represented the Love Canal families in the late 1970s. "I'm sorry we were right."
Lippes had just finished listening, Tuesday night, to a host of former students from the Falls' 93rd Street School as they detailed the medical problems that have plagued them in recent years. They were children at the time that a witch's brew of toxic chemicals was discovered leeching into the basements of their school and nearby homes.
Laura Racine moved away not long after her graduation in 1985 from LaSalle High, but when she returned for a class reunion she wondered if illnesses she was dealing with might be connected to her former home.
"I was really sick (at the time of the reunion) and I was going to go," Racine said. "Then my father asked, 'Do you think (the illness) could be related to Love Canal?'"
Racine said she went to the reunion and sought out former classmates from the 93rd Street School to see if they were also suffering from medical problems.
"I would say nine out of 10 said they had health issues," Racine said.
She set up a Facebook page, Love Canal Made Me Sick, and set out to discover if there was a connection between the adult illness of the former students and their Love Canal school. The meeting with Lippes and fellow environmental attorney Christen Civiletto-Morris was a start.
"We hoped to gather more information," Racine said. "A lot of people told their stories and now we want to know if there's a connection to the Love Canal. This is beyond coincidence."
About 50 people came to the meeting at the Evening Star Concert hall. Another former 93rd Street School student, Kathy Messer, said a lot of those showed up have been dealing with heart problems, various types of cancers and stomach related illnesses.
"We found out a lot of people are really sick," Messer said. "It would be nice to find some answers. We're damaged and we deserve to know why."
In addition to the concerns of the former students, Civiletto-Morris said she had been looking into reports that toxic waste that was "capped" at the Love Canal dump site has begun to rise to the surface again.
"The cap is past its expiration date," Civiletto-Morris said. "We've seen chemicals (on the surface, in multiple locations)."
She said she is working with experts on the testing of air, water and soil samples from the neighborhood and would hope to involve both the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
State Assemblyman John Ceretto, who represents the Love Canal neighborhood, said he is ready to proved whatever help the former students and current residents need."
"It's just sad, the nightmare of Love Canal doesn't go away," he said. "There are a lot of people here who are sick and my heart goes out to them."
Both Lippes and Civiletto-Morris said the results of the testing underway and further research could result in lawsuits that would once again target the city, the local water authority and the former Hooker Chemical Company.
"This is our first approach. We have a lot of research to do," Lippes said. "There seems to be a high rate of death (among the former students), 30 percent in some cases. It that's tied to chemical exposure, there will be lawsuits."