Thirty-five years is a long time. Generations of people come and go in less time. But for Lois Gibbs, her fight rages on.
It's been that long since Gibbs and her neighbors were granted evacuation from the portion of Niagara Falls known as Love Canal, a community she led the charge to save.
Now, she said, the same problems she warned the political elite of the day and the executives of Occidental Petroleum Corp. about have reared their ugly heads as current residents, unaware there could be issues when they made investments in a "cleaned up" community, are dealing with major health concerns once again.
"We fought very hard to stop the resettlement of Love Canal," Gibbs said. "We lost that battle. Today, every single thing we said was going to happen has happened. Love Canal cannot be contained. It's impossible. Families from 92nd (Street), 93rd (Street) on up are getting sick from chemicals we said 35 years ago is a problem. Today there are victims all over this neighborhood."
Residents like Keith Boos, who declined to specify what has caused his family much stress over the past 15 years, said there's been a lot of difficulty since they've moved into the neighborhood.
He said his wife has had two brain surgeries to remove cysts, while he's been saddled with his own issues. His daughter, he said, has trouble remembering things and is constantly fatigued living in their house with her 2-year-old daughter.
Then there's the family pet, a dog Boos said was rescued with the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals eight years ago. Named Nico, the four-legged family member quickly got sick after being in good health, he said, and died earlier this month after developing a tumor on his heart.
Though he wouldn't delve deep into his suffering, the 43-year-old said an air quality report last year, showing elevated levels of "dangerous chemicals," initially tipped him off to the lack of safety in his own home. It's affecting him mentally, physically and emotionally, he said.
"The air my family breathes every day is contaminated and life threatening," he said. "I don't come to (the public) as a scientist or a doctor. I come to you as a father and as a husband and as a grandfather who wants what's best for his family.
"They told us it was safe. They told us it was safe to come back. Now they're stalling."
It's these stories Gibbs, now executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in Washington, D.C., said make her upset that they couldn't keep the site closed to families. But it also infuriates her that the government pushed off her concerns and promoted the site as clean and habitable.
It's not clean, she said. In fact, the material was never removed. Instead, it's considered isolated, according to the activist. What happened is time has passed and new families have tried to make lives for themselves in an area they never should be in.
There's a baseball diamond now and parkland with a nature trail. The containment site is fenced in with signs that read "Private Property NO Trespassing." The area is designed to showcase a livable community, one which has overcome the largest black eye a neighborhood can possibly receive.
It worked too well, Gibbs said.
"This is insane, it's absolutely insane," she said. "You look around here and look at the sign. Private property? I travel all across the country to Superfund sites, to hazardous waste sites. They all have 'Hazardous Waste, Dangerous, Do Not Enter.' They worked so hard to cover up Love Canal that 'Private Property' makes it look like some kind of gated community. This is not a gated community, this is 20,000 tons of toxics that's leaking everywhere. I'm just blown away by it.
"At best, they put a trench around it. There's still 20,000 tons of chemicals at the center of that site. Nothing has been cleaned up except for a little bit in the creeks, and God knows that's probably contaminated again. They're trying to create this image this place is a lovely little safe place to come and live. But the fact of the matter is they're exposing more and more people to this very dangerous situation."
What's the solution? Though the residents need to leave, she said, the fight should involve a bit of detention for the ones responsible for this latest catastrophe – as well as the first one.
Though it might be too late to punish those originally responsible after standard practices led to Hooker Chemical capping the eventual contaminant in the ground below these houses, someone needs to go to jail, Gibbs said.
"The people who are responsible for this, Occidental Petroleum, the city of Niagara Falls, the state of New York, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, not only should be ashamed of what they did, but they should be put in jail," she said. "This is an unfair situation and I'm very saddened. It's very hard to come back here and see the same thing that was there 35 years ago. It didn't have to happen."
Tuesday's morning press conference also served to draw attention to two additional environmental fights currently raging in western Niagara County. Activists from Residents for Responsible Government addressed the possibility of an expansion of material storage at Chemical Waste Management in Lewiston, while others spoke against the waste-to-energy facility, Covanta Niagara, which is located off 56th Street.
"Toxic landfills are bad for our health and bad for our economy," said April Fideli, president of RRG, a local group that has led the fight to stop expansion of CWM's landfill in the Town of Porter.
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.