A chemical compound found by a contractor working in a LaSalle neighborhood has been connected to Love Canal-era contamination, multiple sources confirmed to the Niagara Gazette on Thursday.
The substance was found last week when a Niagara Falls Water Board contractor, working in the vicinity of the 70-acre Love Canal containment structure, broke into a clay pipe, releasing a chemical compound.
The compound released from the pipe produced an odor which could be smelled blocks away from the site of the excavation, the contractor said.
“We knew immediately it wasn’t normal dirt,” said Scott Miller, a representative of Scott Lawn Yard, the Water Board’s hired contractor. “We figured it was some historic contamination and from doing a number of projects in the area it was likely it could be traced to Oxy and the Love Canal.”
State environmental officials said there is no immediate health risk to residents.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said city engineers immediately drew a sample from the pipe and sent the residue to a private laboratory, which found it to be a chlorine compound consistent with historic material found in the area at the time of the Love Canal environmental contamination.
“A sample was taken and analyzed and from the preliminary results, it appears as though the material is something from (Occidental Chemical),” Dyster said. “They don’t know how it got there or how long it’s been there.”
The contracted work was being done on an existing sewer line at the intersection of Colvin Boulevard and 96th Street, which sits in the shadow of the Love Canal containment structure. The clay pipe that was broken into sits approximately 25-feet below the road surface and is no longer in service.
“The road is 100 years old and the Love Canal is 35 years old, we figured something would be there,” Miller said. “As soon as we ran into an issue we shut down the job and the city engineers took control.”
Lori Severino, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told the Gazette on Thursday in an emailed statement her agency is directing the investigation into the leak and is in touch with representatives from Occidental Chemical.
“(The Water Board contractor) encountered a black substance in the sewer bedding that had a sewage/chemical odor,” Severino wrote. “The city collected and analyzed a soil sample and it showed high levels (of) volatile organic compounds. We have contacted Oxy and requested that they review the data and develop a plan to investigate and determine the source of the material and propose a remedial plan to address it (if necessary).”
Severino also said the DEC has “advised the city to cover any exposed materials to prevent contact and volatilization from the soil.” However, as of Thursday night, the excavation site remained open.
Dyster said DEC officials also expressed to the city there was no immediate threat to the safety and welfare of residents in the immediate area.
“However, a thorough investigation is being conducted by the DEC and Glenn Springs (Holdings Inc.),” Dyster said.
Dyster added state and local officials are taking the situation “very seriously.”
The current capped containment structure is managed by Glenn Springs Holdings Inc., an Occidental Chemical Corp. affiliate. Questions about a possible leak from the containment structure were referred back to the DEC by a Glenn Springs spokesperson.
“Glenn Springs Holdings Inc. was asked to provide its expertise and is working in full cooperation with the Niagara Falls Water Board and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine a course of action,” said Eric Moses, a Glenn Springs spokesperson.
Moses said the DEC is the best resource for answers on the integrity of the containment structure.
Scott Lawn Yard contracted with the Water Board earlier this year to repair 17 existing sewer lines mostly in the LaSalle area of the city. The Water Board has been looking to better control ground water infiltration.
Miller said he expressed concerns to city and Water Board officials during pre-construction meetings about the proximity of the jobs to the former Love Canal site.
From 1942 to 1953, Hooker Chemical Company, the predecessor to Occidental Chemical, dumped nearly 22,000 tons of toxic waste in a 16-acre clay-capped landfill, a portion of which was later given to the Niagara Falls School District for construction of an elementary school.
By the early 1970s, a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals began to leach from the landfill and into the school and nearby homes. Exposure to the chemicals created severe health problems for neighborhood residents and led to the declaration of a federal state of emergency in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter.
Eventually more than 950 families were relocated from the neighborhood and 350 homes were demolished in what was called the greatest environmental disaster in the U.S. at that time.