Like the great waterfalls that draws people from around the planet, Love Canal will always be a part of Niagara Falls.
The 70-acre containment area off Colvin Boulevard and west of Williams Road holds about 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals and has been designed by environmental experts from the federal and state government to last, their experts say, into perpetuity.
Moving the chemicals would cause more danger than leaving them there, according to Mike Basile, a spokesman for the Buffalo office of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Basile, who lives about a mile from Love Canal, talks confidently about the safety of the community, which is under constant monitoring.
“I’m proud to work for EPA,” he said recently. “We’ve done a great job. We learned a lot at Love Canal and we did a lot there.”
Love Canal will be a part of the Falls community as far into the future as anyone can see. There will always be lives impacted by the chemicals left behind by Hooker Chemical and the neighborhood which is built around the containment area.
Many viewpoints have been reported in these pages over the last few week as the region recognizes the 40th anniversary of the federal declaration of a state of emergency in Love Canal.
Here are words from some still others whose lives have been impacted by Love Canal:
Patti Grenzy, former Love Canal homeowner
Grenzy, who lived with her family on 100th Street, was one of the leaders of the Love Canal Homeowners Association and one of near 900 families that were moved out of Love Canal after President Jimmy Carter’s emergency declaration in 1978. Each time she drives by the chemical containment area, she gets angry again.
“Raising four children, every time they got a bloody nose, you had to tamp yourself down and say, ‘It’s a bloody nose. It doesn’t mean it’s leukemia,” she said. “However, it could be leukemia so you had to check them out.”
A high school graduate and homemaker, she and some of her neighbors became reluctant experts on the 80 or so chemicals that were buried in Love Canal. She believes that there are still chemicals seeping into the ground despite assurances from government agencies who say there is wide ranging and constant monitoring of the community.
Patti said she was told by a state health official that there was a swale of chemicals beneath her former Love Canal home. She ticks off a long list of her ailments, from fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue, which she believes are due to the toxins, and she says, “I’m never not in pain.”
Like many Love Canal families, concern lingers, even for her youngest of four, who did not live in Love Canal, and her grandchildren, who must be watched closely simply because the Grenzy family once lived in Love Canal.
She and her husband and her four children all suffer from anxiety.
“Every one of us has asthma now,” she said. “And yes, people have asthma but what happens is the chemicals make it worse.”
Like her friend, Luella Kenny, who attributes the death of her son, Jon Allen, 7, to the exposure of toxic materials buried at Love Canal, Grenzy regularly gives interviews about the area.
She wishes people would educate themselves.
“Google the chemicals that are in there. Google what they do. Yes, it’s a nice little neighborhood, it was a nice little neighborhood when we lived there,” Grenzy said.
Former Congressman John J. LaFalce
The affable former Congressman from Buffalo, John J. LaFalce, recalls he was already working on the problems in Love Canal before the homeowners began organizing.
“I started working on it in 1977, when some residents came to me,” he said recently. “I went over and visited the backyards and basements. I didn’t know what it was I was seeing or what it was I was smelling, but I knew it was real trouble.”
It wasn’t easy to get the Superfund bill passed, he said. The bill was intended to force companies to pay for the damage caused by their discarded toxins.
“I must have testified at least two dozen times before different committees of Congress, not only about the problem of Love Canal but all over the United States. Some people criticized me, saying you are trying to get attention, you are hurting Niagara Falls.”
LaFalce remained committed.
“It was my job, people were in trouble,” he said.
“In the lame duck sessions of Congress in 1980, we were able to get it through,” he said of the Superfund legislation. “You always wish you could have done more. Given the opposition, given the difficulties we had, I was thrilled.”
Linda Fratello, current resident of Love Canal
Linda Fratello is very happy in her 99th Street home. She moved to Love Canal in 1996 when the rent in the apartment complex where she lived was getting outrageous. She needed a new place to live and heard about the sale of homes in the infamous neighborhood.
Fratello said recently that she was aware of the clean up at Love Canal but considered much of Western New York a “chemical dump,” adding that she at least has confidence that an accounting of the contaminants had occurred in her neighborhood.
“I’ve seen so many areas where everything seems to be fine and, come to find out, it’s not fine,” she said.
If she had been raising children at the time, Fratello said, her considerations may have been different. The only precaution she takes is not planting vegetables in the ground. Instead, she uses raised soil beds.
“Would I love to be in a house on a mountaintop looking over a lake? Of course,” Fratello said. “But that didn’t happen and I’m very happy where I am.”
Tamara Jones, author
Not long ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter Tamara Jones was approached by her literary agent to write a book on Love Canal. The agent was friends with Will Battersby, a filmmaker finishing a documentary on the subject and working with actress Patricia Arquette on a movie about the women of Love Canal.
In April, as part of her research, Jones invited seven of the women of Love Canal to spend several days with her at a bed and breakfast in the Elmwood Village of Buffalo, so she could hear their stories. It was quite the reunion, she recalled.
“It was the first time many of them had seen each other in person in decades,” she explained.
The ladies included Louis Gibbs, leader of the Love Canal Homeowners Association and founder of the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, Dr. Beverly Pagan, a scientist and friend to the Love Canal homeowners, and former Love Canal residents Patti Grenzy, Barbara Quimby, Jan Alexander, Debbie Curry and Luella Kenny.
Jones’ book will detail the friendships that formed among the women and how they became self-taught activists.
“What they orchestrated was really a form of guerrilla warfare. The story will follow the trajectory they make emotionally from blue-collar housewives and mothers to political activists on an international scale.”
The book, as yet unnamed, will be published by Random House, with an anticipated release date of late 2019.
Debbie Curry, former Love Canal homeowner
Back around 1978, it took just three pushes from a bulldozer to knock down Debbie Curry’s three-bedroom home in Love Canal. Her family was one of the first to be relocated by the government because one of her children was under the age of 2. They had to finish making payments on their new carpet that was buried with the house.
Curry’s history in Love Canal began long before then. She was born at Griffon Manor, the low-income housing project there. As a baby, she suffered with hip dysplasia, and has had multiple surgeries, as well as stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
“My health has been crappy right through my life,” she said. She’s grateful, however, that her three kids are healthy.
“I truly believe God blessed me with nothing but pure, good kids, pretty healthy kids,” Curry said during a phone interview from her Florida home.
She recalled the days when she and some of her neighbors led what they believed was a fight for their lives.
“We got together and raised all kinds of hell,” Curry said. “We made a lot of people mad.”
She is clearly proud of the results of their battle.
“It was over three thousand people we got out of there,” she said.
Dick Lucinski, real estate agent
Dick Lucinski was not only living on 98th Street in Love Canal in 1977, but he also covered the homeowners’ struggle and protests as a TV journalist for Channel 2 news.
Since reporters are required to be objective, he asked his news director if he should be taken off the story. He recalls his boss telling him, “No, you are covering it straight down the middle, just keep doing what you are doing.”
These days, he is selling real estate for Great Lakes Real Estate and recently polled several of his fellow agents about Love Canal and the real estate market there.
“They all said the neighborhood is active and when they list a home, it usually sells in a day or a week, usually at list (price) or asking price.”
“You hear a lot of stories,” he said about Love Canal. “You figure they’d negatively impact the market place in that area. At least as of recently, we haven’t seen it. It’s been strong.”
Elena Delaura, current resident of Love Canal
Elena Delaura grew up in downtown Niagara Falls and now lives in the old Love Canal neighborhood on 99th Street.
She doesn’t think much of the neighborhood’s history and says it’s not a topic of discussion in the neighborhood. But her friends joke about it.
“I was diagnosed with cancer a week after moving in,” she said. “Everyone is like, ‘Is it because you live in Love Canal?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t think cancer started in a week.’”
Delaura is in remission, healthy and maintains a sense of humor about it. Like her neighbor Linda Fratello, she does not grow food in the soil.
It’s a precaution anyone with her diagnosis is advised to take in Western New York, she said.
Delaura said the city is a chemical hotspot, in her understanding, so there’s a risk to be living anywhere in the Cataract City.
Louise Caro, Florida attorney
In May, a class action lawsuit was filed in Western New York district federal court on behalf of three Love Canal residents by Louise Caro, a partner in the Florida law offices of Napoli Shkolnik, a firm with a history of dealing with environmental torts, including those of first responders to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
The list of defendants in the lawsuit includes the City of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls Water Board, Occidental Petroleum Corp. and others. The claim seeks compensation for injuries related to toxic waste released from the Love Canal hazardous waste site.
“People who are now living there, especially people who knew nothing about what happened prior or not involved, they’re getting sick,” Carp said during a recent phone interview. “They’re starting to have symptoms, migraines, neurological issues.”
Her clients live on 99th and 100th streets.
“We have other people who are coming to us,” she added. “We’re noticing its not limited to a very small area.”
She said her firm has engaged experts to look into the situation.
“In terms of how far afield this will go, we don’t know the answer to that yet,” she said.
When asked how long such a process might take, she noted such cases take time because so much expert testimony is required in a variety of fields from health to science. She referenced other suits filed by a Texas firm eight years ago, still pending.
“Remember there are 18 other lawsuits that are filed. A lot of those people live further away and those have already been in litigation. We might not be representing those individuals, but we might be representing their neighbors,” she said.
Bob Krul, former Love Canal homeowner
Vietnam vet Bob Krul has forgiven Jane Fonda.
When the actress was young , she made headlines around the world for visiting North Vietnam in protest against the war and was photographed in a North Vietnamese tanker.
Like many veterans, he was angry for a long while — until Jane Fonda came to Love Canal and used her fame to forward efforts of the homeowners to force the government to get them out of Love Canal. When Krul met Fonda at the 20th anniversary commemoration of Love Canal, he shook her hand.
“She was solid as a rock,” he recalls.
Though he lives in Maryland, he sits on the board of the Love Canal medical fund which was started with $1 million from Hooker Chemical. He is proud of the assistance the fund provides to Love Canal families, over 1,700 beneficiaries so far. The money has been so carefully distributed and invested there is still $1.3 million in the fund today, he said.
Krul had prostate cancer and his wife had lymphoma but both are survivors. His son was born in Love Canal and is being successfully treated for bipolar disorder, but his daughter, born in Maryland, is healthy.
His grandsons are ages 3 and 9.
“All I want them to do is grow up and have long healthy lives and not be poisoned by the environment. That should not be too much to ask,” he said.
Michele DeLuca can be reached at 282-2311, ext. 2263 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gazette reporter Philip Gambini assisted with this report.
40 YEARS OF LOVE CANAL
It’s been four decades since the Love Canal neighborhood became a symbol of environmental catastrophe. The Gazette is marking the anniversary with a series of stories. For more, visit our website at www.niagara-gazette.com.