Lois Gibbs just wrote an op-ed in the NY Daily News. Here it is.
The lessons of Love Canal lost unless Superfund is fixed
BY LOIS MARIE GIBBS
Thursday, August 7th 2008, 4:00 AM
Thirty years ago Thursday, President Jimmy Carter declared Love Canal a federal disaster area. The decision came after the discovery that the Niagara Falls neighborhood was built on top of 20,000 tons of toxic waste that had been dumped by a chemical company.
The Love Canal contamination tragedy is very personal to me. In 1978 I was living there with my husband and two children when I began to wonder whether the kids' recurring illnesses were connected to the chemical waste. Research conducted by myself and several of my neighbors, coupled with our complaints, eventually led the New York State health commissioner to declare a state of emergency and close the area's 99th Street School (where my son Michael attended). That was followed by the evacuations of mothers and children under the age of 2.
Then, Carter stepped in and the federal government was ordered to provide funds to relocate more than 200 families living within the first two rings of homes encircling the Love Canal toxic waste site.
As one of those living beyond the first two rings of homes, I was told my family was not at risk. As if toxic chemicals which had leaked from their "protective" drums into my son's schoolyard could never cross the streets into our own yards.
I remember the feelings of disgust and anger and fear when I learned that this toxic reality was likely the cause of my son's illness. I remember the looks on the faces of my neighbors as I went door to door and learned that they, too, had children with rare health issues or had lost a child over something so preventable, so cruel and unthinkable.
That was in 1978, and sometimes a colleague or someone in the media will now ask me when I am going to "let Love Canal go?" After I shake my head in disbelief, I tell the person that no mother could ever let go of something that threatened her children and the children of those living around her. Worse, even today children continue to be at risk to toxic chemical threats simply by living in communities and attending schools that are located within 1 mile of a site considered toxic by the EPA.
What good mother could let that go?
All these years after the tragedy that happened at Love Canal, the creation of the Federal Superfund cleanup program is in jeopardy. Superfund - started by Carter in 1980 - makes polluting companies and industries pay to clean up their mess. A tax on toxic chemicals that are found in contaminated sites creates the trust fund, which grew to $1.6 billion at one point.
My neighbors and I were relieved that the government had finally taken responsibility for protecting people and land from toxic pollution. The source of the program's funding, "polluters pay fees" was the most important aspect of this legislation. It held the polluters accountable, and was a major victory for communities fighting toxic and chemical threats everywhere.
But in 1996, Congress chose not to renew the polluters pay principle. This means the trust fund dried up of polluters' fees in 2003.
So who foots the bill now? You guessed it. Taxpayers, not polluters. I always told my children, "you make the mess, you clean it up." The rules should not be different for companies who bring toxic or chemical threats into the communities where our children play and attend school. How can Congress side with the companies who cause toxic contamination instead of the people threatened by that very contamination?
Now, the responsibility falls entirely on the taxpayers, to the tune of $1.2 billion. Something smells funny and it's not just the toxic odors. We need to make sure Congress makes the polluters, not the taxpayers, pay for the Love Canals of today.
Let Love Canal go? Never. I continue the battle for all of our children. For me this journey started at Love Canal. And I need everyone to continue on this journey with me.
Gibbs is founder and director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (www.chej.org). She lives in Falls Church, Va.