Love Canal Essay, Research Paper
The Love Canal which is located in Niagara Falls, was created in the 1890 s by a businessman by the name of William T. Love who wanted to facilitate hydroelectric power by connecting the upper and lower parts of the falls. Love s plan fell apart when he lacked financing and cheaper methods of obtaining power became available. The Love Canal was abandoned and shortly afterward the city of Niagara Falls turned the canal into a summer swimming hole (Beauchamp p. 106).
The Hooker Electrochemical Company, which is today the Occidental Chemical Corporation, built its first plant in Niagara Falls in 1905 and in 1942 received permission by the state of New York to use the canal for chemical dumping (Beauchamp p. 106). The company, which manufactures plastics, pesticides, chlorine, caustic soda and fertilizers, considered the site ideal because it was located in an underdeveloped, unpopulated area and because the canal had highly impermeable clay walls that retained the chemicals with virtually no penetration. Research suggested that the canal s walls allowed only a third of an inch of water over a 25-year period (Beauchamp p. 106).
The problem with the Love Canal began in 1953 when the Niagara Falls School Board wanted to buy the land from Hooker Chemical for a new school. Hooker advised against the purchase, warned the school board about the toxic wastes on Love Canal and allowed the board to visit the property in order to convince them that the site was unsuitable for development. Unfortunately, the school board was not convinced and threatened Hooker with eminent domain. Hooker, seeing no other choice but to give in to the board, sold it for $1.00 with a 17 line restriction in the deed to warn the board of the dangers and to turn over future liability to the school. (http://www.globalserve.net/spire/atomcc/history.htm).
Despite Hookers warnings the property was developed and during construction thousands of cubic yards of topsoil were removed. This is suspected to have damaged the integrity of the canal s protective clay covering (Beauchamp p. 107). The damage was evident when water from heavy rains and snow entered the chemical area and overflowed into the ground and basements of resident s homes and caused chemical burns in children (Beauchamp p. 107).
In an investigation by the Health Commissioner of New York in 1978 several residents showed signs of liver damage, young women had 3 times the normal incidence of miscarriage and the incidence of birth defects was 3 + times greater in the area (Beauchamp p. 107). After the studies the school was closed and pregnant women and children were advised to leave the area (Beauchamp p. 107). The state of New York bought 235 of the houses and President Carter declared Love Canal a disaster area (Beauchamp p. 107).
Although records are inaccurate, it is indicated that approximately 21,000 tons of different chemicals were dumped at the site between 1942 and 1953 (Beauchamp p. 107). More than 250 different chemicals have been identified. Some of them are the most lethal substances known; such as dioxin, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, lead, mercury, DDT s and PCB s. Many are mutagens, teratogens and carcinogens (http://www.globalserve.net/spire/atomcc/chemical.htm).
In 1977 the city of Niagara Falls hired an engineering firm to study the site and make recommendations about how to clean up the 21,000 tons of toxic waste. The Hooker Chemical Corporation helped by giving technical assistance, information and personnel. Hooker, the school board and the city equally shared the bill for the second study. Hooker also offered to pay 1/3 of the clean up costs which were estimated to be about $850,000 (Beauchamp p. 108).
In 1980 Hooker Chemical Corporation was facing over $2 billion dollars in lawsuits for the Love Canal and other cases. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also had filed four suits against them for $124.5 million dollars (Beauchamp p.108-109).
In a federal court in 1988 the judge ruled that Occidental Petroleum Corporation was responsible for the costs of the Love Canal clean up which was estimated at $250 million dollars (Beauchamp p. 113). But in March 1994, the federal court held that Occidental was not responsible for punitive damages (Beauchamp p. 114). In June of that same year Occidental agreed to pay the state of New York $98 million for damages and to be responsible for the clean up costs which were estimated at $22 million (Beauchamp p. 114).
In May of 1990 it was announced that the Love Canal had been opened by the government and 236 new homes were built. The new home sales at Love Canal, now called Black Creek Village, was very successful, but critics remain skeptical. Although tests show it is now safe , skeptics state that no tests have been done on the former residents since 1983 (Beauchamp p. 115).
The case of the Love Canal brings up many questions about a corporations responsibilities, rights and obligations when past practices are involved. There are moral and economic dilemas due to ever changing attitudes and expectations about how companies should behave.
There are two major issues involved in the Love Canal case. First, should companies be judged by today s standards for practices that were common or even state of the art 50 years ago? (Beauchamp p. 114). Many companies, including Hooker, adhered to the law during the time. Are these companies expected to be solely responsible when laws, knowledge and attitudes change or is the government partially to blame for failing to protect social welfare by allowing companies to self-regulate? Perhaps they are both responsible. Although Hooker gained permission by the state of New York to dump chemicals in the area and used the best method of disposal available at the time the company knew of the possible risks involved. In light of this, Hooker, who had a right to make a profit on chemical products, also had a duty to avoid harming the public and to help in protecting the public.
Even though Hooker has this duty it is not the company s sole responsibility. The duties of government and the duties of corporations are not the same. Corporations cannot and should not be held to the same standards for protecting welfare as governments are (Donaldson p. 101). The government is designed to protect social welfare by regulating companies to assure they adhere to certain ethical standards. Fifty years ago companies were largely unregulated and were left to make moral decisions that often interfered with profit motives. When a poor choice was made the public had to pay. Companies are not equipped to handle the role of the government. It is the government s duty to aid and protect society from physical harm and when it fails in this duty companies cannot be expected to fill the void. For this reason the government is partially to blame for the dumping at Love Canal.
The second issue is that of the development of the Love Canal. The major question here is how much of a duty does a corporation have in protecting the public when the local government has threatened eminent domain? Hooker never denied dumping chemical waste at the Love Canal (Beauchamp p. 110) nor did the company try to deceive the school board, on the contrary, Hooker made a significant effort to repeatedly warn the school board that the site was unsuitable for development. Hooker protested in a public meeting, in writing and in the deed which stated the property s past use and that all future risks be passed on to the school board (Beauchamp p. 110-111). Hooker tried to protect itself and in doing this it also attempted to avoid depriving the public of physical security and subsistence, but was it expected to do more? Again, Hooker s duty was to help in protecting society from physical harm, to inform the school board of the property s past use and to argue against the development due to it s being unsuitable for habitation. Hooker met these duties unlike the school board and the city of Niagara Falls. The school board and the city had a right to buy land and ultimately make a profit, but in their efforts to find cheap land they forgot what one of their major duties was. This major duty was to aid and protect the public from harm. It is for this reason the city of Niagara Falls and the school board is largely responsible for the Love Canal disaster. The city s duty to protect social welfare is heavier than Hooker s duty and while Hooker tried to meet this duty, however self-motivating it might have been, the city and the school board blatantly ignored their responsibilities.
Although Hooker Chemical Corporation tried to adhere to the laws, protect itself and the public, the company did have a duty to clean up the chemicals at Love Canal. But, Hooker does not have a duty to pay for the evacuation of the residents. This was the responsibility of the city, the state of New York and eventually, as a disaster area, the federal government. The government was quick to point the finger at Hooker, but failed to see or admit it had also played a part. If the government leaves corporations unregulated it is partially to blame for what occurs. It is the government who has the main duty to protect its citizens from harm not a corporations and if the government fails they should be willing to pay a large percentage of the price.