Wednesday, 6th May 2009 by RobK
One of the very first locations posted on Google Sightseeing back in 2005 was Niagara Falls. Just a few miles away, though, is another site that the local tourist board is probably rather less proud of. In the late 1970s, the neighbourhood of Love Canal was at the centre of a huge public health scandal, after it emerged that it had been built on top of a landfill containing 21,000 tons of toxic waste, which subsequently began to leak.
The canal itself1 dates back to the 1890s: an abortive attempt to bypass Niagara Falls that barely got started before funding ran out. As the surrounding town grew, the abandoned excavations were used to dump first municipal waste and then, by the 1940s, 55-gallon drums of waste from a nearby chemical factory. Once it was full, it was covered over with clay and soil.
Unfortunately, around this time, local officials were looking for a nice big open space to build new schools. You can see where this is going, can’t you? As well as two schools, hundreds of houses were also constructed right on top of a toxic time bomb. Residents began to notice health problems, and all manner of gunk oozing out of the ground, and eventually the government realised something was up and evacuated the area.
Today, the canal site looks fairly innocuous: the houses and school in the central area were demolished, leaving a green field (surrounded by a 2.4 metre barbed wire fence) and a treatment plant that was built to stop contaminated groundwater escaping.
Just to the west, you can still see the residential roads and the foundations of houses that were demolished.
Street View reveals an eerily deserted scene, with cracked tarmac, faded street signs, and weeds taking over the vacant plots. On the day the Street View car came by, there were some suitably apocalyptic-looking black clouds to add to the atmosphere.
East of the canal, most houses are gone but it looks as though a few stubborn folks have stayed put. It seems quite a pleasant wooded neighbourhood, if you can ignore what’s under your feet.
In many places nearby, new houses have actually been built. Just a few yards from the footprints of demolished homes, and overlooking the heart of the dump site, lies a seemingly brand-new development of apartments; and further north, hundreds of homes surround the site of the 93rd Street school, one of the two that were closed due to contamination.
Love Canal wasn’t the only American community to fall victim to chemical contamination around this time. The town of Times Beach, Missouri, was evacuated and totally wiped off the map in the early 1980s after it was discovered that oil sprayed on dirt roads to keep the dust down was chock-full of dioxins – among the most toxic chemicals in existence. Today, the area is a state park, but you can still clearly see the lines of the streets.
It gets its rather gynaecological name from the man who came up with the scheme, William T. Love. ↩