NIAGARA FALLS, NY
On this page:
- What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
- What Is the Current Site Status?
- Activity and Use Limitations
On related pages:
The Love Canal site is located in Niagara Falls, New York. It was one of two initial excavations for what was to be a canal to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power for industrial development around the turn of the 20th century. Ultimately, with the widespread use of alternating current, the excavation was abandoned, partially filled with water, and used, largely, for recreational purposes. Between 1942 and 1953, when it ceased disposal operations, the Hooker Electrochemical Company (now Occidental Chemical Corporation, or OXY) disposed of over 21,000 tons of hazardous chemicals into the abandoned Love Canal, contaminating soil and groundwater.
In 1953, the landfill was covered with soils and leased to the Niagara Falls Board of Education (NFBE). Afterwards, the area near the covered landfill was extensively developed, including construction of an elementary school, as well as many residential properties.
The fenced 70-acre Site includes the original 16-acre hazardous waste landfill and a 40-acre cap, as well as a barrier drainage system and leachate collection and treatment system that are in place and operating.
During the 1960’s, complaints about odors and residues were first reported at the Love Canal site. These reports increased in the 1970’s as the water level rose, bringing contaminated groundwater to the surface. Various federal and New York State (NYS) studies indicated that numerous toxic chemicals, including dioxin, had migrated through existing sewers and, ultimately, drained into nearby creeks.
In late 1977, in response to complaints from residents of homes adjacent to the Love Canal landfill, the EPA and NYSDEC began investigating the groundwater at the Site, as well as indoor air and sump water contamination in the various residences.
In August 1978, after being apprised of the residential concerns, President Jimmy Carter issued the first of two emergency declarations regarding the Love Canal site. The first emergency declaration provided federal funding for remedial work to contain the chemical wastes at the Love Canal site and to assist NYS in the relocation of the residents in the two rings of homes (Rings 1 and 2) surrounding the Love Canal landfill. Remediation work began shortly thereafter.
On May 21, 1980, President Carter issued a second emergency declaration, specifically establishing the Love Canal Emergency Declaration Area or EDA, an approximately 350-acre neighborhood surrounding the landfill. The second declaration authorized $20 million of federal funds for the purchase of homes with matching NYS funds. The EDA was ultimately divided into seven separate areas surrounding the landfill which were eventually assessed as to their habitability. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) managed the property purchase, disbursed funds and relocated hundreds of the affected families. NYS, including its agency, the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency (LCARA), and FEMA worked closely together to achieve this massive effort. All but two families within Rings 1 and 2 were evacuated, and, in 1982, their homes were demolished. The resulting demolition debris was placed under the Love Canal landfill cap.
As a result of the two Presidential declarations, approximately 950 families of the more than 1,050 families (identified from the two emergency declarations) in the EDA were evacuated from a 10 square-block area surrounding the Love Canal landfill. Some families within the EDA elected to remain and not move out. These families were permitted to remain.
The severity of the Site’s contamination ultimately led to the creation of federal legislation to manage the disposal of hazardous wastes throughout the country. This legislation was titled the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) (Superfund Law) of 1980.
In September 1983, following initial actions to protect human health and the environment, as well as additional related investigations, the EPA placed the Site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL).
In 1986, amendments to the Superfund law, i.e., the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) were enacted. Section 312 of SARA, specifically, mandated that the EPA manage property acquisitions and habitability investigations associated with the Love Canal EDA.
In 1988, the EPA issued the Love Canal EDA Habitability Study, a comprehensive sampling study of the EDA and of comparison areas both within and near Niagara Falls. This five-year study was conducted to evaluate whether the residential areas within the EDA were suitable for habitation by comparing the levels of contamination found there with those residential properties in the comparison areas. Based on the results of the EPA’s Habitability Study, the Commissioner of the NYSDOH issued a Decision on Habitability for the Love Canal EDA which concluded that 1) areas designated as 1-3 of the EDA were not suitable for habitation without remediation but could be used for commercial or industrial purposes and 2) areas designated as 4-7 of the EDA were habitable and could be used for residential purposes.
Over the years, as a result of the extent of the contamination at the Love Canal site, the remedial response actions and habitability decisions were addressed in several stages focusing on landfill containment with leachate collection, treatment and disposal; excavation and treatment of the sewer and creek sediments and other wastes; cleanup of the 93rd Street School soils; the purchase, maintenance and rehabilitation of residential and commercial properties; and, other short-term cleanup actions.
In 1999, the EPA and NYSDEC completed their remedial construction work. In 2004, the EPA deleted the Site from the NPL. As a result of all the Agencies cleanup actions, the Site no longer presents a threat to human health and the environment.
In September 2004, the EPA removed the Site from the Superfund program’s NPL. As a result of the revitalization efforts of the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency (LCARA), new homeowners have moved into the habitable areas of the Love Canal site. More than 260 formerly abandoned homes in the affected area were rehabilitated and sold to new residents, creating a viable new neighborhood.
What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
Initial Actions: In 1978, the NYSDEC installed a system to collect leachate from the Site. The landfill area was covered and fenced and a leachate treatment plant was built. In 1981, the EPA installed a fence around Black Creek and conducted environmental studies.
Landfill Containment: In its 1982 Decision Document, the EPA selected a remedy to contain the landfill by installing a barrier drain and a leachate collection system; covering the temporary clay cap with a synthetic material to prevent rain from coming in contact with the buried wastes; demolishing contaminated houses next to the landfill and nearby school; conducting studies to determine the best way to proceed with further Site cleanup; and monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of cleanup activities. In 1985, NYSDEC installed the 40-acre cap and improved the leachate collection and treatment system, including the construction of a new leachate treatment facility.
Sewers, Creeks and Berms: In May 1985, the EPA implemented a remedy to remediate the sewers and the creeks which included: 1) hydraulically cleaning the sewers; 2) removing and disposing of contaminated sediments; 3) inspecting the sewers for defects that could allow contaminants to migrate; 4) limiting access, dredging and hydraulically cleaning the Black Creek culverts; and 5) removing and storing contaminated sediments from Black Creek and Bergholtz Creeks. [The remediation of the 102nd Street outfall area, as originally proposed in the 1985 Record of Decision (ROD), has been addressed under the completed remedial action for the 102nd Street Landfill Superfund site.] In 1986, the NYSDEC cleaned out 62,000 linear feet of storm and sanitary sewers. An additional 6,000 feet were cleaned out in 1987. In 1989, about 14,000 cubic yards of sediments were dredged from Black Creek and Bergholtz Creek. Clean riprap was placed in the creek beds. The banks were replanted with grass.
Thermal Treatment of Sewers and Creeks Sediments: In October 1987, as identified in a second ROD, the EPA selected a remedy to address the destruction and disposal of the dioxin-contaminated sediments from the sewers and creeks which included the 1) construction of an on-site facility to dewater and contain the sediments; 2) construction of a separate facility to treat dewatered contaminants using high-temperature thermal destruction; 3) thermal treatment of the residuals stored at the Site from the leachate treatment facility and other associated Love Canal waste materials; and, 4) on-site disposal of any non-hazardous residuals from the thermal treatment or incineration process. The EPA updated its remedy in 1989 to include thermal treatment of the sediments and other remedial wastes at OXYs facilities rather than at the Site. The EPA updated its remedy again in 1996 to include off-site EPA-approved thermal treatment and land disposal of the stored Love Canal waste materials. The EPA’s third remedy update in 1998 announced a 10 parts per billion (ppb) treatability variance for dioxin for the stored Love Canal waste materials. The shipment of sewer and creek sediments and other waste materials off site for final disposal finished in March 2000.
93rd Street School: The EPA’s 1988 ROD selected the remedy for the 93rd Street School property which included the excavation of about 7,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil next to the school, followed by on-site solidification and stabilization. In May 1991, the 1988 remedy was amended to include excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soils. This remedial action was completed in September 1992. LCARA later purchased the 93rd Street School property. Subsequently, LCARA demolished the 93rd Street School building in order to return the land to its best use. The area now contains community ball fields.
EDA Home Maintenance: As a result of the contamination, the federal government and NYS purchased affected properties in the EDA. LCARA was the coordinating NYS agency in charge of maintaining, rehabilitating and selling the affected properties. Pursuant to Section 312 of CERCLA, as amended, the EPA provided funds to LCARA for the maintenance of those properties in the EDA and for technical assistance during the rehabilitation of the EDA. The EPA awarded these funds to LCARA directly through an EPA cooperative agreement for home maintenance and technical assistance. The rehabilitation and sale of these homes was completed. Since the rehabilitation program began, about 260 homes were sold. A senior citizen housing development has also been built on vacant habitable property. In 2000, the EPA closed out this cooperative agreement with LCARA, and in August 2003, LCARA was dissolved by NYS statute.
EDA Property Acquisition: Section 312 of CERCLA, as amended, also provided $2.5 million in EPA funds for the purchase of properties, i.e., businesses, rental properties and vacant lots not previously eligible for acquisition. The EPA awarded these funds to LCARA through a second cooperative agreement. Also, in 2000, the EPA closed out this second cooperative agreement with LCARA which was dissolved by NYS statute in August 2003.
What Is the Current Site Status?
All remedial action has been completed at the Love Canal site. Currently, Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc. (Glenn Springs or OXY) and its contractor, GHD, manage the Site’s ongoing operation, maintenance and monitoring (OM&M) activities, which includes the continued OM&M of the Love Canal Treatment Facility (LCTF), inspection of the integrity of the landfill cap, inspections of the many monitoring wells, as well as annual groundwater monitoring of a select group of the more than 150 monitoring wells, both inside and outside the fenced area.
Glenn Springs produces annual Site Management Periodic Review Reports (SMPR) reports which report out on the above-identified OM&M activities, as well as providing information on the various maintenance and process and non-process activities that occurred for each year. In general, these “process” activities include general cleaning of all process building tanks and the clarifier, removal and disposal of hazardous waste from the treatment process and equipment maintenance and replacement. General non-process activities include preventative maintenance, well installation, repairs to system components, including the landfill cap, if necessary, building maintenance and landscaping.
To ensure proper operation of the LCTF and to ensure compliance with its discharge permit, Glenn Springs and GHD must ensure that sufficient analyses are conducted to confirm timely carbon changes. Treatment levels to 10 parts per billion or micrograms per liter (µg/l) must be achieved and verified with quarterly sampling and analyses for various compounds. The full list of discharge monitoring compounds is extensive and is reported quarterly.
The wastewater processed at the LCTF results from the Site leachate, as well as that from the 102nd Street Landfill Superfund site. As of the 2017 SMPR report, the LCTF effluent discharges to the sanitary sewer system at the 97th Street discharge location and remains in compliance with the discharge requirements as required by the Niagara Falls Water Board. Quarterly effluent sampling is conducted, and the most recent results show that the discharge continues to be within the permit discharge limits. The 2017 SMPR report indicated that approximately 5.7 million gallons of leachate was collected, treated and discharged (approximately 5.6 million gallons from the Love Canal site and 170,000 gallons from the 102nd Street Landfill site).
The 2017 Report also indicated that 18,200 pounds of solid hazardous wastes were generated by both the LCTF and the 102 Street landfill site. These materials included spent carbon, associated soil/debris, non-aqueous phase liquid sludge from the treatment processes, waste liquids, other solid wastes and personal protective equipment.
In 2017, the data from all but one of the monitoring well samples revealed very limited to no exceedances above detection levels for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-VOCs (SVOCs), polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBs) and pesticides and are consistent with previous long-term monitoring results. Historically, only one overburden monitoring well has consistently shown contamination, i.e., VOC and SVOC compounds with relatively high concentrations. That well, #10135, is located within the barrier drain system of the Love Canal Site and very near to the original disposal location. The finding of compounds in this monitoring well is expected given the proximity to the original disposal area and further illustrate that the contamination is contained.
As part of the regular OM&M activities, frequent visual inspections are made of the barrier drain collection system, including the barrier drain manholes, as well as the landfill cap itself. The most recent inspection of the manholes showed free flow and are functioning properly. Inspection of the landfill cap indicates that there has been no disturbance to its integrity. The collection well collection system is also inspected. The most recent inspection found it to be operating properly. The barrier drain system contains and directs all groundwater within the system to ensure that the direction of groundwater flow is toward the water wells within the collection system that pumps the groundwater to the LCTF.
Over the years, the EPA and NYSDEC’s annual assessment of the Site containment remedy reveals that all systems have been operating as designed and intended and continue to do so. In addition, as outlined in the National Contingency Plan, it is the EPA’s responsibility to perform a review of the Love Canal containment remedy every five years.
As part of the five-year review process, technical representatives from the EPA, NYSDEC and New York State Department of Health meet with Glenn Springs and GHD at the Love Canal Site to conduct an overall site inspection, which includes a complete overview of the LCTF operations, as well as to inspect around the EDA neighborhood, which extends beyond the fenced landfill site. Specifically, this inspection is designed to ensure that the various aspects of the site’s containment remedial systems, namely, the operations of the barrier and well collection system, the barrier drain system itself, the wet well collection system and the 102nd Street force main which carries leachate from the 102nd Street Landfill site to the LCTF for treatment, are being continually monitored.
To date, the EPA has performed three five-year reviews, (2003, 2008 and 2013). Each five-year review concluded that 1) the remedies implemented at the Site have alleviated any risks to the Love Canal area community, as originally identified early in the initial investigations, and continue to be protective of human health and the environment and 2) the ongoing OM&M activities were continuing to ensure that there are no exposures of Site-related hazardous materials to human and environmental receptors. NYSDEC has concurred with the results of these reports.
After evaluating the various factors and data identified from the annual OM&M activities, including the LCTF discharge data and the monitoring wells results, as well as the five-year review assessments, the EPA and NYSDEC believe that the overall Love Canal containment system continues 1) to perform as designed and 2) to be protective of human health and the environment. The next five-year review will be performed in late 2018.
Activity and Use Limitations
At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.
For more background, see Institutional Controls.
The NFBE and the City of Niagara Falls are the owners of the property within the containment and fenced area of the Site. Niagara Falls granted NYS a permanent easement on the Site property, providing NYS with exclusive use and occupancy of the Love Canal site property. NYS, pursuant to a 1994 Consent Decree, granted OXY exclusive use and occupancy of the Site property for the purpose of providing continued OM&M for the Love Canal site remedy. OXY will retain exclusive use and occupancy as long as the Consent Decree remains in effect. The NYSDEC performs regular oversight of the OXY’s OM&M activities and reports on these oversight activities to the EPA.
The vacant properties located in the EDA Areas 1 through 3 remain limited to commercial and/or industrial use only. The institutional controls are maintained by deed notices for these properties and the zoning restrictions on the areas in order to comply with the original Habitability Decision. The deeds also indicate that all identified use limitations shall run with the land and bind the current owner and any successors in perpetuity or until such time as NYSDEC shall determine that such institutional controls are no longer necessary for the protection of human health and the environment.
If any use other than what is specified above is considered for these properties, a minimum of six inches of surface soil must be removed and a minimum of six inches of new clean soil must be placed back on the property before any such use can be initiated. These properties are owned by various entities, including the City of Niagara Falls and other parties. Prior to any redevelopment in this area, the EPA and the NYSDEC will be notified about any proposed use. The properties located in EDA Areas 4 through 7 remain suitable for normal residential use without any restrictions.