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U.S. Sues Hooker Chemical at Niagara Falls, New York

[EPA press release - December 20, 1979]

In one of largest environmental complaints ever lodged by the Federal government against a major corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that the Department of Justice -- acting on behalf of EPA -- has filed four suits against Hooker Chemical Co., and its parent corporation, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, requesting the company clean up four chemical waste dumpsites in Niagara Falls, New York, which are posing substantial danger to residents of the area.

The suits seek a total of $117,580,000 in clean-up costs from Hooker as well as reimbursement for more than $7 million spent by Federal agencies in emergency measures at Hooker's Love Canal waste disposal site, and unspecified civil penalties.

The sites involved, each the subject of separate actions, are Love Canal, Hyde Park, 102nd Street and the "S" Area landfill. All four were used by the Hooker Chemical Company to dispose of its chemical wastes.

One of the suits also charged Olin Corporation, another chemical producer, with similar violations at a disposal site adjacent to Hooker's 102nd Street disposal facility.

In announcing the suit, EPA's Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum said, "Today's suit should serve notice to those who generate or handle hazardous wastes that these kinds of dangers no longer will be tolerated by the American public. The day of discarding hazardous materials indiscriminately and haphazardly is over. The relief being requested by the government from these chemical companies represents one of the most significant and costly environmental remedies ever sought in a judicial action. It is well warranted in our estimation. None of the dumps is still used but they have left a frightening legacy.

"EPA scientists found 82 toxic chemicals in air, water, and soil samples near the dumps," Blum said. "The numerous toxic chemicals -- a dozen of which are carcinogenic -- discarded at Love Canal over the past 30 years have triggered several health problems, including miscarriages, among the area's residents, and have transformed whole sections of this once pleasant community into a ghost town."

The suits brought today are a result of a 10-month investigation by EPA scientists and EPA and Justice Department lawyers. This investigation is just one of many going on at dumpsites across the country as EPA and the Justice Department prepare to challenge the dangerous disposal practices which have directly affected millions of Americans by polluting their air, soil and water supplies," said Blum. "Many sites used in the past for waste disposal have been found to contain toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. The full scope of the threat to human health and the environment is still being uncovered."

Love Canal gained national attention in 1978 when the New York State Department of Health announced a medical emergency there. President Carter later declared a national emergency for the area. Hundreds of families living near the dumpsite have been forced to leave their homes.

The suits filed today charged that the four Niagara Falls disposal sites are an "imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment" and violate the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Refuse Act, and the common law of nuisance.

Although none of the landfills is now being used as a disposal site, the suits allege that hazardous chemicals stored there are migrating from the sites, contaminating the environment, and endangering persons exposed to the chemicals.

The suits indicate that Hooker disposed of 199,900 tons to chemical waste at the four sites between 1942 and 1975 and Olin disposed of 66,000 tons of chemical waste at the 102nd Street landfill.

Chemicals from the "S" Area landfill, a disposal site near the Niagara Falls water treatment plant, pose a risk to the city's drinking water, the suit said. However, EPA pointed out that in tests conducted as recently as November 1979, the chemicals were not detected in the drinking water at levels high enough to require closure of the drinking water plant. Therefore, the suit does not ask that the use of the Niagara Falls drinking water supply be stopped. The Environmental Protection Agency also indicated that the City of Niagara Falls is temporarily using an alternative intake structure in an attempt to avoid further chemical contamination. The Federal government is continuing to monitor the drinking water to insure its quality.

Dioxin, a deadly chemical, has been found in high concentrations in Bloody run, a creek that flows from the Hyde Park disposal site, the suit said, and workers and residents in that area have complained of noxious fumes coming from the dump.

Chemicals buried in the 102nd Street site are seeping into the adjacent Niagara River, the suit said, and children who played on the landfill were burned by exploding "fire rocks" on the surface of the site.

The suits asked the court to order the immediate clean-up of the four sites, construction of special walls to contain the chemicals on the sites, and installation of water and air monitoring systems.

The suits asked the court to require Hooker to pay for complete medical studies of all families in the Love Canal and Hyde Park areas to determine if their health has been injured and to pay for a program to monitor the health of past and present residents and their immediate offspring for the rest of their lives.

In addition, Hooker would be required to take remedial action to insure the safety of all homes in the Love Canal area affected by Canal wastes and pay for the temporary relocation of affected residents until all environmental indicators show that chemical contamination has been reduced to the normal levels found in nearby unaffected areas. Or, as an alternative to paying for the temporary relocation, Hooker would be required to purchase all homes within the area affected by migration of the Canal wastes, and pay the relocation costs of the persons residing in those homes.

To insure the clean-up, the suits asked the court to order Hooker to pay into a trust account or post bonds in the following amounts: $45 million, Love Canal; $50 million, "S" Area; $16.5 million, 102nd Street; and $6,080,000, Hyde Park.

Olin would be required to share in the clean-up costs at the 102nd Street site.

In addition, Hooker would be required to reimburse the Federal government more than $7 million for EPA and Federal Disaster Assistance Administration funds used to clean up Love Canal.

The suits also seek civil penalties of $10,000 for each day Hooker violated the Clean Water Act at the Hyde Park site and a similar penalty from Hooker and Olin at the 102nd Street site.

A similar Federal Action was filed Tuesday, December 18, against Occidental Chemical Company and its parent corporations, the Hooker Chemical Company and Occidental Petroleum, concerning Occidental/Hooker's Lathrop, California, pesticide and fertilizer production plant. Other Federal suits were filed on Monday, December 17, resulting from alleged hazardous wastes disposal problems in Southington, Connecticut; -- and on Wednesday, December 19, concerning alleged violations of Federal law in Hamilton, Ohio. Other cases are scheduled to be filed in the next several days.

Recently, Deputy Administrator Blum, calling hazardous waste site clean-up the Agency's "highest priority," strengthened EPA's enforcement of hazardous waste disposal laws by creating a special EPA Hazardous Waste Enforcement Task Force.

This action was paralleled in the Department of Justice by creation of a new Hazardous Waste Section within the Land and Natural Resources Division. This section, with thirteen attorneys, will litigate on behalf of EPA, which identifies and investigates potentially dangerous chemical waste dumping grounds.

There are currently 3,913 potential hazardous waste sites on EPA investigation logs that have been identified as targets for possible on-site investigations. To date, the states and EPA Regional Offices have conducted 644 on-site inspections, and twelve Federal hazardous waste site judicial actions have been filed.

EPA Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum and James W. Moorman, Assistant Attorney General, have said the EPA Task Force and the new Department of Justice Section "will form a strike force against hazardous waste pollution, seeking speedy environmental enforcement action." The two groups are currently investigating a substantial number of other sites across the country.