The Fight for Justice After the Tragedy at Love Canal

The Fight for Justice After the Tragedy at Love Canal

In the late 1970s, residents of Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY discovered their neighborhood had been built on a former chemical waste dump. Poisoned Ground: The Tragedy at Love Canal tells the dramatic and inspiring story of the ordinary women who fought against overwhelming odds for the health and safety of their families.

This new documentary airs Monday, April 22, at 9pm on ThinkTV16. It will also be available on the station livestreams and posted to the PBS App at the same time.

Here’s the backstory:

When William T. Love first purchased the site at Love Canal in the late 19th century, he had hopes to harness the power of Niagara Falls, but those dreams never came true. Instead, the abandoned dig site became an enormous canal that, in the 1940s, a local chemical company started using the site as a place to dump their waste. That led to roughly 22,000 tons of dangerous chemical waste being dumped into the waterway.

The site was later sold to the Board of Education and a suburban community was built around it. But residents soon discovered that their homes, schools and playgrounds were built on top of a former chemical waste dump, which was now leaking toxic substances and wreaking havoc on their health. Sludge began seeping into basements, oil puddles started appearing in yards and health maladies ranging from chemical burns and rashes to miscarriages and birth defects soon followed.

Air and soil tests confirmed the presence of dozens of chemicals at the site. President Jimmy Carter declared a federal state of emergency – the first ever for a man-made disaster. Although some residents were evacuated, others were left with no way out. Those left behind chose to band together and take action.

Through interviews with many of the extraordinary housewives turned activists, Poisoned Ground: The Tragedy at Love Canal shows how they educated themselves, conducted health investigations and effectively challenged those in power. Their efforts gained nationwide attention and forced America to reckon with the human cost of unregulated industry, creating a grassroots movement that galvanized the landmark Superfund Bill.

“Beyond saving themselves and their families, the Love Canal mothers forced America to reckon with how to balance the needs of the environment and industry,” filmmaker Jamila Ephron said in a press release. “Sadly, the larger story of the Love Canal neighborhood is still unfolding, and communities marginalized by class or race often bear the brunt of toxic waste contamination.”

Learn more:

Check out these other videos from PBS that explore the tragedy at Love Canal:

American Masters: A Fierce Green Fire (2014) – CLIP

This documentary is the first big-picture exploration of the environmental movement, spanning 50 years of activism. Chronicling the largest movement of the 20th century, the film tells vivid stories about people fighting – and succeeding – against the odds, from the Grand Canyon to Love Canal, from the oceans to the Amazon. Watch a clip:

PBS NewsHour: Residents say Love Canal still toxic and unsafe (2018)

President Jimmy Carter declared Love Canal a national health emergency when the small community near Niagara Falls, New York, learned that their homes and school were built on 22,000 tons of chemicals. Today, many residents in the area, which was deemed safe by authorities, claim to be facing health problems. Watch it now: