TOXIC TIME BOMB KEEPS TICKING
Love Canal ironically made a model community into a watchword for environmental disaster. In reaction, CERCLA designated legal responsibilities for remediation of other toxic waste sites. Society has benefited from the clarification of rights and responsibilities defined by CERCLA.
"Residents learned at Love Canal that even low levels of chemical exposure have an effect on the human body, and that the government will protect you from this only when you force them to. If you think you're safe, think again. We can count only on ourselves to safeguard our families' health through vigilance, knowledge, and collective action."
"Love Canal taught us that we needed a mechanism to address abandoned hazardous waste sites, especially those that posed a threat to people's health. Decades later, Love Canal has become a symbol of our success under Superfund."
-Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator, in EPA press release, September 30, 2004
"The lessons we are learning from this modern-day disaster should serve as a warning for governments at all levels and for private industry to take steps to avoid a repetition of these tragic events. They must also serve as a reminder to be ever watchful for the tell-tale signs of potential disasters and to look beyond our daily endeavors and plan for the wellbeing of future generations."
Personal interview with Professor Alex Klass, Environmental Law Professor at the University of Minnesota, May 11, 2014
Cerlca's limitED LEGACY
CERCLA was effective in establishing a new policy regime that fixed responsibilities for poor past practices. It was successful in that Superfund has cleaned up and repurposed hundreds of industrial waste sites. However, CERCLA has been controversial and excludes major contaminants, including petroleum. Although Superfund is no longer a dedicated fund, cleanup continues. Instead of protecting future rights, CERCLA looks into the past and assigns legal and financial responsibilities in an ever changing world.
"...Superfund is not an effective way to reduce health risks. It reduced the traditional protections that people and companies can expect from legal due process, and it hasn't clearly helped anybody, except lawyers, consultants, and the EPA. Much the same has been shown to be true of many other regulatory programs . . . Is there another way? Yes. The traditional way of dealing with pollutants is by protecting rights. This approach is based on the recognition that people have a right not to be invaded by others, and this includes invasion by excessive pollutants emitted by others. This approach to controlling pollution was not perfect, but now that we see the ills of regulatory programs, it looks better than it did in the 1970s."