Auto Ads by Adsense

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Review: Paradise Falls

Paradise Falls is a book about a section of the town of Niagara Falls known as Love Canal. It was the site of chemical dumping by the Hooker Chemical. The story revolves around the women who lived in their area and the health effects, as well as the activist movement they started to get remediation. In parallel, we get a view of the Superfund program and its founding, as well as the politics around it, much of which was very new to me.

It is astonishing to me how evil the bad actors in the story were. For instance, the health commissioner of New York State at that time, David Axlerod, not only refused to admit that the site was dangerous (even with high levels of dioxin found near the house where one of the kids died), but actively pursued a vendetta against one of his staff who was helping the neighborhood women collate and collect statistics about the medical problems of the folks who lived in the area.

The CEO of the company that owned Hooker Chemical, Hammer Amaud, himself was also quite evil:

When he faced criminal charges in the mid-1970s for making $54,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon—and attempting to conceal the donations by making them in the names of other people—Hammer made sure Nizer was standing next to him in court. The well-known lawyer helped keep Hammer out of prison. Noting Hammer’s advanced age and declining health, a federal judge sentenced him to probation for his illegal donations and ordered him to pay a mere $3,000 fine—the Armand Hammer equivalent of loose change found between the seats of the family car. Now the wealthy oilman was apparently hoping that Nizer could pull off a similar trick with Joan Malone and Luella Kenny. The goal: negotiating a truce before the shareholders’ meeting. Occidental didn’t want them to come. (kindle loc 4569)

 The story does have a happy ending. It takes years and the damage to the residents were considerable, but eventually the government buys out the residents' housing and relocates everyone. Even so, the science isn't fully settled, and David Axlerod was never made accountable for pursuing his vendetta against his staff.

Even worse, the Superfund law has been gutted (by the Republicans of course), and there's no question that if something like this happened today it'd be much harder to get the government to do the right thing. It's quite clear that polluters making a lot of money still have more political power than most of its victims.

You should read the book. It's unpleasant but the issues in it are very real.

No comments: