China / Hot Issues

Toxic case echoes US Love Canal disaster

By Xu Wei (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-20 07:49

The case of sickened students at Changzhou Foreign Languages School reminded many experts of the Love Canal pollution incident in the United States, which resulted in the relocation of numerous families and later became a symbol of environmental catastrophe and a trigger for change.

The trouble at Love Canal started when Hooker Chemical Co used the abandoned waterway from 1942 to 1953 to dump 21,800 metric tons of hazardous industrial waste, according to The Associated Press.

The canal was later capped, and homes and a school were built on top of it. But snowmelt from an unusually harsh winter in 1977 seeped into the 16-acres of polluted ground and chemical waste rose with groundwater to the surface. It oozed into yards and basements.

Residents in the area began complaining of miscarriages, urinary and kidney problems and mental disabilities in their children.

Under a national spotlight, President Jimmy Carter issued a disaster declaration in 1978 that eventually led to the evacuation and compensation of more than 900 families.

Dimitri de Boer, team leader of the EU-China Environmental Governance Program, who has kept close tabs on pollution in China, said one of the most important legacies of Love Canal is that it spurred the US Congress to pass the Superfund Act, which is designed to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous substances.

"I hope the Changzhou incident will have a similar impact in China to stimulate the country's legislators to take action," De Boer said.

He said it is standard practice in other countries that, when a piece land is bought or sold, it is tested for environmental pollutants.

"If I buy land from you, and the land is not polluted, then the responsibility to clear up the land when it is polluted shifts to me. So that is very much a big deal," De Boer said.

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