Former Love Canal Resident Warns of Seeping Pollution
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) _ When Terry Freiermuth began talking to his neighbors about the oily patches dotting the soil in the trailer park where he lives, he couldn’t find many who shared his worries.
But the 29-year-old truck mechanic knew what he was talking about. He grew up four miles away at Love Canal, the neighborhood the government declared a national disaster area a decade ago because of chemical pollution.
″People thought I was crazy,″ Freiermuth said. ″But I know something about chemicals. ... It’s the same damn thing all over again.″
Last week, federal officials said industrial chemicals in the soil and groundwater under the Forest Glen mobile home park pose a significant environmental health threat to the 51 families living there. They urged people to move away.
″There is continuous danger to you and your children if you stay,″ Robert Salkie, of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a gathering of residents.
Authorities think the ground on which the trailer park was built was once a chemical dump. EPA enforcement official David Payne said several companies are under investigation, including Occidental Chemical Corp., which a federal judge earlier this year ruled partly responsible for Love Canal contamination.
Forest Glen residents have reported health problems a lot like those at Love Canal: allergies, unexplained rashes, headaches and fears as yet unproven, of higher-than-normal rates of cancer and other serious illness.
Despite the doubts of his neighbors, Freiermuth, who has lived in Forest Glen for nine years, has been pestering federal officials about his fears since spring 1987.
He ordered his daughters, ages 4 and 8, to play on the sidewalk, to stay away from the grass and dirt. He warned them against playing with the taffy- like clumps of soil.
″I figured there’s nothing anybody can do for me after all these years,″ Freiermuth said. ″But I hope it’s not too late for my kids.″
He blames the chemicals for his youngest child’s eczema, a skin condition. And he worries about Kathy, his wife, who is pregnant.
The five contaminants found in Forest Glen are aniline, phenothiazine, benzothiazole, mercaptobenzothiazole and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, said David Payne, an EPA enforcement official. They apparently were byproducts from the manufacture of other chemicals, he said, adding that exposure to aniline causes cancer.
As with Love Canal, EPA officials suspect the contamination came from some of the many chemical companies attracted to the area by cheap hydroelectric power produced from the rushing waters of the Niagara River.
That was the story at Love Canal, where chemicals dumped in an abandoned waterway project in the 1940s and 1950s began seeping into cellars and backyards in the 1960s, causing illness.
Some 1,030 familes evacuated a 10-block area around Love Canal in 1978 and 1979. Today the neighborhood is a ghost town, except for the cleanup workers in rubber suits and the few residents who chose to remain.
Even though Freiermuth wasn’t the only former Love Canal resident to move to Forest Glen, he was one of the few who didn’t quietly accept the situation. ″Part of it is that we came here to forget about Love Canal,″ said Freiermuth, a small, serious man with unruly blond hair and bushy sideburns. ″But a lot of people figure that the chemicals are everywhere in this town.″
Federal officials have promised to help residents of Forest Glen. The EPA’s Salkie said the neighborhood will become ″a model site, to show how Superfund can work.″
The residents aren’t cooperating, though. Most of them, including the Freiermuths, have refused the government’s offer to move to temporary homes while the site is placed on a priority list for federal clean-up.
″We don’t want to wait months in an apartment and then have to move again,″ Freiermuth said. ″That’s too disruptive. ... Why can’t they just declare the site a federal emergency and buy us out like they did in Love Canal?″