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It is very hard to think that anything good could come from the human made disaster at Love Canal where toxic chemicals were dumped into the soil and seeped into the water table. Love Canal was a nightmare of cancer, birth defects, lost homes and intentional callus disregard by a chemical company for the health and safety of others.I have thought about Love Canal a lot lately as we prepare our SWPPP.

The Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan is one of the positive things that came from Love Canal. In the 1970s some were beginning to be truly concerned about the environment and environmental toxins. We, and many others who had not thought about it, were riveted by Love Canal which sensitized many in the U.S. to the importance of pollution and toxic waste.

Our SWPPP is part of protecting the environment from toxic chemicals and other pollutants that can arise from a construction site. We have been working with Conservation Seeding and Restoration which a science-based company that dedicates its work to establishing and restoring ecologically healthy habitats using native plants and vegetation. I have worked with multiple people in the company as we have considered landscaping, retaining walls, fire and subsequent rain and snow events. All of these things fit into our overall plan for protection and restoration of our land.

It is particularly poignant to me to see my poor land and know how many hundreds and hundreds of hours I spent trying to help it be strong and keep the native vegetation augmenting it carefully. I was up on the hill yesterday in raw weather looking under the newly sprayed seed and land stabilizer and found healthy and growing native grass from my “deer pasture.” The deer had a path from the river below up back up the mountain behind us that crossed our yard in several locations. I was growing tired of their using our house as a salad bar. I read up on deer and the research indicated that deer were opportunists. They ate what was the simplest to get to. I thought I had solved my problem. I spent two years establishing at the wild edge of my property what we jokingly called a “deer pasture” of yummy deer grass so that their browsing would be of my “pasture” more than my perennials. In truth, the deer had multiple paths through the trees and some came under our windows and across our deck on some occasions. I went to the side of the trees where their main trails were and encouraged the grass that was already growing by adding a bit more seeds of the same kind and watering it every week or so. The deer truly loved it and they loved my perennials too.

So with the same sense of care and loving I have had for our shabby little 1/3 of an acre on the upside of a road cut, we have been trying to stabilize the land and give it the best possible chance to survive the winter so that we can care for it more in the spring. If you have been following the blog you know that we got wattles a few weeks back and it was very exciting https://building1home.com/2012/10/25/concrete-plans-and-wattles/. This week we also got hydro-seeded. Both of these things help stabilize the soil and prevent runoff and sedimentation. We need these things because the fire burned off the grass that was there.

A SWPPP plan has three components (1) identifies the potential sources of pollution that can be reasonably expected to affect the storm water discharge from the construction site, (2) describes our practices to reduce pollutants in storm water discharges and (3) helps assure compliance with the permit when it is fully implemented. The EPA has an attratice and well organized website about storm water and construction sites at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/const.cfm. There is a very nice book explaining how to develop as SWPPP plan that can be found at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/sw_swppp_guide.pdf. This 50 page guide is chocked full of useful information and also has helpful flow charts, diagrams and drawings. I am not being ironic here. The SWPPP is important.

When I was younger we did not have such things and there were serious consequences in our water. One of the famous cases was Love Canal. It was a critical case and subsequently an important case study for the environmental, chemical and petrochemical and my field, Traumatic Stress.

In traumatic stress, it was partly the origin of the term “human-made disaster.” Research in the field has shown that human-made disasters are more difficult for survivors than those who survive a natural disaster. When bad things happen it is normal to look for a reason. When it is a natural disaster like a tornado, no one caused it therefore no one could stop it. It just happened. With human made disasters, someone is responsible. The loss and the grief and the horror from human made disasters like Love Canal are made all the more painful knowing that it did not have to be.

Love Canal is located in New York State and was originally started in the mid 1800s. The project was stopped because of the thick clay soil which made the development of the canal difficult and more expensive than it was worth. The Hooker Chemical Company used the u-shaped natural container for dumping chemicals between 1942 and 1953. When the company ceased operations they covered the chemicals with the clay. In the 1970s toxic chemicals began to invade the small town of Love Canal. Residents suffered increased cancer occurrences as well as birth defects in the children. The outcome was so grievous and the cleanup so massive that the U.S. Congress responded with what we know as the “Superfund Bill.”

The Superfund Act, passed in 1980, established a 1.6 Billion dollar fund for clean up of toxic waste when no responsible party can be identified. The funds are largely raised by taxes on chemical and petrochemical companies. The EPA and citizens identify abandoned hazardous-waste dump sites and leaking underground tanks that threaten human health. When a responsible party can be identified the EPA has the authority to require them to conduct the clean-up or to take the party to court if they do not. When no responsible party can be identified funds from the Superfund are used.

Eckardt C. Beck wrote about Love Canal for the EPA Journal in 1979

I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces. http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/01.html

From this tragidy a country was changed. We pay attention, or are required to pay attention, to what happens with toxic chemicals at construction sites large and small. We have a Superfund for cleaning up toxic sites. We have awareness that toxic waste is not right and as a nation little tolerance for companies and individuals who with callously put the health of our old people, our children and all others behind profits.

I would not have remembered the history of Love Canal and the Superfund Act if I were not trying to save my land and to save the land and water around us. Our disaster was human made but not intentional. The chains holding a trailer on a construction truck bounced its way up the road sparked on the pavement and the fire stated as multiple places at once. A SWPPP would not have prevented our fire and I cannot have any negative feelings for the driver of one of the many possible trucks who could have started the fire. Our SWPPP is important to to us. We do not want to add to the bad history of the past. Enough tragedy has come from our fire already.

hydro seeded hill