Love Canal's Lethal Legacy Persists

Psychological and Medical Limbo

While experts say there is no scientific proof that all of these ailments were caused by chemical exposure, the children of Love Canal say their lives have been thrown into psychological limbo.

At 13, Michael Zimmerman remembers his parents' "anger, frustration and worry" over the evacuation. His sister had been born two months premature at Love Canal.

Now, 42, and a senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, he worries about his own two children, though seemingly healthy. His 38-year-old brother and father are fighting cancer.

"It's always hanging over our heads," Zimmerman, told "I worry about when it's going to happen to me, like a time bomb going off and the exposure is going to catch up to me."

About 67 original Love Canal homeowners refused to leave in the 1970s and some of their homes are still standing. George Kreutz, Amanda Bach and their three boys -- all under the age of 5 -- moved to just one foot from the edge of the contaminated zone.

Rent was cheap and they loved the small, clapboard house until a green, chalky residue appeared in the basement. The couple had never heard of Love Canal and they can't afford to move.

"I'd leave here in a heartbeat," he told, pointing to what he believes are toxic apples that tempt his toddlers. "I can't take my eyes off my children."

In the 1990s, the city "reclaimed" some of the boarded-up houses and declared the area outside the perimeter safe. But in order to obtain mortgages, buyers had to sign waivers that they would not later sue.

David Bower, who was one of the first to buy a home from the city (for $38,000), pays little attention to the fenced wasteland just one street away.

"I'll be honest," the 42-year-old detective told outside his renovated ranch home. "This is the most tested part of the country. I know what's in the soil."

"It needs to go to rest," he said of the efforts of the outspoken Love Canal children. "I eat the vegetables in my garden and I'm not glowing in the dark."

But Stephen Lester, who was a toxologist and science adviser at Love Canal, says health studies are not telling the whole truth.

The New York study only measured birth outcomes after 1983, and it only asked residents about reproductive health and certain specific cancers.

"In many ways this is a curse," said Lester, now married to Gibbs and CHEJ's science director. "Because no one helped them to get straight answers, they are stuck with illnesses they think are connected to their exposure."

As far as the EPA is concerned, the case is closed. In 1995, Occidental Petroleum, parent company to Hooker Chemical, agreed to pay $129 million in restitution. Out of that federal lawsuit came money for a small health fund and $3.5 million for the state health study.

'Worse Than Vietnam'

But some say it was never enough. "It was worse than Vietnam," said one 60-year-old veteran whose wife lost a baby and whose daughter carries birth defects. Looters plundered his house as he continued to pay his mortgage and rent another home.

Today, he wages his own cancer battle and worries about speaking out, for fear of jeopardizing his job -- and his health insurance.

"There are thousands of people living with a monster in their lives that they cannot forgive or forget," he told, staring at the fallow field where his home once stood.

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