U.S. environmentalist says lessons of Love Canal can be applied to N.B.

940News - All News Radio
940 News
Thurs. Mar. 17, 2005

FREDERICTON (CP) - One of the key players in the Love Canal toxic waste scandal says political leaders have to start putting the health of children and the environment ahead of industrial development.

Lois Gibbs, a former Love Canal housewife who led the fight for U.S. federal aid to residents, said Thursday people have become much more knowledgeable about the need to protect their communities from polluters.

But she said political leaders in Canada and the United States often have different agendas. "There's not the political will in the higher levels of decision makers, in part because they are so beholden to industry," Gibbs said following her address to a conference in Fredericton on protecting children from pollution. "Whether it's because industries threaten to move out and jobs will be lost, or whether its part of a campaign contribution scenario, there's not as much support as there needs to be at the higher levels of government."

Love Canal, a neighbourhood contaminated by toxic chemicals near Niagara Falls, N.Y., was an environmental disaster that made headlines around the world. Hundreds of homes in the Love Canal area were evacuated in the 1970s when they were contaminated by toxic chemicals dumped there in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gibbs said lessons learned in Love Canal have application in New Brunswick where residents in several communities have raised concerns about industries in their backyards. In particular, Gibbs and conference organizers said more should be done to protect people in the northern New Brunswick town of Belledune where heavy metal contamination from the Norando-owned smelter is raising health fears.

Tests have shown hot zones of toxic metal concentration in the community, and several residents have been told their blood is contaminated with metals.

The New Brunswick government is carrying out a health study of the Belledune area. It has been completed and is currently under review by staff at the provincial Health Department. There's no word as to when it will be released to the public.

"Despite the fact that we know contamination is widespread, we know children are exposed and we know some people have high levels of metals in their blood, there has been no action to clean it up," said David Coon of the New Brunswick Conservation Council. "It's about politics, power and money. You have to organize to address those things."

Environment Minister Brenda Fowlie says she will wait for the government to complete its health study of the Belledune area before considering a cleanup.

Gibbs told the Fredericton conference, organized by the New Brunswick Environmental Network, that children are especially vulnerable to pollution. Studies discussed at the conference suggest that many Canadians feel their children's health is already being affected by environmental threats.

A report released recently by Pollution Watch states that overall emissions of carcinogens in New Brunswick increased by 500 per cent between 1998 and 2002. "Today's children are exposed to a vast array of toxic substances every day," said Inka Milewski of the Conservation Council. "They are just beginning a lifetime of exposure to cumulative environmental hazards."