While anxious Niagara Falls officials awaited a state decision expected tonight on resettling the Love Canal area, attorneys for Occidental Chemical Corp. won a court battle late Monday in the Love Canal lawsuit.
The victory came with a ruling from U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin that Occidental's attorneys would be allowed to question state health officials on political ramifications of decisions on the evacuation and cleanup of the chemical dump site.
The attorneys will be allowed to ask state Health Department officials "relevant questions" on non-health-related issues considered before and after a public-health emergency was declared in the Love Canal area in 1979.
In a case that is not expected to go to trial until 1990, the state and federal governments are trying to force Occidental to pay for cleanup and relocation costs that could reach $250 million. Occidental has accused the Health Department of misleading the public about dangers at the site.
Health Department officials had been able to avoid being questioned about their views on the political ramifications by invoking the "mental process privilege." The privilege protects public officials from divulging the private thoughts that led to their actions.
Curtin ruled improper the use of the privilege to avoid questions on "political ramifications of the Love Canal situation or other factors unrelated to health and safety."