Rep. John J. LaFalce and top officials of the state Health Department expressed concerns about running into stonewalls 12 years ago when they tried to investigate reports that the Army had dumped chemicals at Love Canal.
Disclosures about their investigation were made public Thursday in a series of documents in the $610 million Love Canal liability trial.
The documents included 1978 letters written to Defense Department officials by LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, and Dr. Robert P. Whalen, the state health commissioner at the time, expressing concerns about allegation of Army dumping at the Niagara Falls site.
"Although all of our information sources are unofficial sources, we believe there is sufficient documentation to ascribe to the Army Chemical Corps a significant responsibility for the existing health hazard," Whalen wrote in June 1978 to Army Secretary Clifford L. Alexander Jr.
The same month, LaFalce wrote to another Defense Department official, complaining about the Army's "questionable handling" of an investigation into "alleged dumping of toxic substances -- and possibly chemical warfare substances -- in the Love Canal area."
LaFalce wrote that he was upset that Army officials tried to pass off some of the responsibility for the investigation to a state agency -- the Health Department.
"I find this unbelievable," LaFalce wrote.
Whalen then wrote to LaFalce: "I am dismayed by the disclaimers from the Department of Defense and find it difficult to understand how the Defense Department can absolve itself of any responsibility for contractors under its direction."
The documents were entered into evidence during Thursday's testimony of Dr. David Axelrod, the current state health commissioner.
The documents were referred to as a "bombshell" by a spokesman for Occidental Chemical Corp., the chief target of state lawyers in the $610 million damages lawsuit.
Occidental is trying to prove the Army dumped at Love Canal and should share in cleanup costs.
Lawyers for the federal government have denied any Army involvement in poisoning the canal and the neighborhood around it.
"These documents add a lot of credibility to our proposition that the U.S. Army didn't cooperate with anyone in the investigation into their dumping at the canal," said Thomas H. Truitt, Occidental's chief attorney. "We don't know how much they dumped and probably never will."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Galli, representing the Army and other federal agencies at the trial, had a terse "no comment" about the documents. He referred questions to a U.S. Justice Department public affairs office in Washington.
Assistant State Attorney General Eugene Martin-Leff downplayed the documents and said Occidental wrongly is trying to blame others for a chemical mess the company created.
"If there was any dumping by the Army, we believe it was minuscule in comparison to at least 22,000 tons of toxic chemicals that were dumped at Love Canal by Hooker Chemical," said Martin-Leff, referring to Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corp., which Occidental took over in 1968. "There appear to be only a couple of reports about Army dumping, as compared to many, many reports about Hooker trucks rolling up to the dump site over 13 years."
After a full day of testimony by Axelrod, Judge John T. Curtin recessed the trial until Jan. 3.