By Lois Gibbs
Thirty-eight years after Love Canal, cries for help from innocent families in Western New York are heard again. I continue to struggle with the question of why corporations are held to a different standard than ordinary citizens.
This time it’s the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood around the Battaglia Demolition site. In my former community, Love Canal, where 20,000 tons of wastes were buried and families were exposed to toxic air and dust contamination, it was Occidental Chemical Corp. Many believed that our exposure was from drinking water but it was the toxic air that was responsible for over half of our newborn babies having birth defects.
I would have thought that New York State and Erie County would have learned something from our tragedy.
Recently, the families living in the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood called me for help with Battaglia Demolition, a waste transfer site that operates a concrete crusher in the neighborhood. No, this is not a toxic dumpsite like the one in my community, but the impacts on children, women, men and quality of life are similar.
Seneca-Babcock families have reported massive clouds of dust coming from the Battaglia facility, trucks coming and going late at night and very early in the morning, odors, excessive noise and swarms of rats, with high-volume truck traffic shaking homes to the foundation. The trucks in particular, often over 100 a day according to residents, drive up and down a small street where children play.
What if this wasn’t a corporation but a private citizen’s property? Noise, rats, vibrations that crack home foundations would never have been tolerated. These acts by a citizen would bring a police officer to the front door.
After a long history of permit and nuisance violations, the New York State Attorney General’s Office took Battaglia Demolition to court. The attorney general cited over 80 examples of previous cases at the local, state, and federal level demonstrating that Peter Battaglia should be held accountable. In August, the case went in front of Judge Deborah Chimes in Erie County Supreme Court.
Today, the case sits on Judge Chimes’ desk awaiting a decision. Peter Battaglia argued it is not his responsibility to prevent quality of life violations. The property he operates is zoned for industrial use. However, the adjacent neighborhoods are zoned residential. His attorney, Steven Cohen, told the court, “Their expectation of peace and quiet really doesn’t exist.”
The innocent tax-paying families of the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood are simply asking for equal protection under the law. Every day the court delays action is adding to the violation of equal protection.
Lois Gibbs founded the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association in 1978 and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in 1981.