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Clean Harbors incinerator at Kimball

This is an image of Clean Harbors Environmental Services' waste incineration plant south of Kimball. 

About a thousand tons of contaminated soil from the notorious Love Canal environmental disaster in New York is being shipped by rail to Kimball for incineration because the company that is disposing of it ran into objections from Canadians, who didn't want it.

Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, became a symbol for environmental abuse in the late 1970s when it was discovered that 22,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried there by Hooker Chemical Co. and then ignored for decades by local authorities.

Property development, weather and the removal of a heavy clay cap released the toxic waste and allowed it to leach under the town, leading to widespread and severe health consequences, vast litigation and finally, the federal Superfund law. 

The excavation of Love Canal waste from a Wheatfield, New York, landfill resumed recently, according to the Buffalo News. 

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation said that Glenn Springs Holdings, the contractor on the cleanup at Wheatfield, dropped its plans to haul 1,600 cubic yards of waste by truck to an incinerator in Sarnia, Ontario, owned by Clean Harbors Inc., the newspaper reported.

After residents and politicians in Sarnia protested, the New York DEC said Glenn Springs decided to truck the waste to CSX Transportation, then send it by rail to sites owned by Clean Harbors in the Nebraska Panhandle and in Utah.

Phillip Retallick, senior vice president of compliance and regulatory affairs for Clean Harbors, confirmed about 1,000 tons of soil contaminated with residue from pesticides and herbicides were in the shipment. 

Brian McManus, a spokesman for Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality, said the waste is expected to arrive this month. The Kimball incineration site is along Nebraska 71, about five miles south of town. 

The company's incineration plant has a permit to dispose of the waste, McManus said, and there's no reason to believe the company is not in compliance with its permits.

Retallick said the company has numerous options for handling this type of waste, and the Kimball plant, which he has been to many times, is fully capable. 

"It's low concentration so it's the residue of the organics in a lot of soil," he said.

The plant is designed to handle the toxic material itself, not just the residue, so there is "a tremendous margin of safety," Retallick said. "The concentration in remediation is much less than in processed waste."

Clear Harbors' website says it owns nearly 70 percent of North America's incineration capacity, and its six incineration sites in the U.S. and Canada "ensure we can meet any incineration requirement from any customer."

Clean Harbors, based in Norwell, Massachusetts, is a publicly traded company. 

The Love Canal story gripped the nation for years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

Hooker Chemical's dump site in Niagara Falls was in operation until 1953, after which it was covered with soil.

Recollections of the Love Canal disaster generally blame Hooker Chemical, but local authorities ignored the company's warnings of safety issues when they acquired the land for development, including schools and housing. Hooker, now owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp., believed it had been released from all legal liability.

By the late 1970s, birth defects, miscarriages and other health consequences led to the revelation by local news media of the mishandling of the toxic dump.

It was the first federally declared state of emergency that didn't have to do with weather or a natural disaster. 

Eventually, the government relocated more than 800 families and reimbursed them for their homes, and Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as the Superfund Act. Because the act contained a "retroactive liability" provision, Occidental was held liable for cleanup of the waste even though it said it had followed all applicable U.S. laws when disposing of it.

Lawsuits filed by residents were settled after the Love Canal disaster, but in recent years, new ones have been filed.

The federal government also supervised the renovation of the landfill, which remains a fenced-off mound today, according to the Buffalo News. 

A decade before the disaster, in June and July 1968, crews from the New York Department of Transportation hauled about 1,600 cubic yards of waste from the south end of Love Canal to the Wheatfield site about 5 miles away after disturbing the chemicals while building the LaSalle Expressway, the Buffalo News reported.

That's the waste that would be incinerated at Kimball and in Utah. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com. Twitter@RichardPiersol

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