Financial History Issue 130 (Summer 2019) | Page 33

“Valley of the Drums” in Brooks, Kentucky, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1983 due to contaminated groundwater, soil and surface water. existing sewers and, ultimately, drained into nearby creeks. In late 1977, in response to complaints from residents of homes adjacent to the Love Canal landfill, the EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Con- servation began investigating the ground- water at the site, as well as indoor air and sump water contamination in residences. In August 1978, President Jimmy Carter issued the first of two emergency declara- tions regarding the Love Canal site. The first provided federal funding for remedial work to contain the chemical wastes and to assist the state in relocating residents. On May 21, 1980, President Carter issued a second emergency declaration, specifi- cally establishing the Love Canal Emer- gency Declaration Area (EDA), a 350-acre neighborhood surrounding the landfill. The second declaration authorized $20 million in federal funds to purchase homes, with matching state funds. The EDA was ulti- mately divided into seven separate areas surrounding the landfill, which were even- tually assessed as to their habitability. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) managed the property purchase, disbursed funds and relocated hundreds of families. New York State, including the Love Canal Area Revitaliza- tion Agency, collaborated closely with FEMA. All but two families were evacu- ated and, in 1982, most structures were demolished. The debris was placed under the Love Canal landfill cap. The fenced 70-acre site today includes the original 16-acre hazardous waste landfill and a 40-acre cap, as well as a barrier drainage system and leachate col- lection and treatment system. The severity of the site’s contamination ultimately led to the creation of federal legislation to manage the disposal of hazardous wastes through- out the country, CERCLA. In September 2004, the EPA removed the site from the Superfund program’s National Priorities List. As a result of the revitaliza- tion efforts of the Love Canal Area Revi- talization Agency, new homeowners have moved into the habitable areas of the Love Canal site.  More than 260 formerly aban- doned homes in the affected area were reha- bilitated and sold to new residents, creating a viable new neighborhood. In a clear indication of how Love Canal embodied industrial contamination in the mind of the public, the Los Angeles Times published a news feature in 1994 detailing the $98-million settlement between the state and the company. “Taking a big step toward closing a case that raised the nation’s concern about buried toxic waste, Occidental Chemi- cal Corp. agreed to pay the state of New York $98 million to settle one of the key civil lawsuits over Love Canal,” wrote the Times. “The company also agreed to take over monitoring and cleanup of the Niag- ara Falls, NY, neighborhood – a chore that the New York attorney general’s office estimates will cost an additional $25 mil- lion over the next 30 years. Nearly 500 families in the Love Canal neighborhood, built atop nearly 22,000 tons of waste chemicals, evacuated in panic in 1978 after the toxic substances were blamed for a variety of birth defects and illnesses.” Although less well known than Love Canal, the site with the chilling moniker of “Valley of the Drums,” in Kentucky, is important because it demonstrated how important the broad powers of Superfund became quickly after being enacted. The 23-acre dump, formally known as the AL Taylor site, is in Brooks, KY. It includes an area used for waste disposal and drum recy- cling. The EPA placed it on the National Priorities List in 1983 because of contami- nated groundwater, soil and surface water. It also became a powerful visual image. All the Love Canal contamination was underground, and the area looked like any other suburb with homes, parks and a school. While the images of abandoned playgrounds were haunting, they were not sensational. It was the monstrous sights from the Taylor dump—stacks and piles of drums sprawling over acres amid pools of waste and foul water—that became the shocking poster images of contamination and neglect. The Taylor site is a rural area with woods and grassy sections 10 miles south of Lou- isville. The owner used the site for waste disposal operation from 1967 to 1977 when he died, leaving title to the land unclear. EPA records show the state first docu- mented releases of hazardous substances from the site in 1975 and pursued legal action against the owner. However, local reports indicate some of the waste caught fire in 1966 and burned for days. In 1978, a state investigation found that more than 100,000 drums of waste were delivered to the site, of which 27,000 were buried; the rest were dumped into pits. In 1979, large quantities of contaminants were carried into the creek by the spring snow melts. At the request of the state, the EPA conducted emergency response actions to prevent the migration and future releases of contamination. The EPA recorded more than 17,000 drums still at the site, of which only two thirds were empty. Remediation took about seven years.  Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist, principal of Enter- prise & Industry Historic Research ( and an active member of the Museum’s edito- rial board.  |  Summer 2019  |  FINANCIAL HISTORY  31