40 years later, Love Canal residents still searching for closure

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Luella Kenny believes her son Jon Allen was poisoned in his own backyard. 

“He was a sweet little boy who I think would have contributed so much to society and yet he was cut down at seven,” she said. 

Doctors in the late 70s said Jon Allen Kenny died from a form of kidney disease. Luella Kenny always thought there was something more. 

“It turned out that the chemicals had been coming down the storm sewers and emptying out into the backyard where the children played,” Kenny told News 4. 

The Kenny’s lived on 96th Street in Niagara Falls, an area known as the Love Canal neighborhood. 

Like hundreds of other families, they didn’t realize their home sat atop toxic industrial waste, dumped by Hooker Chemical years prior. 

“You’re talking volatile organic compounds, dioxins, there’s a lot of pesticide products. Hooker Chemical was using this site as a permanent landfill to deposite drums and lab packs,” said Mike Basile with the EPA.

Former Love Canal resident Patricia Grenzy attended the 99th Street School in Niagara Falls. She used to play in the dumpsite as a child. 

“It was black, a deep black, with an oily look to it, with blue and purple colors that added to it. If you dropped something in that it bubbled up and then disappeared, so we called it quick sand,” she said.

In the late 70s, the toxic chemicals Grenzy and her friends were mesmerized by starting getting national attention. 

People were getting sick, and residents wanted answers. 

At one point, then-head of the Love Canal Homeowners Association Lois Gibbs, wouldn’t let an EPA representative leave her office without action from the federal government.

Dozens of once-quiet housewives became members of an organized army.

“People were burning their deeds and their mortgages. It was like a movie scene. It really was,” Grenzy remembered. 

Then, in August 1978, President Carter declared Love Canal a federal health emergency. The declaration was followed by a federal buyout and the relocation of hundreds of families. 

Grenzy, who was pregnant at the time, was evacuated from her 100th street home in March of 1979. 

Many families, including the Kenny’s and Grenzy’s, settled with the chemical company out of court. 

40 years after that declaration of emergency, the working class neighborhood once known as Love Canal is 70-acres of emptiness. The 99th Street School and 239 homes were demolished and the site is enclosed in a chain link fence. 

It’s an emotional graveyard for Luella Kenny. 

“We took every precaution. I mean, we wouldn’t let him go swimming, we wouldn’t let him do all of these things but we did not know about chemicals,” she said of Jon Allen, who was in and out of the hospital as a child. 

“The night before he died, he was in an oxygen tent. The nurse tried to give him a little piece of hard candy to moisten his mouth. He made her read this label because he didn’t want to put something in his mouth that was going to harm him. That’s how careful he was,” Kenny said. 

After Jon died, she joined the fight alongside other mothers, demanding justice. 

“I really never had a chance to grieve because all of a sudden I was thrust into this whole arena of trying to get out of Love Canal, trying to protect the rest of my family.”

The Kenny’s did get out of Love Canal. But closure never came. The settlement did little to comfort Luella Kenny. 

“We have over 100 monitoring wells, not only on the site and off the site in the community,” Basile said. 

Basile said the toxic waste is capped and contained within the 70-acre site. The chemicals are topped with clay, topsoil, grass, and a thick covering. 

Directly across Colvin Boulevard from the site, is a neighborhood; Black Creek Village. It’s just yards away from the fenced in area that houses thousands of tons of hazardous waste. 

Basile said the homes in that area are safe. 

“Our monitoring continues to show us today that the remedy is in place and continues to be protective of human health and the environment,” he told News 4. 

Grenzy and Kenny aren’t convinced. 

Grenzy and her family are battling long term illnesses; illnesses she’s convinced are courtesy of Love Canal. No doctor has ever confirmed so with certainty. 

40 years since a sitting president admitted the area was toxic, Luella Kenny, now in her 80s, said she’s not done fighting. 

“I thought well maybe it’s time to stop. But I can’t do it. I can’t bring Jon back, that’s for sure. But I worry about all the other children.”

There are still more than a dozen civil lawsuits in litigation related to Love Canal. 

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