A toxic timeline

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 226
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag0454

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In the 1970s, residents of a Niagara Falls neighborhood realized that chemicals from a toxic waste dump had leached into their homes, parks, and neighborhood school. Their cancers, miscarriages, and myriad chronic ailments told the tale, and in 1978 they organized, filed lawsuits, and demanded intervention. The federal government eventually complied, evacuating the residents and creating the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund Act, which provides a framework for cleaning up such sites. In his new book, Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present, Richard S. Newman urges us to see the Love Canal disaster stretched out in time, rooted in the long history of the Niagara Falls area. The crisis itself, he says, was an outcome of patterns established generations earlier that pitted developmental pressures against environmental and human health and created a "cycle of disposable land use that had long dominated area politics and economics."