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Community Mobilization for Environmental Problems: How a Grassroots Organization For ...

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Community Mobilization for Environmental Problems:


Hickory Woods is a little community of about 80 families in the southern portion of Buffalo, New York, inhabited mostly by white, middle-class folks living the American dream. But as has so often happened since the 1980s in communities across the country, Hickory Woods has become an American nightmare. One minute, residents were enjoying backyard barbequing and organizing car pools to get the kids to school. The next minute, they learned that their community was contaminated and possibly making their kids ill. Decades earlier, residents north of Buffalo in the Love Canal neighborhood suffered the same shock.

During the late 19th century, Niagara Falls was a mecca for industrialists seeking cheap hydroelectric power. Many petrochemical production firms were built around Niagara Falls and Buffalo. The hydrogeological features that made the area a good site for petrochemical production also made it the worst site for waste landfills. A shallow layer of sand, silt, and glacial overburden tops bedrock and fractured dolomite. Substances injected into the ground were bound to move, leaching into groundwater and occasionally rising to the surface. Yet for most of the 20th century, and particularly during the Second World War, multiple petrochemical firms dumped waste into open pits adjacent to the city.