Henderson on Latest Love Canal Book
By David Henderson
But the real story of Love Canal isn’t the “corporate guys: bad; government guys and community activists: good” tale that many people believe. In its February 1981 issue, Reason magazine published an exhaustive, fact-filled, 13,000-word article on Love Canal written by independent investigative reporter Eric Zuesse. The article dramatically recast many of the characters in Brown’s reports, including Brown himself. I recently asked Reason‘s longtime science writer, Ron Bailey, whether further information in subsequent years had led him to doubt any important factual claims in Zuesse’s piece, and he replied, “I am not aware that his article has been contradicted or found deficient in any important way.”
In the years following that article, when I read about Love Canal, I do so with an eye on two topics: (1) Does the work discuss Zuesse’s version of the story? (2) Does it challenge his claims? Those questions were on my mind as I read the latest addition to this literature, historian Richard Newman’s Love Canal. Newman does not mention Zuesse, but he does raise some of the issues that Zuesse did. Disappointingly, he ultimately ignores those issues and adopts much of the story that Brown presented.
These are 2 key paragraphs from “Down the Memory Hole,” my review of Richard S. Newman’s book Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present,” Regulation, Winter 2016-2017.
This failure is not just a careless slip. In one section, for example, Newman writes, “It all came back to the concept of justice, for Love Canal families felt that they had been sacrificed on the altar of profit and power.” It seems far more accurate to say that they were sacrificed on the altar of the local school board’s power; the idea that for-profit Hooker sacrificed them is hard to maintain in light of Hooker’s warnings not to disturb the site. Moreover, elsewhere in the book, Newman refers to Hooker’s “newfound concern” in 1980 with the “public’s health and safety.” Newfound? As documented above, Hooker stated and, more important, acted on its concern in the 1950s.