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The Love Canal: The Importance of Political Decisions on Environmental Matters

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“The way a problem is defined invariably entails some statement about its origins – the question of culpability is the most prominent of all aspects of problem definition” (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994). One of the best illustrations of problem definition comes from the unfortunate story of the Love Canal. The residents of the Niagara Falls region were presented with horrid living conditions as their property, homes, and city were being invaded with toxic waste product.

The reaction time of the government was unbelievably, considering the circumstances, in providing solutions to the people of Niagara. The governments ill-timed response to the ongoing predicament can be explained by the implementation of multiple problem definition components. To interpret the incident of this disaster one will look at the origin, uniqueness, problem population, and solutions presented in The Legacy of the Hooker Chemical Company.

The first indication that there was proper concern was the state of the environment around the Love Canal. In order to treat an issue adequately, the origin must be found. Brown relays the answer from an independent consultant for the city when he questions what the planned corrective action will be, “We’re not really sure what the final solution should be, You can’t be sure until you know what you’re dealing with” (Brown. 1980). There was no decision made on who would be held responsible for the damage and payment to fix it. Between the board of education, the city, and the Hooker Chemical Company, no agreement could be made. Due to the lack of accountability, no one was able to step forward in constructing a plan or solution.

The reason the Love Canal situation was so unique was because the state and federal government had no previous experience in this type of dealings. The dilemma was whether Hooker’s actions were accidental or purposeful. Hooker Company claimed that any corruption, “before the environment became an issue and that potential dangers of ground pollution were all but unknown” (Brown. 1980. p.60). To Hooker’s defense, political regulations involving polluting did not come into effect prior to. The government was in a predicament because if no regulations were in place then technically speaking, Hooker is not in the wrong.

Due to no existing situations similar to this that the government had encountered, looking for a feasible solution would continue to be put on hold. To think that if the government was having issues in dealing with the matter, imagine what the residents were going through. To the residents, they would have been expecting someone to take responsibility and to fix what had been damaged. Aside from problems defined is the problem population. Problem population comes into play because of the suffering groups of people affected in the story. Problem population was present in the event because people outside the affected region were uninformed on what was happening, therefore, an absence of legislative willingness was there to lend help. Majority of people in the area worked for the chemical plants and were not earning a substantial amount of money. The people were helpless due to their financial demographic and its meager size in comparison to prominent cities.

Organizations were created such as, Love Canal Home Owners Association in hopes to bring awareness to their problems. A huge barrier was that they had a difficult time projecting their issues because they had to be at work most of the time to provide for their family instead of travelling to market their issues and concerns. Another obstacle faced by residents was that many of them worked for Hooker’s Chemical Company and did not want to put their job security at risk. The Niagara region depends on the chemical waste plants economically so the residents are torn between employment and the invading toxic environment. Due to these constraints, public aid was out of reach.“A solution is a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation” (Google).

In order for something to be classified as a problem there as to be a way to fix it. In the case of the Love Canal, the government, Hooker’s Chemical Company, and the public did not have any idea on how to solve the problem. This resulted in a miserably delayed government response. The damage was too far gone and the toxic chemicals poisoning the earth were unable to be stopped or undone. The pollution was not only affecting the environment, but also the people, “Employees who came in contact with the substance during a sixteen-month period were hospitalized with never damage, loss of memory, slurred speech, and severe weight loss” (Brown. 1980). The problem could not be addressed politically because there was still no course of action. The government has no motivation to confront an issue that cannot be solved because it only creates tension. The Love Canal misfortune was a remarkably damaging affair that changed lives and inevitably constructed policy for the future.

Conclusively, the stagnant response from state and federal government can be explained by implementing multiple segments of problem definition. The origin, uniqueness, problem population, and solutions are optimally used to portray the circumstances of this disaster. As unfortunate as this event was, lessons were learned that established the importance of political decisions on environmental matters.


  1. Brown, M. H. (1980). The Legacy of the Hooker Chemical Company. Toronto, ON: Random House of Canada Limited.
  2. Rochefort, D. A., & Cobb, R.W. (Eds.). (1994). Problem Definition: An Emerging Perspective. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

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