Once the state had evacuated 239 families and began the cleanup, they erected a 10-foot fence around the evacuated area, even though nobody knew how far the chemicals had gone. The remaining community quickly began to express their anger and concerns. Their children were sick, their homes were worthless and they were innocent victims. They marched into the streets on Mother’s Day, carried symbolic coffins to the state capitol, held prayer vigils and picketed at the canal every day for weeks in the dead of winter.
Because of the pressure and persistence of the protests, the state gave what they called concessions, such as a safety plan and a $200,000 Human Services Fund to pay some of the residents’ medical expenses. But residents did not want concessions. They wanted to be evacuated too.
With the help of a dedicated volunteer scientist, LCHA began to interview families and plotted results on a map which showed a clustering of diseases. Using old aerial photographs, geological survey maps and personal photographs from residents, LCHA determined that when the area was developed, some stream beds were filled with dirt and rubble. But water still flowed easily through these routes: Even though there was no surface evidence of these stream beds, they provided an easy pathway for chemicals to flow out of the canal.
Completed in 1979, the study found increases amoung residents in miscarriages, still births, crib deaths, nervous breakdowns, hyperactivity, epilepsy and urinary tract disorders. Miscarriages were found to have increased 300%, for example, and most occurred in women who lived in the historically wet areas. From 1974 to 1978, 56% of the children in the Love Canal neighborhood were born with a birth defect, including three ears, a double row of teeth, and mental retardation. There were almost three times as many defects in historically wet areas.
State health authorities quickly dismissed the study. So the community went back to the streets and explained their problems to the public. Thousands of people wrote letters and sent telegrams to the Governor, to legislators and to the President. Residents created so much pressure and public outcry that the health authorities were forced to investigate the claims.
On February 8, 1979, the health department confirmed the homeowners’ findings and issued a second evacuation order for pregnant women and children under the age of two. Finally, in October of 1980 a total evacuation of the community was ordered by President Carter. Everyone who lived at the Love Canal had the option of moving away, with the government purchasing their homes at fair market value.