Ethics Law Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Legal Ethics Surrounding the Love Canal Tragedy

Love Canal Law/Ethics

In 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a lawsuit against Hooker Chemical Company and its parent corporation, Occidental Petroleum (EPA, 1979). The Department of Justice (DOJ), acting on behalf of the EPA, charged these corporations with creating an imminent and substantial danger to health and the environment, by violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Refuse Act, and the common law of nuisance. In 1995, 16 years after the suit was filed, Occidental agreed to pay the requested amount for cleanup and resident relocation costs (DOJ, 1995).

Congress reacted to the environmental and health disaster by enacting Superfund legislation, which contained a provision making polluters retroactively liable. However, the concept of retroactive liability has been a source of controversy for legal and ethical reasons. This essay will examine the legal/ethical issues of responsible party attribution surrounding the Love Canal tragedy.

The Blame Game

Occidental's reaction to the DOJ lawsuit was to file a countersuit alleging government responsibility, because government agencies were also involved in dumping (DOJ, 1995). It is hard not to wonder if this allegation is a fight among friends, because in 1953, Hooker Chemical sold the property to the Niagara Falls Board of Education for a dollar (Regional Institute, 2008). The bill of sale included a warning about the chemicals that had been dumped and a disclaimer for future liability. The wording in the bill of sale suggests Hooker was aware of a potential liability risk. Whether the board of education paid any attention to the explicit and implied warnings is unknown, but someone made a huge mistake when they built a school on the landfill.

Lercher (2004) defines negligence as failing to act when the means to do so are available and it is appropriate, and when not doing so increases the risk of harm substantially. The determination of liability depends on the concept of reasonableness, or what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation. Ignorance, although…

Sources Used in Document:


DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice). (1995). Occidental to pay $129 million in Love Canal settlement. Retrieved 16 Nov. 2012 from

EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). (1979). U.S. sues Hooker Chemical at Niagara Falls, New York. Retrieved 16 Nov. 2012 from

Lercher, Aaron. (2004). Is anyone to blame for pollution? Environmental Ethics, 26, 403-410.

Regional Institute. (2008). Policy Brief: Thirty years from Love Canal. Retrieved 16 Nov. 2012 from

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