cover image Paradise Falls: The True Story of an Environmental Catastrophe

Paradise Falls: The True Story of an Environmental Catastrophe

Keith O’Brien. Pantheon, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-593-31843-0

Journalist O’Brien (Fly Girls) delivers an immersive portrait of the citizen-activists who brought the Love Canal environmental disaster to light. In the 1940s and early ’50s, Hooker Chemical secretly dumped massive amounts of toxic chemical byproducts into a trench left over from an abandoned canal project in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Over the next 20 years, residents of the LaSalle neighborhood endured persistent chemical smells and seepage in their homes and suffered from unusual cancers, high rates of miscarriage, and other health problems. O’Brien pays particular attention to the many women who raised awareness about the issue, including congressional staffer Bonnie Casper, who pushed her boss to visit the area, and cancer researcher Beverly Paigen, who conducted soil sample tests and medical surveys. Eventually, the state and federal government helped relocate hundreds of families, and outrage over the case contributed to the passage of the 1980 Superfund Act requiring polluters to pay to ameliorate the damage they caused. O’Brien’s fluid retelling includes many startling anecdotes, including the time a local activist held two EPA officials hostage, and offers insight into how Love Canal transformed from a local disaster into national news. Readers will gain newfound appreciation for the regular people whose crusade for justice helped catalyze the modern environmental movement. (Apr.)