From the Niagara Gazette:
It’s almost amusing how many journalists over the years have claimed they ‘discovered’ the Love Canal.
I still remember one Buffalo newscaster, who left the television station years ago for a West Coast job that didn’t pan out. During his on-camera farewell appearance in the Queen City, he talked how he had covered that infamous story. In retrospect, I don’t think he ever set foot in the chemically-contaminated neighborhood.
Now nearly 40 years later, however, the record has been set straight in an informative new book, “Love Canal: A Toxic History from Colonial Times to the Present,” by Richard S. Newman (Oxford University Press, hardcover, 306 pages, $29.95). While the author cites several news reporters for their well-deserved work – excluding the TV guy from Buffalo — he praises Michael H. Brown, a former Niagara Gazette reporter, as best exemplifying the new “journalistic sensibility” that emerged from the Love Canal saga.
Longtime residents have many stories about that disaster that erupted in the summer of 1978 — forcing hundreds of families to flee their LaSalle area homes — and the protest movement that launched a grassroots era of environmental concern. The author adds: “His (Brown’s) visceral reporting style influenced by the so-called New Journalism of the 1960s — where investigative correspondents inserted themselves into the story — brought toxic landscapes alive for readers.”
A Niagara Falls native and Fordham Unversity graduate who interned at Newsday on Long Island, Brown joined the Niagara Gazette staff in 1977. Within a few months, he was watching as engineers probed the old canal bed where the Hooker Chemical Co. had dumped huge amounts of toxic byproducts from the 1940s until the early 1950s. Brown was acutely aware of the need to ignore most of the puff-piece news releases that Hooker executives kept grinding out in its defense.
In fact, on his own initiative, he asked homeowners if he could check out reports that chemical waste had oozed down their basement walls and out to their backyards. At one point, Brown even collected samples from sump pumps to be tested, helping with his investigation. No one, of course, could claim having discovered the Love Canal but Brown was definitely out front in his aggressive and relentless pursuit of the toxic dump here and in other communities. One of his books, “Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals” was adapted for articles in the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and for other magazines and newspapers across the U.S.
Brown was quick to delve into the real concerns that shaped one of the most significant environmental stories in decades, a crisis that at times threatened to eclipse Niagara’s fame as a travel destination. Tourist industry officials cringed when they heard reports of out-of-town callers — planning to visit here — wondering if the water here was safe to drink. Meanwhile, Lois Gibbs, a Love Canal resident, was sounding the alarm for the state officials and health authorities to respond before it was too late.
In the end, Brown’s reporting was nominated for three categories of the Pulitzer Prize and drew a special award from the Environmental Protection Agency.
As you may remember, President Jimmy Carter came to Niagara Falls in late 1980 to sign the special legislation that would become known as the Superfund. It was to control toxic wastes at the Love Canal, and others that had come to light.
Brown and his wife Lisa, parents of three children, later moved to Florida.