NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — A federal judge today found Occidental Chemical Corp. responsible for the multimillion-dollar cost of cleaning up the Love Canal landfill that became synonymous with environmental disaster.
In a victory for the state and federal governments, U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin granted a partial summary judgment, deciding that Occidental is liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.
"It is beyond dispute that OCC's disposal practices were at least partially responsible for the release, or threatened release, of the chemicals from the Love Canal landfill," he said.
Curtin ruled that Occidental both produced the toxic wastes and stored them in a way that would eventually result in toxic leakage.
Occidental spokesman James Green said the company will not comment on Curtin's decision until its lawyers have read the 36-page ruling.
The amount of the liability is left open. When the federal government filed the Love Canal action Dec. 20, 1979, it demanded $45 million, but the state the next year sued for $635 million. The eventual figure will depend on actual cleanup costs.
The local, state and federal governments can recover from Occidental the costs of dealing with Love Canal both before and after a federal environmental liability law was enacted in 1980, Curtin said.
The judge said Congress enacted the 1980 law to compel the waste disposal industry "to correct its past mistakes and to provide a solution for the dangers posed by inactive abandoned waste sites."
Today's ruling was the first time that Curtin, who has had the Love Canal case for nine years, publicly expressed his view on Occidental's responsibility.