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Environmental Crime - Growing Environmental Awareness

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Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century a number of major incidents called the public's attention to environmental issues. One of the earliest was at Love Canal. Love Canal, located in Niagara Falls, New York, was an abandoned dry canal used as a legal chemical dumping site by Hooker Chemical Company between 1942 and 1952. The site was then covered with dirt and sold to the Niagara Falls school district for one dollar.

A school was built on top of the Love Canal dumpsite and a neighborhood grew around it. For the next twenty years as children played around the school and in their yards, residents noticed strange smells and holes suddenly opening in the ground when large chemical drums eroded and collapsed. Small fires and explosions sometimes resulted when these drums burst.

Many female residents in the Love Canal area experienced multiple miscarriages (loss of a baby while pregnant), children born with birth defects, and cancer. By 1978 the problems became first local then national news. The Love Canal region was declared a threat to the health and safety of the residents. The school was closed and the state bought hundreds of homes in the area as a massive cleanup began.

In 1969 a large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, killed marine wildlife. In 1979 and 1986 two incidents at nuclear power plants left people skeptical of the safety of these plants. The 1979 accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant located in Pennsylvania. While the worst was avoided at Three Mile Island, the 1986 Chernobyl incident was devastating. Chernobyl was a town located in the Soviet Union and home to a large nuclear power plant. The power plant's main radioactive core melted down and thousands of Russians suffered severe and deadly radiation exposure.

In 1989 another massive oil spill occurred in the waters surrounding the United States when an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran ashore on the northern coast of Alaska. In response to growing concerns about the environment, as well as the humans and animals living in it, Congress began passing environmental protection legislation. Major laws were passed during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Each law defined certain environmental violations, created penalties, and a whole new legal field emerged to deal with the concept of environmental law. The term "environmental crime" also came into use.

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