Love Canal has been considered by many to be one of the worst environmental disasters in  American history. Now, on June 3, Wausonians will get to hear from an expert who was actually there.

If you go

  • What: Midwest Environmental Health Summit
  • When: 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 3
  • Where: Jefferson Street Inn, 201 Jefferson St., Wausau
  • Cost: Admission is completely free to the public, RSVPs are strongly encouraged. Reserve a seat at this link.

The toxicologist who was appointed by state officials in New York at the  height of the Love Canal crisis, Stephen Lester, will be speaking on Saturday, June 3, at 9am at the Jefferson Street Inn. Lester also weighed in on contamination in Wausau after residents and environmental advocates raised alarm bells about a lack of testing and cleanup of some neighborhood sites.

His speech in Wausau, “Truth and Consequences,” will address the importance and role of scientific information in  community organizing and will cover issues such as having a plan for how best to use scientific information,  the importance of knowing what scientific information can and cannot tell you and what we know about how  mixtures of toxic chemicals affect the human body.

The free Wausau event is sponsored by Citizens for a Clean Wausau (CCW), and is part of the 2023 Midwest  Environmental Health Summit. CCW Co-Spokesperson, Terry Kilian, says the event is a unique opportunity  for local residents: “It’s amazing that these speakers will be involved in a Wausau event. Some of them are part of national history or have made national history when it comes to environmental issues.”

East Palestine panel, extensive experience with dioxin

Lester holds Toxicology and Environmental Health degrees from Harvard University and New York  University (NYU) respectively.

He recently served on a panel of experts in East Palestine at a town meeting following the catastrophic train derailment there, and his piece on dioxin testing and the East Palestine train derailment was featured in The Guardian in March.

He has contributed to two significant reports on dioxin: “Dying from Dioxin,” and “The American People’s  Report on Dioxin,” and currently serves as the Science Director for CHEJ.

Love Canal involvement

Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagra Falls, was originally the site of an abandoned canal that became a dumping ground for nearly 22,000 tons of chemical waste. Eventually, homes and an elementary school were built adjacent to the landfill where the toxic waste was dumped.

In the late 1970s, public awareness unfolded when investigative newspaper coverage and grassroots door-to-door health surveys revealed a series of inexplicable illnesses and abnormally high rates of birth defects and miscarriages in the neighborhood.

In October 1978, New York tapped Lester to be a technical adviser to the residents of Love Canal as they fought for environmental cleanup to protect the health of their families.

Now, he and his organization, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, is working with communities affected by dioxins and has been doing so for more than 40 years.

“We have seen the impact of exposure to dioxins in communities from Love Canal and Times Beach to Pensacola, Florida,” Lester wrote, in The Guardian.

Lester evaluated contamination in Wausau

Mr. Lester is not unfamiliar with Wausau. In the past, concerned by what they considered an inadequate  government response, some Wausau residents contacted Lester and asked if he would review environmental data from Riverside Park and part of the former Connor Forest Industries property on Wausau’s southwest side.

He did. Years later, both sites are under DNR oversight and will undergo significant remediation. 

“He is not just nationally known, but made a positive impact in our community,” said Randy Radtke, Co Spokesperson of CCW. “It is exciting that he will be presenting in town next month.”

Monitoring Polluters. Protecting Neighborhoods.