by Keith O'Brien
From the New York Times best-selling journalist, the staggering, hidden story of an unlikely band of mothers who discovered the deadly secret of Love Canal and exposed one of America’s most devastating environmental disasters
Lois Gibbs, Luella Kenny, and other mothers loved their neighborhood on the east side of Niagara Falls. It had an elementary school, a playground, and rows of affordable homes. In the spring of 1977, pungent odors began to seep into these houses, and it didn’t take long for worried mothers to identify the curious scent. It was the sickly-sweet smell of chemicals.
In this propulsive work of narrative reportage, Keith O’Brien uncovers how Gibbs and Kenny exposed the poisonous secrets buried in their neighborhood. The school and playground had been built on top of what had been known as Love Canal. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hooker Chemical, the city’s largest employer, had quietly filled the old canal with 20,000 tons of toxic waste that was now leaching to the surface, causing a public health crisis the likes of which America had never seen and sparking new and specific fears. Kenny believed the chemicals were making her son sick.
O’Brien braids together previously unknown stories of Hooker Chemical’s deeds; the local newspaperman, scientist, and congressional staffer who tried to help; the city and state officials who didn’t; and the heroic women who stood up to corporate and governmental indifference to save their families. They would take their fight all the way to the top, winning support from the E.P.A. and President Jimmy Carter; by the time it was over, they would capture America’s imagination. Sweeping and electrifying, Paradise Falls brings to life a defining story from our past, laying bare how the dauntless efforts of a few women helped to spark the modern environmental movement as we know it today.