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Ransomville residents say they need Love Canal-type help for growing cancer cluster

The cover page from a booklet listing CANCER VICTIMS linked to the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works
Mike Desmond
Ransomville residents say there is a growing cancer cluster linked to the radioactive waste at the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works.

Participants in a protest meeting in Ransomville Thursday evening said there is a growing cluster of cancers from the radioactive waste on the site of the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW) military installation, and they want the same consideration and medical help that Love Canal residents received a half-century ago.

At the beginning of World War II, the federal government seized a large tract of farm land for a munitions plant, which barely functioned before technology changed. Later on, the plant — disguised as a dairy farm — became a storage site for radioactive waste. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been cleaning up the site for decades, under a special remediation program.

The Love Canal comparison came up frequently during the meeting at the O. Leo Curtis American Legion Post. There are schools, environmental hazards, cancers — lots of cancers — and complaints government doesn't listen in the Niagara County hamlet.

There are also differences.

At Love Canal, the issue was chemical waste from private industry. In Ransomville, it's government radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb. Linking Love Canal and Ransomville is cancer.

Lead activist Grace Austin said she has spent years compiling a list of the people dying.

"It's not just one or two in a family. I have the Clark family. I have the Miller family. I have from the Towers. Entire families are being wiped out by these different cancers.," Austin said. "It's also psychological, like the ADHD and children with Down's syndrome."

The issue is personal to Porter Supervisor Duffy Johnston.

"I started at the Red Brick school in first grade in Youngstown and then I was bused to Lewiston Red Brick second grade and then for third grade, I was at Balmer Road," Johnston said.

Some of the land from LOOW was used for Balmer Road Elementary School.

Marlene Buttery-Lewis said residents deserve help, but the government is foot-dragging.

"Because I have medical issues and I'm low-income and everybody in the Love Canal was able to get something. So I'm looking to say, clean up their act or give us some money. It's all because they're in denial. They even tried to say that us kids didn't go there, we didn't have proof."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.