NYT best selling author Keith O’Brien will be conducting two in-person book releases this week in WNY. O’Brien’s latest book – Paradise Falls – dredges up the tragic real life horror story of Love Canal, with an unlikely twist. The book focuses on a band of mothers in the 1970’s who helped to expose Hooker Chemical and its toxic waste cover up. Not only did these women successfully crusade against a major corporation, they also helped to forge a modern environmental movement in the process.
If you live in WNY, chances are that you are aware of the tragedies that unfolded in Niagara Falls. During a ten year period, Hooker Chemical disposed of 20,000 tons of harmful contaminants into the canal. The result was families that suffered from birth defects, miscarriages, and even direct burns from exploding “fire rocks” at the site itself.
O’Brien’s book shines a light on the unlikely heroes that went head-to-head with Hooker Chemical, and came out victorious. Unfortunately, despite the miraculous victory, there was little reason to celebrate, as the heartbreaking damage was done. The silver lining, however, is the precedent that was set, by the loving mothers who bootstrapped their way to victory.
“It’s a generally untold story,” said O’Brien, over a phone call. “It’s about the human narrative – the families who huddled around the kitchen tables, trying to escape their homes and save their families’ lives. They were ignored, but eventually got the ear of President Jimmy Carter. Early on (1978), residents like Lois Gibbs took their concerns to the school district, just as secrets were starting to emerge. Lois asked that her son be moved to another school district. But the school was determined to be safe. That’s when she and others began to relay their concerns (to anyone who would listen), which led to a two-year fight to escape their homes. They were ignored by school officials, but eventually invited to be on stage with Carter, who praised them for raising noise.”
O’Brien told me that what is especially remarkable about these women, was that there were no roadmap for them to follow. There was no guide book. They were “facing the impossible at the time.”
“It’s a relevant story to this day,” he said. “It wasn’t just one mistake, or one poor decision, or one oversight. It was dozens over the course of decades. It took protests, rallies, and marches, to force government officials to take notice.”
O’Brien’s book is an eye-opener into a process that we can all learn from. We might think that we know the story of Love Canal, because we’ve read the news articles and watched the news programs. But there’s an unsung hero that has eluded us. A group of heroic women warriors that is finally being duly recognized (and heralded) as the staunch force that would not take ‘no’ for an answer. This is their story.
Meet Keith O’Brien, author of Paradise Falls
Tuesday, April 19, 2022 | 6:30pm | Niagara Falls Public Library, LaSalle Branch | One of the mothers – Luella Kenny – will be at the event
Wednesday, April 20, 2022 | 6pm | The Buffalo History Museum