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STIGMA’S GONE AS PEOPLE FLOCK TO LOVE CANAL

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Sixteen years ago, the notorious Love Canal chemical dump sent hundreds of families fleeing from the threat of toxic contamination, cancer and deformed babies.

Now people are returning to the homes there - and a developer plans to build more.The Niagara Falls planning board agreed Wednesday to let Samuel Tuchman build 250 houses within a few blocks of the one-time swimming hole where 22,000 tons of toxins were dumped in the 1940s and '50s.

Tuchman also plans to build apartment buildings and a small retail plaza.

"I think it's a great site," Tuchman said. "Where else do you find 72 acres of land just ripe for development?"

About 700 homes were abandoned after chemicals were found oozing from the soil near Love Canal and a health emergency was declared in 1978. Residents complained of health problems, toxins seeping into their basements and chemical "volcanoes" exploding in their yards.

The government bought the houses and razed the ones nearest to the dump site.

After the dump was capped, health studies in the late 1980s determined that it was safe for people to move back into houses farthest from the landfill. The dump itself remains a prohibited area.

People began moving back in 1991, but a few Love Canal residents fear new construction could disturb remaining chemicals. And planning board member James Hahn, who cast the sole vote against the plan for new houses, is afraid there's still contamination at the site.

"I would have voted `yes' if there was a provision for ongoing spot testing," Hahn said.

Many residents' main complaint is simply that the new development will crowd their homes.