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FIRM SETTLES 14-YEAR LOVE CANAL SUIT

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Occidental Chemical Corp. Tuesday agreed to pay $98 million toward the cleanup of Love Canal to end a lawsuit with New York state over the toxic nightmare that forced hundreds of families to leave their homes.

The settlement in the 14-year-old liability case was reached last week by attorneys for Occidental and New York, which had sued the company for nearly $700 million in cleanup costs and other damages.Attorneys Tuesday morning presented the settlement to U.S. District Court Judge John Curtin, who was expected to approve the plan.

The U.S. government's case against Occidental is still pending, along with the company's counterclaim against the federal government, the city of Niagara Falls and its school board. Also pending are lawsuits filed by 900 former Love Canal residents for health problems they blame on toxic contamination.

The company's corporate predecessor, Hooker Chemicals & Plastics Corp., buried 22,000 tons of toxic waste at Love Canal from 1942 to 1953.

Under the deal, New York would drop all other claims against Occidental, while the company would drop a countersuit against the state.

The state and federal governments paid for the cleanup, which included the costs of moving out families and razing hundreds of homes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Company spokesman Alan Hilburg said the settlement partly vindicated Occidental, since New York was settling for only part of its Love Canal expenses.

The settlement, which will be paid over four years, amounts to about three-quarters of the $130 million New York spent for its share of the cleanup. The federal government spent about $150 million on the cleanup.

The agreement also provides for Occidental to take over maintenance of the remaining area of Love Canal contamination, which has been capped and fenced off. This will save the state about $25 million in the coming decades, officials said.

"It's fair and reasonable," said Occidental attorney Thomas Truitt.

Under federal Superfund law, Occidental already had been held liable for at least part of the cleanup costs.

Love Canal, dug in the 1890s for an abandoned hydropower proj-ect, became a dump site during World War II. In the 1950s, a housing development sprang up around the canal. Hundreds of Love Canal families were evacuated when chemicals began leaking into their yards and basements.

Testimony in the lawsuit ran from October 1990 and lasted seven months.

Closing arguments were given in early 1992.