Given the sheer number of toxic waste dumps, landfills, radioactive hot spots and other hazards legally or illegally created in and around Niagara Falls for more than a century, it is little wonder that naturally occurring clay is in such high demand here.
As a material used in the lining and capping of landfills used to dispose of both hazardous waste and household garbage, clay has a history dating back to 1976, when the federal government finally got around to regulating such things. Ironically, the environmental disaster that triggered the government response was Love Canal in the city’s residential LaSalle neighborhood, where the chemical companies that formerly employed a high percentage of the area’s population dumped poisonous, cancer causing substances for decades.
Since Niagara County is home to a disproportionate number of landfills that have seen everything from nuclear waste associated with the atomic bombs of World War II to asbestos laden building materials torn asunder during the 9-11 attack on New York City and PCB contaminated muck dredged up from the bottom of the Hudson River, having plenty of clay handy to keep everything sealed away from the groundwater here is vital.
But the industry that need has spawned is now causing trouble of its own.
Sanborn resident Ron Catchpole has been complaining about the truck traffic resulting from the various clay mining operations located near his home on Town Line Road for years. Catchpole says the trucks often exceed the 40 mph speed limit on his street and along Route 104, known locally as Ridge Road.
“It’s gotten worse,” Catchpole said of the situation. “Now others are coming forward to complain.”
Lewiston resident Mary Proietti, who lives on Ridge Road, said that, as the trucks speed down the bumpy road, a fine clay dust is left in their wake. At last Monday’s Town Board meeting, she spoke up.
"I'd like to keep my doors and windows open when I don't have air and I can't do it, (dust) comes in my side door," Proietti said. "We're breathing it, this is the country. I'm not on Buffalo Avenue."
While the Town of Lewiston passed an ordinance banning clay mining back in 1987, officials there say they can’t enforce it because the mine operators have permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation authorizing the operations.
Catchpole said that it’s not the mining operation itself, but the speeding truck traffic that is the problem.
“If these commercial trucks, mostly the garbage trucks and large dump trucks would just slow down there would be no problems,” he said. “And the police should enforce the law equally with all vehicles.”
Catchpole told the Niagara Falls Reporter that he would continue his campaign against the clay mining trucks until things improve. He was encouraged, he said, by Proietti coming forward with her own experiences, and has contacted the television news bureaus in Buffalo in the hope of calling further attention to the problem.