NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — The closure of one of Niagara Falls’ most well-known chemical plants means at least 150 factory workers will lose their jobs.
Occidental Chemical’s manufacturing operation on Buffalo Avenue will be shuttered, a company spokesperson confirmed Thursday. OxyChem produces and distributes caustic soda, chlorine and hydrochloric acid.
“The decision was made due to unfavorable regional market conditions as well as unreasonable and continually escalating rail transportation costs,” said Shane K. Boyd, spokesperson for OxyChem.
The Niagara Falls location, visible from the Niagara Scenic Parkway along the Niagara River, employs 130 full-time workers who will be affected by the closure, as well as 20 full-time contractors, Boyd said in a written statement.
In a written statement, Boyd said the company and its employees “have made significant efforts over the last several years to give this facility the opportunity to be viable. Despite these efforts, the plant continues to have a negative economic outlook.”
The Mayor of Niagara Falls, Robert Restaino, said the loss of a major employer will hurt.
“I spoke with local management about it and dug in to find out if there is something locally we could accomplish, but they made it clear to me that the decision has nothing to do with local conditions,” Restaino said. “Through it all, they have been an employer for some of our families for generations, so that’s certainly going to be lost on our city.”
Henry Saend is a current employee and his dad worked at this same plant for 30 years and was laid off twice.
“It’s a big loss having a good job benefits wise and pay,” Saend said. “Everybody’s situation is different. Some of us have things to turn back on. Some of us have been here longer than others.”
The company said it will maintain “certain corporate service functions in the area.” Employees of Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of OxyChem, will oversee the property following its “decommissioning” and will oversee Oxy’s other “legacy properties” in the region, the statement said.
One of those properties is the infamous Love Canal site that sits 4 miles to the east of the Buffalo Avenue plant.
The site became a national symbol for hazardous waste in the 1970s after families began developing mysterious illnesses. Investigations revealed that Hooker Chemical Corp., a precursor to Occidental Chemical, dumped vast amounts of toxic waste on the site before the city built a neighborhood and school there.
President Jimmy Carter declared portions of the neighborhood a disaster area in 1979 and families were evacuated. The crisis led to the creation of the federal Superfund program for toxic waste cleanup.
The Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 removed Love Canal from its Superfund list and declared that the neighborhood built around the fenced-in waste site was “a thriving community.”
But in 2013, families filed a $113 million state lawsuit against Occidental, claiming that the past was repeating itself. The company denied any wrongdoing and the lawsuit is still working its way through the courts.
As for the future of Buffalo Avenue where the plant is located, Restaino said Oxychem still owns it, and Restaino expects the company to take good care of it.
“They will continue to do what they’re doing, which is maintaining their footprint,” Restaino said. “We always look for opportunities to repurpose property if in fact the opportunity presents itself. Clearly the property would have some efforts to it if that were to happen.”
Glenn Springs Holdings, the OxyChem affiliate, is responsible for monitoring the safe storage of toxic waste on the site, in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.