We went to a wonderful presentation by Lois Gibbs this week at Rollins College. Her journey into environmental activism started inadvertently in the late 1970’s when she discovered that her neighborhood, Love Canal, was built on top of a massive toxic waste dump.
When her young son became increasingly and seriously ill and doctors couldn’t diagnose the cause, she eventually found that their school and homes were built on top of and near a dump site containing over 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals which were leaking into the environment. The young mother with a high school diploma fought local, state and federal governments for years to obtain justice for the residents who were sickened by the contamination. In the end, over 800 families were evacuated so clean up of the site could begin. Her determined efforts helped lead the way to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.
Lois Marie Gibbs has authored several books and is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary Doctorate degrees. She formed a grassroots environmental crisis resource center in the early 1980s, later renamed the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), where she currently serves as Executive Director. The center continues its important work of providing activism training to community groups around the country and seeks to form strong local organizations to better protect against hazardous waste exposure. Their website also contains good information for activists to use in their quest to become more effective environmental advocates. Here’s an example of one of their documents.