Women's Activism NYC

Lois Gibbs

1951 - Today

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

Lois Gibbs led the struggle to have 800 families from her Niagara Falls community evacuated and relocated after discovering that tons of chemical waste material was buried in nearby Love Canal. Lois Marie Gibbs was born in a blue-collar area of Grand Island, New York. She had five siblings that she grew up with; her father worked in steel mills and her mother was a housewife. Gibbs did not have many hobbies and activities as a child. After she graduated high school, she married Harry Gibbs, a chemical worker. In 1978, Lois Gibbs was a young mother with two young children living in Niagara Falls, New York, in a neighborhood called Love Canal. She began hearing reports of chemical waste being dumped nearby and discovered that her son’s elementary school was built on a toxic waste dump that was leaching chemicals. Gibbs organized neighbors and they petitioned the local, state, and federal government, leading to the entire community of more than 800 families being evacuated and relocated, and to the cleanup of the landfill. Her activism and shining a light on the issue led the federal government to create the “Superfund” program, which identified and cleaned up chemical waste sites throughout the country. Her role was so seminal and inspiring that a movie was made in 1982, Lois Gibbs and Love Canal. In 1990, in the inaugural year of the Goldman Environmental Prize, she became a Prize recipient. Since then, Gibbs has devoted her life to environmental activism. In 1980, she formed the nonprofit Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, which was later renamed the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). Today, Gibbs lives in Northern Virginia and serves as the director of CHEJ’s Leadership Training Academy, a skills building program for environmental activists who want to acquire the skills to lead a campaign, build capacity, and strengthen their organization. She is also actively involved with organizations that have identified environmental hazards in their communities, helping them advocate for Superfund oversight and pressuring companies to foot the bill for cleanup.

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