What We Can Learn From Love Canal

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Cleaning Up Love Canal / Photo: EPA

 

Guest post by Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of EarthShare member charity Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)

This year, 2013, marks a very significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. Entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began. It was in 1978 when we started the Love Canal Homeowners Association to respond to the industrial waste dump that was poisoning our community in New York State. Our work eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program in 1980.

We need to find ways to tell the Love Canal story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. One key lesson is that a blue collar community with few resources can win its fight for justice and open the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental chemicals and their effects on public health.

Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar nominated filmmaker (Berkeley in the Sixties), there’s now a compelling film that tells the story of Love Canal and the history of the environmental movement: A Fierce Green Fire. The film will engage younger viewers who may have never heard of Love Canal and re-engage those who have spent decades fighting for a healthy planet. What’s exciting about this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, is that it demonstrates that change really can happen when people get involved.

“The main difference between my film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story”. The film is narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others.

(Lois Gibbs speaking about Love Canal in A Fierce Green Fire)

As CHEJ moves forward this coming year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show the film in their communities and learn how to win environmental and environmental health and justice battles. Partnering with these groups, we hope to also bring media attention to local environmental concerns across the country and raise funds to address these issues. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.

If your group is interested in hosting a local viewing of A Fierce Green Fire, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take action to protect our health and the planet.

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Mini_lois-150x150Lois Gibbs was raising her family in Love Canal, near Niagara Falls in upstate New York, when, in 1978, she discovered that her home and those of her neighbors were sitting next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.

That shocking discovery spurred Lois to lead her neighbors in a three year struggle to protect their families from the hazardous waste buried in their backyards. In that fight, Lois discovered that no local, state or national organization existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and technical assistance.

Lois with her neighbors on their own, by trial and error, developed the strategies and methods to educate and organize their neighbors, assess the impacts of toxic wastes on their health, and challenge corporate and government policies on the dumping of hazardous materials. Her leadership led to the relocation of 833 Love Canal households.

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