Executive Director, Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ)
In the spring of 1978, a 27 year-old housewife named Lois Gibbs discovered that her child was attending an elementary school built on top of a 20,000 ton, toxic-chemical dump in Niagara Falls, New York. Out of desperation, she organized her neighbors into the Love Canal Homeowners Association and struggled more than 2 years for relocation. Opposing the group’s efforts, though, were the chemical manufacturer, Occidental Petroleum, local, state and federal government officials who insisted that the leaking toxic chemicals, including dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to man, was not the cause of high rates of birth defects, miscarriages, cancers and other health problems. Finally, in October 1980, President Jimmy Carter delivered an Emergency Declaration, which moved 900 families from this hazardous area and signified the victory of this grassroots movement.
Once families were relocated from Love Canal, Lois’s life was changed forever. During the crisis, she received numerous calls from people across the country who were experiencing similar problems. This revealed to her that the problem of toxic waste went far beyond her own backyard. She became determined to support these grassroots efforts. In 1981, Lois created the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, (CHEJ) (formerly Citizens Clearinghouse For Hazardous Wastes), an organization that has assisted over 12,000 grassroots groups with organizing, technical, and general information nationwide. Today, Lois serves as Lead Trainer of the Leadership Academy of CHEJ and speaks with communities nationwide and internationally about dioxin and hazardous waste pollution. As the author of Love Canal and the Birth of the Environmental Health Movement, published in November 2010, Lois discusses how Love Canal became synonymous with the struggle for environmental health and justice. This is Lois’ first person account of the landmark case, now updated with insights gained over three decades. Also, she authored Achieving the Impossible, 2008, Stories of Courage, Caring and Community where she illustrates how ordinary people are creating extraordinary changes in their communities. The stories in this book illustrate how people have stepped forward and come together to meet the challenges facing their families and communities, as well as celebrating people’s willingness to engage in our democratic system of government. Lois along with a network of grassroots groups initiated the Stop Dioxin Exposure Campaign and published Dying from Dioxin in 1995, to support local groups with the goal of eliminating the sources of dioxin exposure, a chemical she feared most at Love Canal.
Lois has been recognized extensively for her critical role in the grassroots environmental justice movement. She has spoken at numerous conferences and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper articles, magazine, and textbooks. Lois has appeared on many television and radio shows including 60 Minutes, 20/20, Oprah Winfrey, Good Morning America, The Morning Show and the Today Show. CBS produced a 2 hour prime-time movie about Lois’s life entitled “Lois Gibbs: The Love Canal Story” staring Marsha Mason, and the 2012 Documentary “A Fierce Green Fire” which premiered at the Sundance Film.