Lois Gibbs is an American environmentalist. She uses forceful and effective tactics to ensure the protection of communities confronted with toxic waste problems.
Gibbs was born in Buffalo, New York, in
1951. Along with her husband and child, she moved, at age 21, to Love Canal, New York, where the family's home was located near a hazardous waste dump. Problems soon developed. Unexplained health problems began to appear; and Gibbs' own son developed epilepsy. Gibbs looked for assistance from various levels of government. Even the New York State Health Department, however, attempted to dismiss her obviously well-grounded concerns. Gibbs carried her issue all the way to the White House with no success. The health threats to the community grew; and although the residents were willing to move, it was impossible for them to sell their homes, since no one would purchase them.
Gibbs then switched to more aggressive measures, even holding officials from the Environmental Protection Agency hostage at one point. This move finally convinced the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration to fund evacuation of the Love Canal area.
But the difficulty of selling homes persisted. Gibbs wanted the government to buy these homes; and when she raised a public furor during President Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign, the President finally agreed to the
purchase. Another thing that Gibbs insisted on was that the ex-residents of Love Canal be provided with low-interest mortgage loans and, following a dramatic performance by her at the Democratic National Convention in New York City, Carter again agreed and Gibbs won this battle as well.
Gibbs later moved to Washington D.C. and founded the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes. This organization gives aid to communities dealing with toxic waste problems. It has
helped over 7,000 such groups.
Gibbs wrote an account of her Love Canal experiences, titled Love Canal: My Story. A number of documentaries have been made about her and about the incident. She has been honored with numerous awards, including the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991. Her biggest accomplishment, however, is that, because of her efforts, the United States has not opened a hazardous waste site in over twenty years.