Lois Gibbs

1990 Goldman Prize Recipient
North America

  • United States
  • Environmental Justice

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 Gibbs, founder and executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), has been at the forefront of the environmental movement in the United States for several decades. In 1978 Gibbs, a housewife with two young children, became concerned about reports of chemical waste in her neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. She wondered if her children’s unusual health problems and those of her neighbors were connected to their exposure to leaking chemical waste. Gibbs later discovered that her neighborhood sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried chemical waste, the now infamous Love Canal.

With no prior experience in community activism, Gibbs organized her neighbors and formed the Love Canal Homeowners Association. She led her community in a battle against the local, state, and federal governments. After years of struggle, more than 800 families were eventually evacuated, and cleanup of Love Canal began. National press coverage made Lois Gibbs a household name. Her efforts also led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “Superfund,” which is used to locate and clean up toxic sites throughout the US.

After her successful struggle, Gibbs received over 3,000 letters from people all over the country, requesting information on how they could solve the toxic waste problems in their area. In response to their pleas, Gibbs formed the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste in 1980 (later renamed Center for Health, Environment and Justice). CHEJ is a grassroots environmental crisis center that has provided information, resources, technical assistance, and training to thousands of community groups around the nation. CHEJ seeks to form strong local organizations in order to protect neighborhoods from exposure to hazardous wastes. Gibbs works extensively with diverse communities and is strengthening the environmental justice movement.

A central component of CHEJ’s work is connecting local leaders by providing a forum for creating collaborative strategies and alliances for meeting shared objectives. CHEJ also coordinates regional and national issue-focused campaigns to bring the collective power of the grassroots into corporate and government decision-making processes. For more information, visit CHEJ’s website: Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ).

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