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In the spring of 1978, a 27 year old housewife Lois Marie Gibbs discovered that her child was attending an elementary school built next to a 20,000 ton, toxic-chemical dump in Niagara Falls, New York. Desperate to do something about it, she organized her neighbors into the Love Canal Homeowners Association. Opposing the group’s efforts Occidental Petroleum, as well as local, state and federal government officials all insisted that the leaking toxic chemicals, including dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to man, were not the cause of the health problems experienced by residents, which included high rates of birth defects, miscarriages, cancers and other maladies.
In October 1980, President Jimmy Carter delivered an Emergency Declaration which moved 833 families from this dangerous area and signified victory for the grassroots community.
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, now a single parent with two children and $10,000, Lois left Niagara Falls for the Washington, D.C. area to establish a national organization to help families living near other Love Canal-like sites. Lois knew she was no longer the innocent housewife of the past – but had become a sophisticated advocate of human rights and justice.
In 1981, Lois created the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an organization that has assisted over 11,000 grassroots groups with organizing, technical, and general information nationwide. Today, Lois serves as Executive Director and speaks with communities nationwide and internationally about toxic chemicals and children’s unique vulnerability to environmental exposures.
Lois has been recognized extensively for her critical role in the grassroots environmental health 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” starring Marsha Mason.
The many awards she has received include the 1990 Goldman Environmental Prize, Outside Magazine’s “Top Ten Who Made A Difference Honor Roll” in 1991, the 1998 Heinz Award, the 1999 John Gardner Leadership Award from the Independent Sector, and in 2003 Lois was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has received an honorary Ph.D. from the State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland College, Haverford College in May 2006, Green Mountain College 2009 and Medaille College in 2010. She also sits on numerous Boards and Advisory Committees. She lives in Virginia with her husband.