In 1978, Lois Gibbs then a 27 year old housewife 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, whose goal was the relocation of neighborhood families. Opposing the group’s efforts was the chemical manufacturer, Occidental Petroleum, as well as local, state and federal government officials. In October 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued an Emergency Declaration which called for the relocation of 900 families from this hazardous area and signified victory for the grassroots community.
As a result of Gibbs’ work at Love Canal, President Carter signed new federal legislation in December 1980 called the Superfund to address the thousands of other toxic sites across the nation. Gibbs’ is often referred to as the Mother of Superfund.
During the crisis, at Love Canal, Lois received numerous calls from across the country from people experiencing similar problems and she realized that the problem of toxic waste went far beyond her own backyard. In April 1981, Lois created the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. For 40 years, under her leadership the organization assisted over 12,000 grassroots groups nationwide with organizing, technical, and general information.
Gibbs played a founding role in the development of the environmental justice movement, worked with labor and communities to secure the Right-To-Know in both the workplace and in neighborhoods. She launched and won campaigns against major corporations like McDonalds who were forced to stop using Styrofoam; Victoria Secretes who moved away from PVC in bottles; and Toys R Us who only sold toys that were non-toxic for young children.
Lois has been recognized extensively for her critical role in the grassroots environmental health and justice movement. Gibbs was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, is the recipient of the first Goldman Environmental Prize, the Heinz Award, the John Gardner Leadership Award from the Independent Sector and honored by Outside Magazine as one of the Top Ten Who Made A Difference. Gibbs has received five honorary Ph.Ds. from the State University of New York, Cortland College; Haverford College; Green Mountain College; Medaille College; and Tufts University.
In her presentations, Gibbs speaks from the heart with unmatched insider experience, confidence and candor. Her speaking style is the same as her approach to all things – honest, informed, passionate and intimate. Listeners always feel comfortable voicing their concerns and raising questions on the difficult issues this country and their community are facing today. Her warnings of yesterday are the realities of today, and now as a speaker, she still fights on our behalf – protecting drinking water so there are no more Flint, Michigans, pushing for adequate cleanup of contaminated sites, advocating for health investigations where innocent families are exposed to environmental chemicals, and demanding justice for overburdened, low wealth communities.