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 over two 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund," which is used to locate and clean up toxic sites throughout the United States.
After her successful struggle Gibbs received 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 more than 8,000 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 ethnic 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, alliances and coalitions 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. Gibbs is currently spearheading a nationwide collaboration to eliminate all formation and discharge of and exposure to dioxin, a class of deadly chemicals formed as a byproduct of chlorine combustion in manufacturing and incineration. Dioxin acts as a synthetic hormone, disrupting the endocrine system and impairing neurological function and the immune system, causing many medical disorders.
Lois Gibbs Center for Health, Environment, and Justice PO Box 6806 Falls Church, VA 22040 "United States of America