A look back

36 years ago the Love Canal disaster changed national environmental policy forever

On August 1, 1978, the front page of the New York Times reported that the “ticking time bomb” that was Love Canal, “exploded.” And it was the community activism and the tragic unfolding of events in Love Canal, N.Y., that prompted the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund, which has since saved communities across the country from toxic disasters and set a precedent to hold polluters accountable. 

From 1942 to 1952, Hooker Chemical Company dumped approximately 21,000 pounds of chemical waste into an abandoned canal near Niagara Falls and filled in the canal with dirt. Then the local community built a school on top.

Just several years later, children began reporting symptoms such as burns, and the strong smell of chemical odors on vegetation. By the 1970s, increased incidents of cancer, spontaneous abortions and other health ailments in the community prompted residents to take notice — and take action.

Led by local mother, Lois Gibbs, residents began to organize to demand relocation, gaining widespread media attention and prompting the EPA to relocate 900 families. On the federal level, Congress created the Superfund, which authorized the EPA to hold polluters accountable for their toxic contamination of sites.

Unfortunately, Love Canal is just one event on a growing list of environmental disasters involving toxics. But its community’s fight laid the foundation for the crucial environmental safeguards we rely on today, such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pesticide Act, and more. It’s our job to keep defending and strenghtening these policies, with the hope that some day, the list will stop growing. 

Fracking is a great example of how our work is not done. We know that fracking uses dangerous chemicals and we need stop fracking now.


Dan Jacobson

Senior Advisor, Environment California

Dan provides campaign strategy and policy guidance for Environment California's program and organizational plans. Prior to his current role, he worked as the state director of Environment California and the organizing director of Florida PIRG, among other roles. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) named Dan a Clean Power Champion in 2019, and Capitol Weekly named him one of the “Top 100 Lobbyists” in California in 2008. Dan's areas of expertise include renewable energy, electric vehicles and ocean pollution, and he has successfully advocated for the passage of dozens of bills into law, including measures to ban toxic chemicals, bring 1 million solar roofs to California, and ban single-use plastic grocery bags. He ran the campaign for SB 100, California’s law setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045.