Gibbs's involvement in environmental causes began in 1978 when she discovered that her 7-year-old son's elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York was built on a toxic waste dump. Subsequent investigation revealed that her entire neighborhood, Love Canal, had been built on top of this dump. 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, 833 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 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund, which is used to locate and clean up toxic waste sites throughout the United States.
In 1980, Gibbs formed the Citizens' Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, later renamed the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), where she currently serves as Executive Director. CHEJ is a grassroots environmental crisis center that provides information, resources, technical assistance and training to community groups around the nation. CHEJ seeks to form strong local organizations in order to protect neighborhoods from exposure to hazardous wastes.
Gibbs has authored several books about the Love Canal story and the effects of toxic waste. Her story was dramatized in the 1982 made-for-TV movie Lois Gibbs: the Love Canal Story, in which she was played by Marsha Mason.
Awards and honors
- Awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1990
- The 5th Annual Heinz Award in the Environment (1999)
- Awarded an honorary degree from Haverford College for her work as an environmental activist (2006)
- Received an honorary degree, a doctor of humane letters, from Green Mountain College (2009)