Lois Gibbs: Homemaker to Hell raiser

Lois Gibbs

The story of Lois Gibbs captures a transformation spurred by her love for her children and community. She was a homemaker and thought of herself as being “painfully shy” (Gibbs, 2). She was reading the local paper one evening and read about the 21,800 toxic waste buried a few blocks from her and beneath the 99th Street school, where both her son and daughter, Micheal and Melissa, attended. She immediately asked her brother in law who was a biologist at the State University of Buffalo to translate the scientific language of the article and see if the chemicals buried beneath were harmful. Turns out, the chemicals buried beneath are lethal carcinogens that affect the nervous system. She became enraged since her son began experiencing epileptic seizures and his white blood count has decreased. The doctor assumed the decrease in white blood cells was due to his epilepsy medication. However, Lois was certain it was because he was exposed to lethal chemicals buried beneath the 99th Street School. Her family medical history does not have a trace of epilepsy, yet her son is suffering from seizures.  The school board should note have built a school open to 400 students above a chemical disposal site. However, Hooker Chemicals sold the Department of Education the land of 1.00 dollar, which was a bargain in the eyes of the government. 


Lois immediately sought her son’s transfer and completed all the necessary paperwork and followed the proper procedures. However, the school did not approve the transfer because “if they were to transfer one student because of a worried parent, they would have to transfer all students.” Also, the superintendent said that he “did not believe the area was contaminated” and therefore did not approve Mrs. Gibbs’s requests to transfer her son (Gibbs, 12). She was enraged because she followed the proper procedure to transfer her son. However, her request was not approved. That moment served as a turning point for her. She was not going to remain passive as her son and countless outer students become contaminated with lethal toxins. She did not have the financial means to send her son to private school, so she took a different approach. She went door-to-door to alert her neighbors about the lethal chemicals beneath the 99th Street School. She figured that they were not going to deny transfer requests for hundreds of students. As she spoke with her neighbors, “many spoke to her about the symptoms their children were experiencing” (Gibbs, 26). However, it was just not the children of the community experiencing symptoms. Many of Lois’s neighbors also began to exhibit new symptoms due to chemical exposure. The chemicals beneath them began seeping into homes, contaminating gardens, and some residents even complained of foul chemical scents permeating through their homes. Lois Gibbs knew this would unfold into a large disaster. The advocates of the disaster were mainly women of Love Canal who were concerned about their health and their children’s’ health. 

Love Canal Homeowners Association

She began the Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA) to unite the people of the community and show strength through numbers. Their goal was to seek permanent relocation for people living in areas that are contaminated. The residents of Love canal could not simply move elsewhere; their homes were their investments. After conducting countless press conferences, protests, petitions, and town halls, the federal government finally approved the buyout in 1978. The LCHA attracted media coverage and the events of Love Canal became national news. Lois Gibbs spearheaded a successful grassroots organization that helped the residents of Love Canal seek safety elsewhere. 

Center for Health, Environment, and Justice

Lois Gibbs became Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) due to her success and advocacy in Love Canal. Her efforts led to the EPA “Superfund,” which was dedicated to cleaning up waste sites across the country before they unfold into larger disasters. Unfortunately, the toxic chemical leaks in Love Canal were unable to be entirely cleaned, they were just contained. To this day, residents in Love Canal are experiencing symptoms due to chemical exposure. Lois Gibbs’s transition from an average homemaker to the director of the CHEJ shows her success and her commitment to ensuring Love Canal does not repeat itself in other small towns across the country.