"The River that Caught Fire" - A Brief History of the Cuyahoga River

Steven Tuckerman
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (retired)


Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 4:30pm

> > > Earth Day is April 22nd, 2019 < < <

The Cuyahoga River is (in)famous for having burned in 1969, an event which helped spur the environmental movement in the United States, including the establishment of the first Earth Day. This year is the 50th anniversary of the fire.

In the 1950's and '60's the Cuyahoga River was a severely polluted river that infamously caught fire multiple times, most notable in 1969.  That seminal event along with the Santa Barbara oil spill in California earlier that year gave rise to the American environmental movement, the creation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Former senator Gaylord Nelson has cited the Cuyahoga River fire as the inspiration for the creation of Earth Day which began less than a year after the river fire. 

Steve Tuckerman will give a brief history of the Cuyahoga River, including its use by indigenous peoples as well as being the birth place of the rubber, steel and petroleum industries that culminated in the infamous 1969 fire. Steve will provide a first-hand account of the monitoring and cleanup efforts and the restoration successes as well as current environmental challenges.

photo of Steven Tuckerman

Steve Tuckerman is a retired environmental scientist, working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) for 33 years.  At the OEPA he was involved with environmental restoration efforts in Ohio ranging from Superfund and hazardous waste site clean-ups to dam removals and stream and watershed restorations. The largest portion of his career was working to clean up Ohio's water resources with a special focus on the restoration of the Cuyahoga River.  He wrote and helped to implement the three Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs -  a prescription for a watershed restoration) for the river.  Steve grew up along the Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio.  


photo of river restoration cleanup


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The Huxley Speaker Series is hosted by Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

The Series is free and open to the public.

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Presentations are held each Thursday at 4:30 pm in the Academic Center West (AW-204) on the WWU campus in Bellingham, WA.


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