A Burning River & The Clean Water Act

Posted by on Sunday, April 23, 2017
City pump station discharges sewage into Cuyahoga River (1973)

The Cuyahoga River is a river in the United States, located in Northeast Ohio, that feeds into Lake Erie.

The river is famous for having been so polluted that it "caught fire" in 1969.

The Cuyahoga River, at times during the 20th century, was one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The reach from Akron to Cleveland was devoid of fish. 

At least 13 fires have been reported on the Cuyahoga River, the first occurring in 1868. The largest river fire in 1952 caused over $1 million in damage to boats, a bridge, and a riverfront office building.

On June 22, 1969, a river fire captured the attention of Time magazine, which described the Cuyahoga as the river that "oozes rather than flows" and in which a person "does not drown but decays". No pictures of the 1969 fire are known to exist, as local media did not arrive on the scene until after the fire was under control. The 1969 fire caused approximately $50,000 in damage, mostly to an adjacent railroad bridge.

The name Cuyahoga is believed to mean "crooked river" from the Mohawk Indian name Cayagaga, although the Senecas called it Cuyohaga.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution. Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act.



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