Pollution of the Cuyahoga River Causes Water Fires

One of the most notoriously polluted rivers in the history of the United States was the Cuyahoga River, located alongside the booming industrial city of Cleveland, Ohio. Being a convenient dumping ground for factory waste, the Cuyahoga was so polluted by 1969 that the sewage in the water had caught fire an astonishing 13 separate times. The most costly fire occurred in 1952, with a damage of over one million US dollars. However, the fire of 1969 claims more fame due to its nationwide publication by Time Magazine. The national attention that these bizarre river fires received served to be a strong catalyst for the passing of the Clean Water Act of 1972, which created water quality standards and restricted chemical dumping into the waterways of the nation.

Contributed by Dayton Shackelford
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US

Further Readings: 
  • Winegardner, Mark. Crooked River Burning. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade and Reference Publishers, 2001.