Cleveland is a city that has a number of assets going for it. It is active in many sports, it sits astride the blue stretches of Lake Erie, and it hosts the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. But until recently, it held another, more dubious record. It’s river, the Cuyahoga, was once so polluted that is actually caught fire – not once, but multiple times.
The city features a strongly industrial past. The areas surrounding the city itself were ringed with steel mills, and in the years before the environmental movement of the 1960s, few bylaws existed in regards to oily effluents, and oil spill kits were completely absent from the scene. This reality was taken full advantage of.
While smaller fires had been reported on the river earlier in its lifetime, when oil on the water’s surface caught fire in 1952, it quickly spread up and down the lengths of the worst-polluted stretch of the river. The damage, to road and railway bridges and an adjoining office building, was extensive, exceeding $1 million US. This was repeated in 1969.
Concern over this instance led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Along with a downturn in the market for steel, and aggressive revival work on the river and it’s banks, the river – and much of Lake Erie – was offered a new lease on life. Instances such as these are a prime reason that oil spill kits, and pollution awareness, took hold in the 1960s, and has bred a more responsible view to environmental concerns today.