30 years later, river that caught fire still recovering
The skyline of Cleveland over the Cuyahoga
|CNN's Aram Roston reports on an Ohio river that was once so polluted it burned.|
June 23, 1999
Web posted at: 6:53 a.m. EDT (1053 GMT)
(CNN) -- Three decades ago, an event occurred that would galvanize the U.S. environmental movement: the Cuyahoga River became a river of fire. A nauseating brew of flammable pollutants from steel mills, paint factories, chemical plants and sewage burst into flame.
Today, mother ducks swim in the Cuyahoga with their offspring, blue herons have returned to the river banks, and rowing teams practice -- all testament to an astonishing ecological discovery.
Wayne Bratton, who's been piloting the Cuyahoga for 47 years, remembers the overwhelming smell from that day.
"The river boiled like a cauldron. It was black and bubbling all the time, and there was debris in the river," he says.
The 1969 fire was sparked by molten metal from a train car going over a bridge.
Three years later, Congress passed new environmental laws that would change the face of industry and save the river.
Among the laws was the Clean Water Act. Suddenly, it became very expensive for industry to do what it had been doing for years. Polluting the waterways could bring fines of up to $25,000 per day.
Industry along the Cuyahoga
Bratton doesn't pilot a 200 foot tanker any more. Instead, he takes passengers on tours and reminds them of what the river was once like.
Industry still dominates the riverbanks, but now there are restaurants where factories used to be.
But environmentalists say the job is not yet complete.
"The problems aren't all solved, the river isn't completely cleaned, and the fish and wildlife that depend on the river are still in trouble," says Rebecca Wodders of American Rivers.
Still, times have changed. Cleveland is no longer choking off the river that serves as the city's lifeblood.
Correspondent Aram Roston contributed to this report.
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