Eighties 1980-89

Shrine to victims of the Bhopal disaster, a massive release of cyanide gas, on the evening of December 2 and morning of Dec. 3, 1984, at a plant owned by Union Carbide (Dow Chemical) in Bhopal, India. The site continues to be contaminated, Dow Chemical continues to fight efforts to make it fund remediation, and former Dow / Carbide officials are wanted on criminal charges in India.


May 21 — Love Canal relocation announced  by President Jimmy Carter. Some  700 families in the Love Canal area of Niagara Falls, New York, who had been exposed to toxic wastes deposited there by Hooker Chemical company will be relocated, he says.

“Superfund” legislation (CERCLA: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ) directs EPA to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps. The law is a reaction to the disasters at Love Canal and Times Beach (below). The Superfund was initially designed to spend $1.6 billion over five years and was funded through new taxes on the chemical industry. In 1986, the Superfund budget was expanded to $9 billion. But Congress and environmentalists found the EPA program wanting under President Reagan. They said there was inadequate monitoring of waste sites and a slow cleanup pace. A 1992 report found that only 84 of the 1,245 sites designated by the EPA as the most polluted had been successfully cleaned up. Republican efforts to overhaul the Superfund program and cut its budget began in the mid-1990s and proved successful around 2001.

National Academy of Sciences calls leaded gasoline the greatest source of atmospheric lead pollution.

National Security Act of 1980 mandates all gasoline be blended with a minimum of 10 percent grain alcohol–“gasohol.” Subsequently scuttled by Reagan Administration. Also Gasohol Competition Act passed by Congress to stop oil companies’ discrimination against sales of gasohol at their pumps.

Global 2000 Report calls for international cooperation in solving environmental problems.

Sea Shepherd Society sinks whaling vessels Sierra in Lisbon harbor and Isba I and Isba II off the coast of Spain. The vessels were sunk with explosives, but there were no injuries (New York Times, Nov 10, 1986).

After intense lobbying by the Carter administration and celebrities like John Denver, Congress passes Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act setting aside over 100 million acres for conservation and 26 new rivers in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

World Conservation Strategy published by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, with the support of UNEP and the World Wildlife Fund. The strategy is a basis for many national conservation plans in developing nations.

Brazilian rubber tappers union organizer Wilson Pinheiro assassinated, like his colleague Chico Mendes  eight years later. Both dared to defy loggers and cattle ranchers on behalf of rubber tappers, native Brazilians and the rain forest. Among many hundreds of others assassinated for standing in the way of Amazon development are Vincente Cañas (murdered in 1987) and Dorothy Stang (murdered in 2005).  (See “Remembering murdered environmentalists” at this site).

November 20 — Jefferson Island salt mine in New Iberia, Louisiana collapses after a Texaco oil-drilling rig on nearby Lake Peigneur accidentally penetrates an abandoned salt-mining cavern. The emptying lake empties pulling houses, barges, tugboats and oil rigs down into a half mile crater but no injuries or deaths are reported.

American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals, a study commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Author Stephen Kellert identifies a generational shift in attitudes from utilitarian views predominant among people raised on farms to more empathic views found mainly among people who do not use animals in connection with making their livings. Franklin Loew, formerly dean of the Tufts University and Cornell University veterinary schools, pointed out nearly 15 years after Kellert published the data that the study not only predicted the rise of the animal rights movement but also the eventual success of it in achieving a cultural transformation, as the holders of the utilitarian viewpoint die out. (M. Clifton, 2007)


  • Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist; later the story is told in a motion picture with Sigorney Weaver.


Lois Gibbs forms the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste — now named the Center for Health, Environment and Justice 

Vice President George Bush’s Task Force on Regulatory Relief proposes to relax or eliminate US leaded gas phaseout, despite mounting evidence of serious health problems.

March 21 — Inspired by author Edward Abbey and his book The Monkey Wrench Gang,activists unfurl a large roll of black plastic down the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, depicting a symbolic crack in the dam.The controversial dam had changed the ecosystem of a large stretch of the Colorado River.The event spawns the group Earth First!

Congress passes Coastal Barriers Resources Act and Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

 Ocean Arks International founded by John Todd.

Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park becomes a World Heritage site.

People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals is founded by former Washington D.C. animal control chief Ingrid Newkirk and former Fund for Animals volunteer and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society crew member Alex Pacheco. PETA becomes the dominant U.S. animal rights group in part due to the prominence of the “Silver Spring monkey case,” in which researcher Edward Taub was prosecuted for cruelty as result of an undercover investigation by Pacheco. Taub was convicted on six of 17 counts, but the convictions were reversed on jurisdictional grounds. The case was in court from August 1981 to May 1991. Belonging to the National Institutes of Health, the monkeys remained in NIH custody until all either died or were used in terminal experiments. (M. Clifton, 2007)

Members of Earth First! drape a 300 foot banner, painted to resemble a crack, down the front of the Glen Canyon Dam.


  • Paul Ehrlich, Extinction  — “The notion that only the short-term goals and immediate happiness of Homo sapiens should be considered in making moral decisions about the use of Earth is lethal, not only to nonhuman organisms but to humanity.”
  • Michael Brown, Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals. New York: Washington Square Press, 1981


US Congress amends Endangered Species Act to allow Tellico Dam to be built on the theory that protection of the Snail Darter was “incidental” to the main purpose behind the dam. While environmentalists had won the case TVA v. Hill in 1978, the widely believed caricature of the controversy — that a tiny fish could halt a massive hydroelectric project through a loophole in the ESA — was grossly inaccurate. The dam did not generate electric power but was rather a recreation project that cost far more than its benefits. The dam also flooded important Cherokee Indian historical sites.

Exxon abandons Colorado shale oil project.  (NY Times, May 3, 1982).

October 28 — UN World Charter for Nature passes by a vote of 111 in favor to 1 against (United States). The Charter says:

  • Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.
  • The genetic viability on the earth shall not be compromised; the population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, must be at least sufficient for their survival, and to this end necessary habitats shall be safeguarded
  • All areas of the earth, both land and sea, shall be subject to these principles of conservation; special protection shall be given to unique areas, to representative samples of all the different types of ecosystems and to the habitats of rare or endangered species.
  • Ecosystems and organisms, as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist.

World Resources Institute founded.

Earth Island Institute founded by David Brower.

Attempts to build a PCB landfill in an African American neighborhood in Warren County, N.C. result in demonstrations and trigger a nationwide movement for environmental justice.

Vandana Shiva, leader of the Chipko movement, founds The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, India.

Korea Animal Protection Society founded by Sunnan Kum and Philippine Animal Welfare Society founded by Nina Hontiveros-Lichauco. Both begin campaigns that win legislative victories in Korea (1991) and the Philippines (1997). KAPS thereafter struggled to obtain real change in Korea almost alone until Sunnan’s sister Kyenan Kum formed International Aid for Korean Animals in 1998. IAKA revived global attention to the issue. Other Korean animal advocacy groups started at about the same time, and more have since debuted. (M. Clifton, 2007)

Environmental Justice activists protest polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in Warren County, NC. Here, Dr. Benjamin Chavis coins the term “environmental racism.”

December — EPA study confirms dangerous levels of dioxin had threatened the health of residents in a small Missouri town called Times Beach. Dioxin is a manufacturing byproduct that had been linked to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. In this case, very high exposure resulted when dioxin was deliberately mixed with waste oil and sprayed on Times Beach’s unpaved roads to control dust. Between 1983 and 1985, the federal government spent $33 million to buy the homes and property of 2,400 people in Times Beach. They were relocated and the town was demolished.


Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon with Robert Alvarez & Eleanor Walters, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation (New York: Dell, 1982). Made available by the authors at this web site.


March 9 — Anne Gorsuch Burford resigns as head of the US EPA after trying to excuse oil refiners from the phase-down of lead in gasoline, and also after withholding records from Congress about the toxic waste Superfund.

April 4 — Federal trial begins for three executives of Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) for widespread falsification of safety tests on pesticides and industrial chemicals.  According to an Amicus Journal article, IBT had tested over 2,000 key product safety tests approved by federal scientists to market 212 agricultural pesticides. After a seven-year review of its files, in 1983 the EPA found that only 16 percent of IBT’s testing results were valid. (See “Faking It” by Keith Schneider).    

June 5 — Organized crime  controls the entire toxic waste disposal industry and is responsible for  a large amount of illegal dumping, according to a report by the New York State Senate Crime Committee.

Dave Foreman, Earth First! founder, is injured when a logging truck runs over him and drags him a hundred yards in an Oregon protest over logging in old growth forests.  Radical and sometimes considered terroristic, Earth First advocated property damage to fight damaging environmental projects.

National Academy of Science report on CFCs downplays threat to ozone layer; Under new Reagan administration guidelines, EPA stops most research on ozone depletion and industry stops research on CFC substitutes. Meanwhile, British Antarctica Survey station at Halley Bay reveals increasing holes in ozone layer.

US Congress passes International Environmental Protection Act.

US Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that three quarters of all off-site commercial hazardous waste facilities in EPA Region IV are located in African American communities. See: “Siting of Hazardous Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities, General Accounting Office. — (Environmental Justice Summit – )

 Sharon Matola founds Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. The zoo was a last ditch effort to provide a home for several hundred animals used in making documentary films about tropical forests. See video embedded this panel.

Informal moratorium on radioactive waste dumping at sea following Greenpeace protests.

Black residents in Triana, Alabama settle a $25 million lawsuit against EPA, the Dept. of Defense and Olin Chemical Company over DDT from Redstone Arsenal Army base.

November 8 — James G. Watt, Secretary of Interior, resigns after stirring up numerous controversies with anti-environmental positions.

10 December — New UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is signed by 117 States


January 10 — Assistant U.S. EPA administrator Rita Lavelle is sentenced to six months imprisonment for lying to Congress. Lavelle was in charge of administering EPA’s “Superfund” toxic waste cleanup program, and admitted to a whistleblower’s charges that she mishandled federal funds.

January 25 — US President Ronald Reagan says in his State of the Union Address, “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.”

May 7 — Agent Orange victims who were Vietnam veterans announce $180 million out-of-court settlement with U.S. government.

Worldwatch Institute begins annual State of the World publications.

Maneka Gandhi formed People for Animals, the first national animal advocacy network in India, with active chapters in nearly every major city.

Start of a 10-year suspension of the Atlantic Canada offshore seal hunt. The hunt resumed in 1995, after the failure of the depleted cod fishery to recover from overfishing left the Canadian and Newfoundland governments looking for someone or something to blame, and by 2002 was back up to near-peak levels. (M. Clifton, 2007)

Konrad Lorenz joins the Austrian Green Party and becomes the figurehead of the Konrad Lorenz Volksbegehren, a grass-roots movement formed to prevent the building of a power plant at the Danube near Hainburg an der Donau.

Bhopal, India demonstrators in 2006 compare Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Dec. 3 — Bhopal disaster. Union Carbide Co. (Dow Chemical) fertilizer plant leaks methyl ico-cyanide in Indian town of Bhopal. The death toll:  over 3,700 dead immediately,  another 8,000 die within a few weeks and yet another 8,000 die of chronic effects.  The International Medical Commission on Bhopal estimates that as of 1994 upwards of 50,000 people remained partially or totally disabled. See Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster, translated from French, Warner Books, 2002. Also: Chemsafety library file on Bhopal.   


1985 — Ozone — British scientist Joe Farman publishes discovery of ozone hole over Antarctica, confirmed by US NASA satellite monitoring. Meanwhile, US EPA begins reconsidering CFC regulations. And the United Nations Environment Program begins negotiations under the Vienna Convention for the Protection of Ozone which leads to the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

July 4 — A total of 1,350 cases of poisoning from aldicarb pesticide seeping into watermelons reported in California, in addition to another 692 cases in eight other states and Canada, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control report on the incident. Seventeen are hospitalized, and six deaths and two stillbirths are reported. The incident is the worst US outbreak of pesticide poisoning in history. Still, it would take until 2010 for EPA to ban aldicarb.

July 10 — Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior is sunk in Auckland, New Zealand harbor. Activist photographer Fernando Pereira is killed.

Aug. 11 — Methyl ico-cyanate, the same chemical involved in the Bhopal disaster of 1984, leaks from a Union Carbide plant in Kanawah valley in West Virginia. No one died, but 134 people were hospitalized.

Sept. 18 – Le Monde reveals that the Rainbow Warrior bombing was carried out by French government intelligence agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur. under orders from Cmdr. Louis Pierre Dillias of the Aspretto underwater combat school. The French government was trying to stop protests over French nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

Nov 13 –Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupts in Armero, Colombia. Mud flows kill 21,000 people. According to UNESCO: “The villagers were warned about the possibility of the disaster but because of past false information and conflicting messages from local political leaders that contradicted the scientific advice, many people did not believe the warnings. A hazard risk map of the region, produced some months before by the Colombian Geological Survey, was reportedly not used. This was a classic example of inadequate regard being given to the warnings issued by Earth scientists. “

1985 — International Rivers Network formed to oppose dam construction worldwide.

1985 — Indian scholars issue “Statement of Shared Concern on the State of India’s Environment.”

“The process of transforming India into a wasteland, which began under the British rule, has continued under post – independence governments. The most brutal assault has been on the country’s common property resources, on its grazing lands, forests, rivers, ponds, lakes, coastal zones and increasingly the atmosphere. The use of these common property resources has been organized and encouraged by the state in a manner that has led to their relentless degradation and destruction… Nature can never be managed well unless the people closest to it are involved in its management…” (quoted in Guha, 2000).

1985 — Inter-American Human Commission on Human Rights rules that Brazil has not protected the Yanomami Indians, in violation of international law.   UN Compendium on Human Rights and the Environment, ( Yanomami v Brazil, p. 93).     The decision highlighted the confluence between cultural rights and environmental rights, which often arises in cases involving indigenous communities threatened by economic interests, according to the UNEP.

December 27 — Diane Fossey murdered in her cabin in Karisoke, Rwanda. The case is never solved.


  • Clark, Jerry L. “Thus Spoke Chief Seattle: The Story of An Undocumented Speech.” Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. Spring 1985.
  • Tom Regan, The Case For Animal Rights, followed by The Philosophy of Animal Rights (1985), Animal Sacrifices: Religious Perspectives on the Use of Animals in Science (1986), and The Struggle for Animal Rights (1987)


1986 – Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act passes in the wake of Bhopal and other chemical disasters despite opposition from chemical companies and the EPA. The act requires manufacturers to report releases and transfers of 330 toxic chemicals to EPA for entry into public database. Only covers about 5% of all toxic emissions. By the turn of the century, Right to Know laws are under fire again.

1986 — Primary phaseout of leaded gas in US completed. Study shows health benefit to technology cost ratio at 10:1.

1986 — April 26. Chernobyl nuclear reactor explodes and goes into a full-scale melt-down in Ukraine following an experimental procedure. Over two thousand square miles of land are contaminated and enormous amounts of radiation are released worldwide.

Controversy persists about the true impact of the disaster. In 2005, a UN group led by the International Atomic Energy Agency said that there were substantially increased incidences of thyroid cancer among children, but less than 50 people died as a result of the disaster,

In 2006, A German physicians organization, IPPNW, said Between 12,000 and 83,000 children were born with congenital deformations in the Chernobyl region, and around 30,000 to 207,000 children were damaged worldwide.

A 2009 book by Alexei Yablokov, Vasily Nesterenko and Alexi Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences argued that studies were misled by official secrecy and policies of the former Soviet Union. The global death toll by 2004 was close to one million with nearly 400 million people exposed to Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout. “For many generations, they and their descendants will suffer devastating consequences,” the authors said in Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the Environment.

1986 — Aug. 21 — A cloud of carbon dioxide gas boils out of Lake Nyos in Cameroon, Africa, killing 1,700 people. The gas cloud hugged the ground and flowed quickly down valleys, travelling as far as 15 miles (25 km) from the lake and moving fast enough to flatten vegetation, including a few trees. The natural disaster is especially significant when considering schemes for fossil fuel “carbon capture” and “sequestration” technologies as a presumed method to forestall global warming.

1986 — Aug. 31 — Khian Sea  cargo ship begins more than two years of wandering the seas looking for a place to dump 14,000 tons of waste from Philadelphia incinerators.  Eventually, most of the waste is illegally dumped on a Haitian beach.  The incident was one of several that spurred the creation of the Basel Convention for the control of transboundary wastes.

1986 — Oct. 17 –In response to the Bhopal disaster and other toxic chemical accidents, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. It is signed into law by US president Ronald Reagan Oct. 17. The purpose was to encourage and support emergency planning efforts at the state and local levels and to provide the public and local governments with information concerning potential chemical hazards present in their communities. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, most of this information became unavailable at the local level.

1986 –November 1 — Chemical spill in Basel, Switzerland creates massive fish kill in Rhine River through Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The spill occurs when a fire breaks out in a chemical warehouse owned by Sandoz S.A. Fire fighters hose down the blaze and, in the process, wash tons of toxic chemicals into the Rhine. Swiss authorities did not issue timely notices that could have led to containment downstream. Contamination cuts of drinking and irrigation water for millions of people and kills half a million fish. Despite international legal agreements, Switzerland was not required to pay for the damage. Sandoz was held liable.

“Much of the work of the last 10 years has been destroyed,” the New York Times quoted Prof. Ragnar Kinzelback, head of a scientific team based at the Dept. of Zoology at the Technical University in Darmstadt. (Nov. 13, p.A3)

The London Times reported on Nov. 21, 2000 that there is evidence that the E. German “Stazi” secret police sabotaged the Sandoz plant possibly in order to take attention away from activities in East Germany. Similar bombings took place in Belgium and Germany in the year beforehand.

BBC’s “Witness” program has interviews with witnesses and survivors.

1986 — Safe Drinking Water Act amended to set standards for 83 contaminants and ban use of lead pipes and solder in new drinking water systems. Meanwhile (June 4) drinking water is temporarily shut off on 16 floors of the World Trade Center after unacceptable levels of lead were found in samples. (New York Times, p.3).

1986 – Nov. 9 – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sinks two whaling vessels in Reykjavik harbor, Iceland. No injuries are reported.

1986 — International Whaling Commission imposes a global ban on commercial capture of baleen whales and sperm whales. Japan formally accedes to the ban in 1988, but continues and steadily escalates so-called “research whaling.” Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993.


  • Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision
  • John Dyson, Joseph Fitchett, Sink the Rainbow: An Inquiry into the Greenpeace Affair, Victor Gollancz


April 6 — Vincente Cañas, a Jesuit brother who protected the Enawene Nawe Indians of Brazil, is assassinated.

1987 — Sept. 16 — The Montreal Protocol international agreement to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals signed by 24 countries, including the US, Japan, Canada and EEC nations.

1987 — Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act passes US Congress, forbidding ocean dumping of plastic materials.

1987 — US General Accounting Office study shows a strong correlation between the location of toxic waste dump sites and the location of minority communities.

1987 — A Long Island garbage barge, the Mobro, begins a 6,000 mile journey to find a dumping place. Medical waste is one concern.

1987 — Government of India approves Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river in the central region of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states. Large protests break out over the environmental costs of the dam project. The dam would create the world’s largest man-made lake, flooding tens of thousands of acres, eliminating forests, and submerging many religious shrines visited regularly by pilgrims .Social consequences are also a problem. ”The tribal people here say they won’t move to Gujarat because they would be considered inferior, their language is different, and their daughters couldn’t be married,” says Medha Patkar of Save the Narmada told the Christian Science Monitor. Patkar was repeatedly beaten and arrested by the police, and almost died during a 22-day hunger strike in 1991. That year, the World Bank concluded that the project was ill-conceived.

1987, April —   World Commission on Environment and Development ( The Brundtland Commission)  reports on critical environmental and development problems around the world and formulate realistic proposals to address them.  The United Nations  commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  The Commission worked for three years, conducting public meetings throughout the world to get a broad perspective of environment and development issues. More than 10,000 pages of testimony were included in the publication of “Our Common Future”, (The Brundtland Report), which outlined a path for global sustainable development.

The commission warned:

“Attempts to maintain social and ecological stability through old approaches to development and environmental protection will increase instability. Security must be sought through change…We are unanimous in our conviction that the security, well-being, and very survival of the planet depend on such changes, now.”


  • Ruth Patrick, Groundwater Contamination in the United States.
  • Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice
  • Robert Bullard, Invisible Houston, about environmental injustice in black Houston TX neighborhoods


1988 — In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, Russian scientists form the Ecology and Peace Association, electing as president S.P. Zalyghin, whose astonishing statement — “Only the people can save nature” — implied that the government and the Communist party had failed. Another green crusader, Svet Zabelin, helps form the Socio-Ecological Union (SEU), which works to help residents of areas contaminated with radiation and preserve threatened species. The movement spreads rapidly in Russia and Eastern Europe as a vehicle for wider political protests which, until then, had been met with strong Soviet government resistance. In 1993, Zabelin is awarded the Goldman Prize.

July 6 —Piper Alpha oil platform explosion Scotland UK, Scotland, off Aberdeen killing 167 oil workers.

North Sea North Sea’s biggest disasters • July 1988 – in the Piper Alpha disaster, the world’s worst ever offshore catastrophe, following a massive gas leak and inferno on the Occidental-operated platform. • September 1988 – The drilling rig Ocean Odyssey was devastated by a series of explosions and fireballs in a high pressure gas blow-out that claimed the life of radio operator Timothy Williams.

March 22 — Over 100 nations sign Basil convention, a treaty on international toxic waste shipments. The treaty is specifically designed to control toxic waste shipments to developing nations. The treaty doesn’t always protect nations, as was the case in Ivory Coast in 2006. Also see Basel Action Network web page and the official UNEP Basel Convention page. US eventually signs convention but not 1994 “Basel Ban” prohibiting all toxic waste exports from industrial to developing nations.

June 23 — NASA scientist James Hanson and others warn Congress about possible consequences from global warming — rising sea levels, drought and increased storm severity. Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization and UN Environmental Program establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). At the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto, Canada, a resolution calls for global CO2 emissions reductions of 20% by 2005.. A United Nations resolution is approved characterizing climate as a “common concern of mankind.”

September 22 — Ocean Odyssey sub-sea wellhead equipment fails, creating explosion that kills one person.

1988 – NASA reports ozone layer eroding much faster than predicted. Meanwhile, DuPont — the largest CFC producer — announces an end to CFC production, and substitution of safer chemicals.

1988 — Beaches close along the US East Coast due to contaminated medical waste. Few realize that pollution had closed beaches before in the 1920s and 30s.

1988 — International treaty bans all ocean dumping of wastes.

1988 — Penan forest communities of Malaysia organize blockades and demonstrations to force a stop to timbering on the island of Borneo.

1988 — Plastic Pollution Control Act forbids ocean dumping of plastic materials.

1988 — West Harlem Environmental Action founded by Peggy Shepard, Vernice Miller and Chuck Sutton.

Dec. 22 — Assassination of Chico Mendes , leader of Brazil’s rubber tappers (Taperos) movement to save the Amazon rain forest. Like Vincente Cañas (murdered in 1987) and Wilson Pinheiro (murdered in 1980), Mendes stood in the way of Amazon developers. Dorothy Stang was assassinated under the same circumstances in 2005.


1989 — Jan 4 — US Department of Energy estimates that it could cost $53 billion to $92 billion to clean up radioactive and chemical pollution at plants used to manufacture nuclear bombs. (” Atomic Cleanup Is Seen Costing U.S. $92 Billion” New York Times, Jan. 5, 1989, p. 16).

March 3 — Euopean nations begin ban on ozone – depleting chemicals.

March 22 — The Basel Convention is ratified.The global treaty gives some enforcement power to efforts to halt the shipping of toxic waste from wealthy countries to poor ones.But waste shipments are still widespread, particularly the dumping of toxic components from electronics.

1989 — March 24. Exxon Valdez oil tanker runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons. Exxon Valdez was headed for California from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal at Valdez, Alaska. The vessel ran aground on Bligh Reef, in Prince William Sound. State of Alaska maintains an information page about the incident.

1989 – June 6 – Greenpeace reports that accidents involving US and Russian ships have left at least 50 nuclear warheads and nine nuclear reactors on the ocean floors since 1956. Some 1,276 nuclear and non-nuclear accidents, and another 1,000 accidents, amounted to one major peacetime accident per week.

1989 — May 6 — Amazon Declaration signed by Brazil, Bolivia Columbia,  Ecuador, Surinam, Peru, Guyana and Venezuela. The declaration endorses the work of the Amazonia Special Environmental Commission and says: “We reiterate that our Amazon heritage must be preserved through the rational use of the resources of the region, so that present and future generations may benefit from this legacy of nature.”

1989 – May 30 – FBI arrests four Earth First! members, including founder David Forman, for trying to topple power lines associated with the Central Arizona irrigation project.

1989 — Khargo 5 oil spill Canary Islands, Atlantic Ocean.

1989 — Court order forbids further diversion of streams feeding Lake Mono in California.

1989 — Louisiana Toxic March protesting conditions in “Cancer Alley”( from Baton Rouge to New Orleans).

1989 — Congress votes to halt timbering in Alaska’s Tsongass National Forest, the last undisturbed temperate rain forest in the U.S.

1989 — July 20 — The new Hungarian government abandons the Nagymoros dam project on the Danube River, alleging that it entailed grave risk to the environment and the water supply of Budapest. A 1997 World Court decision called on Slovakia and Hungary to live up to their treaty to build the dam, but also to modify the treaty and the dam design as needed for environmental protection.


  • 1989 — February — Chinese journalists led by Dai Quing of Guangming Daily publish Yangtze! Yangtze! criticizing China’s Three Gorges dam project. Interviewing geologists, engineers and other experts, the book masses evidence that the dam’s promoters in the government had greatly overstated its benefits and downplayed its costs. The dam would not control floods. It would hurt navigation. It would increase sedimentation and cripple seaports. The lake behind the dam would innundate important religious sites. It would displace over a million people. And there was more. Internationally, Yangtze! Yangtze! was seen as evidence of the “Peking Thaw” in China that was equivalent to the Russian and Eastern European political liberalization occurring simultaneously. The thaw ended abruptly in June, 1989 with the massacre of several thousand students in Tiannenmen Square. China’s very young environmental movement collapsed and all copies of Yangtze! Yangtze! were confiscated and burned.
  • Stephanie Mills, Whatever Happened to Ecology?