Fable? Yes, according to Jonathan H. Adler, Case Western Reserve University law pro fessor and director of the Environmental Law Center at the Case Law School, because the river portrayed as so polluted it would burn was, in fact, well on the way to improving its water quality.
And fish, a bellwether of good water quality, were reported again swimming in the river at the time of the fire.
As the 35th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire approaches, Adler reflects and revisits his research article, "Fables of the Cuyahoga: Reconstructing a History of Environmental Protection."
In his 57-page paper for the Fordham Environmental Law Journal in 2002, he puts to rest many of the misconceptions that have kept Clevelanders blushing over the national embarrassment of their river burning. He also sets the stage and describes what the federal government was doing at the time to clean up the environment.
"The earlier, more intense fires are symbolic of the fact that the Cuyahoga--and other industrial rivers--were at greater risk of fires in the previous decades," stated Adler.
According to the Case environmental law professor, national funding was inadequate at the time. Also hampering the clean-up process were state laws--and inaction to enforce them for decades--enabling certain industries to continue to pollute with immunity against prosecution and the less civic-minded continued to dump waste into the waterway.
Cleveland's hands had been tied where state laws overrode local authority and did not allow the city to take action against the polluters.
The federal government had the River and Harbors Act of 1899 to grapple with pollution, but the general focus of the law was to keep waterways navigable for river traffic. The law barred disposal of wastes but not all liq
Contact: Susan Griffith
Case Western Reserve University