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Toxic Lake: Environmental Destruction and the Epic Fight to Save Onondaga Lake

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The environmental history of "the most polluted lake in America."
Native Americans have long regarded Onondaga Lake as one of the most sacred spaces in the continent, the place where peace between nations was achieved and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was created. In the mid-twentieth century, however, it acquired a wholly different reputation as "the most polluted lake in America." Toxic Lake is an environmental history of this complex ecological system, tracking how it was tarnished, the costly efforts to clean it up, and the controversies those efforts generated.

Thomas Shevory argues that the history of Onondaga Lake mirrors the larger environmental history of the US, from colonization to the industrial era, resulting, eventually, in the rise of social movements and legislative action for environmental protection. Layered within this history is the dismissal of indigenous land claims and the marginalization of indigenous voices in clean-up efforts. Toxic Lake illustrates that the failure to prevent the environmental destruction of Onondaga Lake was part of a political climate which favored unregulated industrial production and urban growth, ignoring the destructive impacts on local environments. Shevory argues this larger failure was the result of an active process of privileging the economic interests of polluters over other business interests, expanding neighborhoods, and indigenous rights. He concludes with an investigation of New York's recent declaration that the clean-up is complete, questioning what exactly that means and whether the lake's status as a sacred space will ever be re-established. Toxic Lake is a compelling work of history, demonstrating the disastrous effects of pollution and the importance of community involvement in environmental activism.

ISBN-13: 9781479815685

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: New York University Press

Publication Date: 12-05-2023

Pages: 312

Product Dimensions: 8.80h x 5.90w x 1.20d