“On June 22, 1969 a river fire in Cleveland captured national attention. This event helped spur an avalanche of pollution control activities resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies.
The 1969 fires was not the first. Fires plagued the Cuyahoga River beginning in 1936 when a spark from a blow torch ignited floating debris and oils. The largest river fire in 1952 caused over $1 million in damage to boats and a riverfront office building. By the 1960s the lower Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was used for waste disposal, and was choked with debris, oils, sludge, industrial wastes and sewage. These pollutants were considered a major source of impact to Lake Erie, which was considered dead at the time. The 1969 fire has been the subject of several songs, including Randy Newman’s 1972 song “Burn On”, R.E.M.’s 1986 song “Cuyahoga”, and Adam Again’s 1992 song “River on Fire”.”