Poisoned Ground: The Tragedy at Love Canal

April 2024 | GBH’s American Experience


A piercing look back at an environmental disaster and the women who spoke up and fought for accountability. Coincides with the 20th anniversary of the completion of Superfund cleanup. Poisoned Ground is a two-hour film about the Love Canal disaster, one of the largest, most notorious, and most impactful public health and environmental crises in American history. The story unfolds like a mystery beginning in 1977, when residents in the small neighborhood on the east side of Niagara Falls first began noticing pungent odors in their homes. Soon, dozens of families began to suffer abnormally high rates of cancer, asthma, kidney disease, miscarriage, birth defects, migraines and more. The battle for justice was led mostly by women, including mousy housewife turned powerful advocate Lois Gibbs, and biologist and cancer researcher Beverly Paigen, whose toxic waste studies were instrumental in getting homeowners resettled even though it was initially dismissed as “useless housewife data.” This ‘useless’ work of citizen scientists created the basis for the landmark Federal Superfund program that today oversees the remediation of more than 1300 dangerous hazardous waste sites across the country.


Director, Jamila Ephron has been producing and directing documentary films for 15 years. Her most recent film was Blinding of Issac Woodard which premiered on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in March 2021 George W. Bush, which premiered on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in May 2020. Her previous films are George W. Bush, which premiered on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in May 2020, and Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, was released theatrically by PBS Distribution and premiered on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in August 2019. Jamila also produced and co-directed Far from the Tree, based on the bestselling book by Andrew Solomon for Participant Media and Sundance Selects. Additional work for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE includes My Lai (winner of the Primetime Emmy and Peabody Award), The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Clinton. She co-produced Makers: Women Who Make America, a three-hour documentary on second wave feminism, and Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee.