February 20, 2024

Burning River Pale Ale
Burning River Pale Ale

The Burning of The Cuyahoga River AKA “Crooked River” Then And Now 

The burning river beer named for the times in which the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland , OH caught fire. This was not a one time event, the river has caught fire over 13 times from pollution in the river.  In 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948 and 1952 the river caught fire, writes Laura La Bella in Not Enough to Drink: Pollution, Drought, and Tainted Water Supplies

The river burned several times over the years dating back to 1868 and no one cared until 1969. it is truly amazing that the river caught fire this many times and was a complete mess but in 1969 people cared and got it fixed.

Cuyahoga River Burning
Cuyahoga River Burning

It was the summer of 1969, and recent high school graduate Tim Donovan needed a job to pay his college tuition. When it came to well-paid summer work in Cleveland, there was one good place to look: the steel mills. Donovan went to work as a hatch tender for Jones & Laughlin Steel, standing at the top of machines stationed along the river to help unload ore carriers. It was his first real interaction with the Cuyahoga River, and the experience didn’t endear him to it.

Crooked River Pollution
Crooked River Pollution

“The river was a scary little thing,” Donovan says. “There was a general rule that if you fell in, God forbid, you would go immediately to the hospital.”

 Despite its new life, the river still shows signs of its former degradation. In 2018, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that EPA scientists tested dozens of sites along the river bottom and found that polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels remain dangerously high. Other scientists have cautioned that the river is still “burning” with viruses, bacteria and parasites, including SalmonellaClostridium, enteroviruses, Giardia and hepatitis A. But even with these remaining issues, the Cuyahoga is unrecognizable compared to what it was a mere 50 years ago—as is the case with numerous waterways around America. 

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