Before the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act as implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency has been one of our nation’s most successful laws – a jewel in the crown of American Democracy. Before the EPA there was no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our air or our water – and filthy industry practiced treated our skies and water as cesspools.

The photos below taken from the fifties through the mid-seventies remind us vividly why the EPA serves a crucial purpose. The idea that we would dismantle clean air and water protections is scandalous – and one need only look back to see what a future without environmental protections would look like.

Next to the U.S. Pipe plant – a heavily polluted area of Birmingham, Alabama – residents face industrial smog. July, 1972 (LeRoy Woodson)

Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue Bridge in Cleveland, Ohio. Looking east from West 13th Street, area obscured by smoke from heavy industry. July, 1973.

Peabody Coal Company in the Black Mesa area of Northeastern Arizona. 1973

Smoke from the Atlas Chemical Co. covers neighboring communities with black soot. June,1972

Children play in the yard of their Washington home, while Tacoma Smelter stack showers the area with arsenic and lead residue. August, 1972.

Fire on the Cuyahoga River, due to pollution. November, 1969.

The polluted Lake Charles in Louisiana, with dangerously high levels of mercury. June, 1972.

Sound advice from a car parked in Lower Manhattan. May, 1973.

Pollution of Great Lakes in Michigan. May, 1968.

Dead bird in polluted water. Corpus Christi, TX. November, 1972.

A worker in California wears a face mask to filter ash and soot-filled air so he can breathe. September, 1973.

Polluted Androscoggin River, New Hampshire. June, 1973.

A sugar mill in Oahu belches black smoke over its green sugar cane fields. October, 1973.

Fumes pour out of the Olin Mathieson Chemical Plant in Louisiana. July, 1972.

The George Washington Bridge in heavy smog. View toward the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. May, 1973.