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EPA at 40

2010 November 19

By Deb Berlin

Question: What do burning rivers, lead, and President Nixon have in common?
Answer: EPA in the 1970’s.

December 2, 1970 is the EPA’s birthday. We were founded by an Executive Order from President Nixon, during the turmoil of the Vietnam War and shortly after the first Earth Day.

Skyscraper of Manhattan veiled in Smog, 05/1973

Skyscraper of Manhattan veiled in smog, 05/1973

This was a time when a river in Ohio, the Cuyahoga, could be so fouled with industrial pollution, garbage and oil, that it could support no wildlife whatsoever and catch on fire 13 times – trash burning where people should swim and fish.  The Agency coalesced quickly and within two years helped create the Clean Water Act, which provides broad protections and limits dumping of industrial pollution into waterways.

At the same time, we started the phase out of leaded gasoline. You can see why from this smog-obscured view of the 1973 Manhattan skyline, representative of other American cities at the time.  Lead exposure was widespread and could give children permanent brain damage.

Question: What’s the state of burning rivers and lead inside people these days?
Answer: The Cuyahoga is cleaner than it has been in generations and thousands of water bodies across the country have been revitalized. Lead in our air is down more than 90% from a generation ago.

Over forty years we’ve cleaned the country’s drinking water, reduced exposure to dangerous chemicals, and penalized polluters. EPA helps protect human health and the environment in so many ways, such as helping save energy dollars through the Energy Star label, working to increase your gas mileage, classifying second-hand smoke as a cause of cancer, and removing arsenic from apples.
For more examples, see our whole history in 3 minutes (“40th Anniversary Video”) or
view the milestones on our timeline. Please be part of our anniversary – help us make the country cleaner tomorrow – Pick 5 for the Environment.

About the author: Deb Berlin works in the EPA Office of Public Affairs on strategic communications.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    November 19, 2010

    Our cities, anywhere, scream loudly : “Help Us EPA !!!!”.
    Our Rivers in the world cries to say “Help!”.
    Our Rain Forests in equator angry to say “Burn Us!”.
    Our Mine Fields in some place insane to say “Slide Us”

    Our Environmental ask to EPA:”Can You Help Me?”
    Happy Birthday !!!!!

  2. User Reviews permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Happy (early) Birthday EPA! Thank you for all that you do to help keep things clean!
    Kind regards.

  3. Jesús Torres Navarro permalink
    November 20, 2010

    ¡Muchas felicidades a la EPA! por 40 años de vida y de lucha por un mundo mejor cuidando y protegiendo al Medio Ambiente; mi sincero deseo de que continúen con su excelente labor muchos, pero muchos años más

  4. Stephanie Seweryn permalink
    November 21, 2010

    I would like to congratulate the EPA on 40 years of focus on the Nation’s growing environmental issues. Without leadership at the federal level, these issues may have never come to be the priority they are for many today. However, there are still miles to go. It is my hope that over the next 40 years, we can focus on streamlining the EPA’s efforts, increasing their feasibility for big and small business, while also creating a more significant impact. Though current initiatives have created awareness and provided starting points for future policy, it is not a time to become comfortable with where we are, but rather become motivated by where we need to be.

  5. Addison Pollock permalink
    November 21, 2010

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is my most admired government agency. It is undeniably important, but often overlooked by the average United States citizen. At the core of a functioning and productive society is a clean natural habitat; without the agency’s oversight and legislation the United States would not be able to thrive as a global leader.
    The EPA has managed to control the parts of our nation that are taken for granted, but without life would ultimately cease. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act control and guarantee the necessary aspects of a civilized society. One of the several reasons that the Iraq state was difficult to govern was because villages were flooded with sewage and various communities did not have access to sterile drinking water. A lack of basic amenities can lead to political turmoil and eventually market failure.
    I commend the Nixon Administration for taking the initiative to develop the agency that keeps me and my fellow citizen safe and healthy. Personally, I think the installment was long overdue. The recent clean energy efforts have been delayed since the late 1970s, and we have finally jumped on the bandwagon. It seems as though there is always economic distress when the national focus is on clean energy; however, the technology boom will compliment the energy developments to create new jobs.

    The notion that 40 years ago the EPA was in its infancy and now it is one of the US’ leading agencies gives me much faith. I look forward to see what the next several decades will produce to secure life for future generations.

  6. William Litten permalink
    November 22, 2010

    I am a little older than the EPA but do remember those days that as a boy growing up in southern california not being able to go outside and play because of the “smog alert”. Now I can say my children don’t know what a smog alert is and I’m happy about that.
    Thank you, EPA and Happy Birthday!

  7. Pressurized Walls Manhattan permalink
    March 23, 2011

    Great job in providing Manhattan clean drinking water for more or less 40 years now! Keep it up ;)

  8. Manhattan Pressurized Walls permalink
    January 20, 2012

    Congratulation to EPA, I am proud to EPA keep it up. And you do your job great, thanks for maintaining the cleanliness in our country.

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