Weird History What The US Looked Like Before The EPA  

Ella Talkin
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You think the US is gross now? Try living in the US before the EPA. Before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, smog obscured the air, glass lined the beaches, and flammable waste coagulated in the nation's rivers. Pollution before the EP grew to such astronomical heights that the eventual bill to create the agency received uncharacteristically high bi-partisan support. But even when it came to be in 1970, it took years for the EPA to address the rampant deterioration of America's ecosystems. So, starting in 1971, 100 photojournalists set out across the country, amassing almost 100,000 photos over a six-year span.

These EPA before-and-after photos came as part of the then-new agency’s documentation of the environmental devastation across the country. Looking at the pictures, it appears the EPA drastically improved environment you live in today. Have you tripped over a shopping cart covered in human feces and oil lately? Yet almost fifty years later the EPA’s existence is under attack. President Trump gutted the agency's budget at a time the planet lies under threat of climate change and water scarcity. If the photos below scare you, it's because they look like the country's possible future if you don't save the environment in the ways you can.

Abandoned Refrigerators At Breezy Point, NY, May 1973


Abandoned Refrigerators At Bre... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What The US Looked Like Before The EPA
Photo: Arthur Tress, U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Tires Cover Baltimore Harbor, MD, January 1973


Tires Cover Baltimore Harbor, ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What The US Looked Like Before The EPA
Photo: Jim Pickerell, U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Peabody Coal Co. Navajo, AZ, May 1972


Peabody Coal Co. Navajo, AZ, M... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What The US Looked Like Before The EPA
Photo: William Strode, U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Unfiltered Waste From A Paper Mill, Jay, MN, June 1973


Unfiltered Waste From A Paper ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What The US Looked Like Before The EPA
Photo: Charles Steinhacker, U.S. National Archives/Flickr