Vintage EPA photos reveal what US waterways looked like before pollution was regulated
Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
- The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970. One of its objectives was to regulate pollution in America's waterways.
- Following its founding, the EPA dispatched photographers to catalogue the state of the country's pollution.
- Those photographs reveal polluted rivers and garbage-choked coastlines.
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Just over 50 years ago, Ohio's Cuyahoga river caught fire.The disaster prompted a public outcry that in part led to the formation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. The EPA was charged with regulating the country's polluted air and waterways, among other environmental objectives.Advertisement
Soon after its founding, the agency dispatched 100 photographers to capture the US' environmental issues as part of a photo project called Documerica. The photographers took about 81,000 images, more than 20,000 of which were archived. At least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives, and the images now function as a kind of time capsule, revealing what states from California to New York looked like between 1971 and 1977.
The images of polluted waterways are especially striking. The following Documerica photos reveal what US rivers, streams, and coastlines looked like before the EPA started regulating pollution.