Today marks the 48th annual celebration of Earth Day — but for Americans, Earth was perhaps no more loved (or worried over) than in 1970.
In that year, Richard Nixon signed an executive order creating the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was signed into law — one of the most comprehensive air-quality laws in the world which provided new, strict guidelines for emissions, air quality, ozone protection, clean fuels, acid rain reduction and much more. And the first Earth Day celebration took place.
America in 1970 — especially in its largest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — was a much different place than today. Smog choked the skies and cloaked now-picturesque skylines. As far back as the 1950s, people in Los Angeles sold "clean air" in balloons for 50 cents to pedestrians struggling to breathe. In the heavy manufacturing centers across the Midwest, soot and chemicals polluted skies and rivers. In 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River — polluted from decades of industrial waste — caught fire. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter ordered the first evacuations of families from Love Canal near Niagara Falls after surveys revealed high incidents of epilepsy, asthma, migraines, birth defects and miscarriages. Before being developed for housing, the Hooker Chemical Co. dumped over 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals there over a 10-year period ending in 1952 — that site is still oozing chemicals and continues to poses a threat to public health.
Thanks in large part to the Clean Air Act, EPA and the work of thousands of organizations that raise awareness and organized at the local level, the situation is vastly improved. In 2008, we watched news footage of the Summer Olympics in Beijing showing thick smog and pedestrians wearing surgical masks. Many younger viewers were amazed — not realizing the situation was just as bad in some areas of the U.S. just a generation ago.
Locally, it's easy to look up into a beautiful spring sky, take a deep breath of crisp evening air and think, "what do we need environmental protection from? Everything's fine." But even in our area, former factory sites have left behind polluted soil. We struggle to control toxic runoffs from farming. And on any given day along the wonderful walking paths we are fortunate to have, bags, cans, bottles and other refuse can be spotted.
As policies change in Washington, it's important for us to follow those changes closely and make our voices heard. It's just as important for folks to get involved at the local level, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because when we encourage young people to engage in these activities, we are building community and instilling in them a sense of public pride and volunteerism that they will carry into adulthood.
Fortunately, Logan's Landing has the perfect opportunity to get involved next weekend. From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 29, the annual Downtown Green & Clean Day takes place. Families, businesses, organizations and individuals will meet at the depot at Fourth Street and Melbourne Avenue and will be assigned an area to clean, sweep, trim and spruce up. To volunteer, call 547-722-9345.
But if you can't make it to the Green & Clean, you can do your part any time. Take a trash bag to the park, on the trails or on your float trip down the river and pick up any trash you find — and encourage others to do the same.
Getting involved for Earth Day
It is our responsibility both to watch policy changes from Washington closely and voice our views, and get involved locally in bettering our environment.