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George Washington Bridge, New York City, 1973

The year I graduated high school and drove a beat-up orange Datsun over the George Washington Bridge to discover a brave new world — college — was the same year the image above was shot.

Across the country, images like this became the environmental story that was sure to define our future. In this toxic soup of pollution that ranged from horrific air quality mirrored in the scene above, to chemically polluted waterways, some of which were sickeningly catching on fire; environmental consciousness was born.

In a collective, bi-partisan roar that transcended politics (as it hit home for everyone — legislators and their constituents), it was concluded that our environment was dying a rapidly polluted death.

Don’t Go Backwards

The Environmental Protection Agency became the cornerstone in protecting American citizens and preventing pollution. The EPA is responsible for implementing federal laws that protect air and water –“Pollution should be prevented or reduced at its source, whenever possible.”

I’m reminded of this hazy image each time the Trump team threatens to take us back to a time when pollution ran rampant. So, let’s go back and take a closer look…

What has the EPA done for us?

The EPA was established on December 2, 1970. Since is inception, the EPA has been working to protect the health of Americans. But government agencies often bear the brunt of political bashing. Sometimes warranted. Sometimes not. Either way, at this point in time, when there is so much at stake to protect our children from an unstable climate, rolling back bedrock environmental protections — ones that protect us from pollutants like smog, ozone, and mercury — will directly worsen asthma attacks (especially in young children), heart and lung ailments, and may even cause premature death. Also, pollution imposes costs to our economy in regards to hospital visits, lost work school days.

Putting the growth of the economy over the health of the American people is a false choice. We only have to look at the data to know that we don’t have to choose between our health and a thriving economy.

“After the Clean Air Act’s first 20 years, in 1990, it prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths, and almost 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis were avoided. Over the last 20 years, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have decreased by more than 41 percent, while the Gross Domestic Product has increased by more than 64 percent. Through continued innovation and successful implementation, the Clean Air Act will deliver even more benefits over the next 40 years.” ~ EPA, Clean Air Act

Across the country

Each and every state, and each and every community has been touched by air pollution. This story from Donora, Pennsylvania was one of the the worst:

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A plant in Donora, Pa., belches clouds of smoke in 1948.

In October 1948, Donora, Pa., was enveloped in a lethal haze.

Over five days, nearly half of the town’s 14,000 residents experienced severe respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It was difficult to breathe. The death toll rose to nearly 40.

Disturbing photos show Donora’s streets hidden under a thick blanket of gray smog. A warm air pocket had passed high above the town, trapping cooler air below and sealing in pollutants.

Donora was no stranger to pollution. Steel and zinc smelters had long plagued the town with dirty air. But the air pocket left pollutants with no escape route. They sat stewing in the streets, where residents breathed them in lethal doses.

The situation in Donora was extreme, but it reflected a trend. Air pollution had become a harsh consequence of industrial growth across the country and world.

Crises like Donora’s were widely publicized; people took notice and began to act. Scientists started investigating the link between air pollution and health. States began passing legislation to reduce air pollution. And in 1970, a milestone year, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments which led to the establishment of the nation’s air quality standards. ~ EPA

Rolling On The River

For years, I’ve lived and raised my family north of NYC, just a few miles from the Hudson River. The majestic river that flows below the formative George Washington Bridge was once forever altered. Before the inception of the EPA, power company giant, GE dumped PCBs into the Hudson River. PCBs are now found in sediment, water and wildlife throughout the Hudson River’s ecosystem, and in the bodies of many of the people who live along the river.

While the Hudson River is a whole lot cleaner due to the efforts of the EPA’s Clean Air and Water Acts, it is also because of grassroots organizations, like Riverkeeper and Clearwater. These advocate organizations remind New Yorkers that there is still a long way to go to restore the massive environmental damage done to this precious resource.

What can we do right now?

The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have helped to significantly drive down harmful pollution and improve the health of Americans. While we’ve made tremendous scientific strides to address the latest pollution woes, and deliver safer air and water to our families, pollution stories continue to explode every single day.

So make no mistake, eviscerating the EPA would directly and negatively affect the health of our families. That’s why in small towns to Capital Hill, Moms Clean Air Force is working with individuals and partner organizations to continue the fight to clean up deadly air pollution.

With the Trump administration’s dangerous environmental agenda, now is the time to take stock and renew our clean air efforts. Americans need and depend on the EPA to be our watchdog and guardian. While we can’t change the history of our filthy skies and murky waters, we do know that we must not leave an unsafe future to our children. Please help us breathe the promise of clean air into our children’s future.

Photos: Documerica

To view more “before the EPA” pollution photos, CLICK HERE


We are more than 1 million moms and dads united against air pollution — including the urgent crisis of our changing climate — to protect our children’s health.

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