Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day. Forty-three years ago Americans from all walks of life were affected by pollution in a way that is hard for many of us today even to imagine. They could see, smell, and even touch pollution all around them. It was in 1969 that Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River actually burst into flames that leapt eight stories high, fueled by all the oil and other waste that had been dumped into it; an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara closed virtually all the beaches in Southern California; and 26 million fish died of contamination in a single Florida lake. Lake Erie had been declared dead, raw sewage was being dumped directly into rivers such as the Hudson and the Mississippi, and two-thirds of America’s waters were considered unfit for either fishing or swimming.
These abuses drove more than 20 million people—about 10 percent of our nation’s population—to take to the streets on April 22, 1970 to demand that the government begin cleaning up and protecting the environment. The April 22, 1970 demonstrations were the largest that our country still has ever seen. As a result, a Republican President and a Democratic Senate came together to agree on a groundbreaking series of laws including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and they also created the Environmental Protection Agency.
While it’s hard in 2013 to imagine a river catching fire, severe environmental threats persist. In fact, the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill is considered by most to be the largest environmental disaster this country has ever seen, and numerous smaller spills—including the recent crude oil spill in Arkansas—occur somewhat regularly.
At Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC we routinely work with communities whose air, soil, and groundwater have been poisoned with carcinogenic chemicals as a result of companies’ manufacturing and disposal practices. We are lucky that we get to spend every day enforcing the very environmental laws that were created as a result of the 1970 demonstrations. Without such enforcement, the progress made over the last 40 years would quickly fade.
But in addition to enforcing environmental laws, we can all take steps in our daily lives to “make every day earth day” and to help protect the environment. Simple actions such as placing your computer in sleep mode when it is not in use, keeping your car’s tires fully inflated, and switching to reusable water bottles take little effort but can make a big difference. For more examples of simple actions you can take to lessen your environmental footprint, see the National Resources and Defense Counsel’s blog Six Ways to Make Every Day Earth Day, or its brochure, A Dozen Things You Can Do to Keep Yourself and the Earth Healthy. For ideas on how to reduce your exposure to environmental contaminates, read my blogs Alternatives to Products that Use BPA and Spring Cleaning: Tips to Remove and Reduce Toxic Dust.