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35 vintage photos taken by the EPA reveal what American cities looked like before pollution was regulated

Business Insider Logo By James Pasley of Business Insider | Slide 1 of 36: 
  
    Before President Richard Nixon created the
    Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, water and air
    pollution weren't federally regulated.
  
  
    Between 1971 and 1977, the EPA enlisted 100
    photographers to document the conditions of the country and the
    environment with "The Documerica Project."
  
  
    The result was 81,000 photos, often filled with smoke,
    smog, acid, oil, rubbish, and sewage. We've selected 35 of
    those photos to show what American cities used to look
    like.
  
  
    
      Visit
    Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
    
  

  Don't let the soft, sepia tones fool you. The United States used
  to be dangerously polluted.

  Before President Richard Nixon created the Environmental
  Protection Agency in 1970, the environment and its well-being was
  not a federal priority.

  In the early 1970s, the EPA launched the "The
  Documerica Project," which leveraged 100 freelance
  photographers to document what the US looked like. By 1974, there
  were of 81,000 photos. The National
  Archivesdigitized nearly
  16,000 and made them available online.

  Many of the photos were taken before 
  water and air pollution were fully regulated. The Clean Air
  Act was passed in 1970, and the Clean Water Act was passed in
  1972.

  Baltimore, Birmingham, Cleveland, Delaware, Denver, Kansas, Los
  Angeles, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia,
  Pittsburgh, and San Francisco all feature here, in shots filled
  with smoke, smog, acid, oil, rubbish, and sewage.

  None of the 35 photos are pretty (other than the film-photo
  haze), but it's worth remembering what US cities used to be like
  before we cared what we put into the air, soil, and water.

  • Before President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, water and air pollution weren't federally regulated.
  • Between 1971 and 1977, the EPA enlisted 100 photographers to document the conditions of the country and the environment with "The Documerica Project."
  • The result was 81,000 photos, often filled with smoke, smog, acid, oil, rubbish, and sewage. We've selected 35 of those photos to show what American cities used to look like.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Don't let the soft, sepia tones fool you. The United States used to be dangerously polluted.

Before President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the environment and its well-being was not a federal priority.

In the early 1970s, the EPA launched the "The Documerica Project," which leveraged 100 freelance photographers to document what the US looked like. By 1974, there were of 81,000 photos. The National Archivesdigitized nearly 16,000 and made them available online.

Many of the photos were taken before water and air pollution were fully regulated. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, and the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.

Baltimore, Birmingham, Cleveland, Delaware, Denver, Kansas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco all feature here, in shots filled with smoke, smog, acid, oil, rubbish, and sewage.

None of the 35 photos are pretty (other than the film-photo haze), but it's worth remembering what US cities used to be like before we cared what we put into the air, soil, and water.

© Bill Wunsch / The Denver Post / Getty

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