So, Donald Trump supporters, you say you’re all for dialing back environmental regulations and taking us back to the good ol’ days before those frumps at the Environmental Protection Agency started sticking their noses into everything.
OK, so let’s explore that notion. Join us on a trip to the 1960s and early 1970s with this true-or-false test about the Clean Water Act, which turns 45 this year, and the Clean Air Act, which is 2 years older.
1. When oil and debris floating in the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland in 1969, the incident became a key chapter in the EPA’s origin story. But the river had caught fire at least 12 times previously.
2. Time magazine reported that at the time of the fire, there were no signs of life in the lower Cuyahoga, even lower forms like sludge worms and leeches that normally thrive on wastes.
3. Two-thirds of U.S. waterways were deemed unsafe for fishing and swimming at the time the Clean Water Act was passed.
4. In addition to the Cuyahoga, rivers had caught fire in Baltimore, Detroit, Buffalo, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
5. In Escambia Bay, in the Florida Panhandle, polychlorinated biphenyl dumping was so bad that the chemical, classified as a probable human carcinogen, can still be found in mullet and crabs in the bay five decades later.
6. Because of concerns over PCB dumping, fishing was banned for years on a 20-mile segment of the Hudson River. The river also had been polluted by sewage discharges, urban runoff, heavy metals, pesticides and more.
7. In the 1960s, New York City was disposing of a third of its trash by burning it in incinerators.
8. The widespread use of DDT had an unintended consequence: It worked its way through the food chain to the point that bald eagles were ingesting it. The birds with DDT in their systems produced eggs with thin shells that broke before hatching. By the mid-1960s, it was estimated that fewer than 500 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained.
9. Over three days during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1966, 170 people died in New York City during a severe smog event. Smog was a chronic problem in metro areas across the U.S.
10. Weak environmental laws and enforcement helped give rise to sites like Love Canal in New York and the Valley of the Drums in Kentucky, where thousands of tons of toxic chemicals were illegally dumped. The Valley of the Drums burned for more than a week in 1966, but it went unregulated for more than a decade afterward. By the time it was dealt with, it contained more than 100,000 drums of chemicals.
11. At Love Canal, where a suburb was built on ground where 22,000 tons of toxic waste had been dumped, residents reported finding pools of brightly colored, noxious fluids in their yards and black sludge oozing through their basement walls. Residents suffered rashes and respiratory problems, pets developed lesions and died young, and there was an uptick in birth defects, such as a child who grew two rows of teeth.
12. Average lead levels in children’s blood were 90 percent higher in 1970 than they are today. Lead harms neurological development of children, affecting behavior and IQ.
Answer key: 1 — True; 2 — True; 3 — True; 4 — True; 5 — True; 6 — True; 7 — True; 8 — True; 9 — True; 10 — True; 11 — True; 12 — True.
So one more question: Is crippling the EPA really such a good idea?