America, before the EPA: the photos that the EPA commissioned to document the conditions that led to its formation


When Nixon formed the EPA in 1970, the agency had the prescience to send photographers across America to photograph the kinds of environmental catastrophes that triggered its formation: chemical factories belching smoke; smog over cities; burning barges in the middle of waterways; clearcuts, litter and filthy lakes and rivers.

Now that Trump has put a despoiler in charge of the EPA and the American right is calling for the agency to be disbanded, it's worth revisiting these photos to see how the invisible hand throws trash out of speeding car-windows, left to its own devices.

Popular Science has a must-read series on the EPA's past and present -- I know that the Trump administration has given us a lot to worry about, but fuckery in the EPA will have long-lasting consequences for you and everyone you love, and it's worth paying attention to.

From 1971 to 1977 the nascent agency, in an act of prescience, enlisted the services of freelance photographers to help us remember. These photographers captured images of America's environmental problems before we'd cleaned them up. In 2011, the US National Archives digitized more than 15,000 pictures from the series "Documerica". Here are some of the most compelling.

Documerica [EPA]

This is what America looked like before the EPA cleaned it up [Kendra Pierre-Louis/Popular Science]

(via Kottke)