by Martha Quetsch
SUGAR GROVEâ€”On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans assembled in streets and parks to demonstrate against the environmental pollution that was rampant across the country then. Just a few months later the same year, the federal government established the Environmental Protection Agency, which Earth Day helped to bring about, said Daniel Ward, Waubonsee Community College honors biology professor.
â€œI see the establishment of the EPA as a direct result of the concern the American public displayed for how the environment was being damaged,â€ Ward said. â€œPeople wanted clean air, clean water and clean land. They did not want their health or their children’s health to be affected because the environment was being used/abused in ways that disregarded its importance to all. There was an outcry that something had to be done, that some form of regulation needed to occur.â€
President Richard Nixon and Congress responded to that outcry and created the EPA, said Ward, who was 9 years old on the first Earth Day and living in the Midwest, in rural Missouri. He remembers the sorry state of the environment at that time.
â€œMy grandfather was an outdoorsman, (and) I remember the damage being done to the local rivers and lakes, as well as the woodlands near my home,â€ Ward said. â€œWildlife was disappearing because of habitat destruction and improper dumping of toxic chemicals by industry.â€
He remembers seeing fish kills on local rivers and streams into which businesses had dumped toxic water.
â€œYou have to remember there were no laws that governed dumping of wastes or introduction of chemicals into the air,â€ Ward said. â€œBusinesses and people could do what they wanted without regard to their impact.â€
Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, proposed the nationwide protest to force the issue of pollution control on the national agenda, according to earthday.net. In 1995, Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder.
Nelson organized the first Earth Day as an â€œenvironmental teach-inâ€ in response to the many college protests against pollution that were taking place at that time, and it grew from there as more people from diverse groups became involved, Ward said.