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Cleanup day for the Earth

Forty years ago, the first Earth Day was no celebration. Held on April 22, 1970, it was an environmental protest, sort of a green tea party.

Twenty million Americans spilled into the nation's streets and campuses to vent their anger about polluted rivers catching fire and air so thick with soot that in some cities men had to change their white shirts twice a day.

In the Tampa Bay area, local schools conducted litter cleanups and a University of South Florida professor gave a talk on "The Death of Tampa Bay." Lakewood High School students turned off their drinking fountains to symbolize what a water shortage would be like.

Such unprecedented nationwide attention to a single issue got the attention of politicians. By the end of the year, Congress had adopted the Clean Air Act and followed it with the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and halted construction of the world's largest jetport in the western Everglades.

According to Rick Garrity, the head of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission, the biggest improvement in the local environment came in the late 1970s when Tampa opened a sewage plant and stopped dumping untreated sewage in the bay.

So as the world gears up for Earth Day's 40th anniversary, what's changed? The air and water are cleaner. But there is less open space. And there are still concerns about water shortages and disagreements over recycling.

Cleanup day for the Earth 04/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 2:29pm]
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